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Georgian's mechatronics lab allows hands-on engineering

College partners with Magna International to open new lab; 'We’re encouraged with the next generation of students from Georgian College'

As Innovative Automation continues to grow, pushing its workforce toward 200 people, the Barrie company is continually looking for a skilled workforce.

The goal now is to tap into Georgian College’s new mechatronics program to help Innovative Automation as it develops automated assembly systems and test systems and has moved into production of its own RoboTape robotic taping system.

Co-owner Steve Loftus points out there have been unfilled positions at Innovative Automation and, with the creation of RoboTape and a new deal with commercial bonding juggernaut 3M, Innovative Automation will require the three specialities mechatronics brings together: mechanics, electronics, and computing.

“The mechatronics is a blend of those skillsets into one discipline,” Loftus said at the formal launch of the official opening of the Magna Mechatronics Lab at the college’s Barrie campus. “This is why this program is very important for smaller companies to have the technical resources that they need to actually succeed and compete globally.

“We’re already asking about grads and we have some of the co-op students.”

There may well be competition for that first cohort of electromechanical engineering technology—mechatronics three-year advanced diploma program graduates in two years’ time.

Magna International — the namesake for the new lab unveiled Thursday — pledged $1 million over five years in its 2020 agreement with Georgian College.

The massive mobility technology company with its roots in Newmarket has long provided opportunities to students.

During Thursday’s formal presentation, newly inducted Georgian president Kevin Weaver said Magna has taken on 130 co-op students and has hired more than 200 graduates since 2000.

“The world of mobility is changing at a rapid pace,” said Steve Henry, Magna’s director of apprenticeships and training. “As Magna pushes the envelope of innovation in the mobility space, we know that unique ideas come from unique people and we’re encouraged with the next generation of students from Georgian College.”

The new mechatronics lab contains state-of-the-art equipment with 17 individual stations each with a specialized piece of cutting-edge equipment located throughout the 2,200-square-foot space.

While much of the equipment was already being used by students, Weaver explained it all came together in a single lab in recent days.

“We’ve been running the program since September,” he said. “All of the current students have one year under their belt of academics, so they’ve had access to various pieces of the equipment … but it really begins to accelerate in years 2 and 3 of the program and that’s where this lab will really come into play.”

While there was just one intake of students this past year, Georgian expects to welcome 30-plus new mechatronics students for each of the fall and winter semesters with potential for further growth.

The partnership with Magna, Weaver said, allows for not just job opportunities, but also the lab to provide hands-on programming and skills that are industry relevant and in demand by employers.

Among that first cohort of students is Kyle Lepinski, who is eyeing a future in robotic prosthetics. In his early use of the equipment stationed throughout the lab is a station called additive manufacturing, which, he explains, incorporates 3D printing. Because the process adds product as it needs it, the waste is eliminated — a bonus when considering sustainable practices.

The CNC machine nearby, by contrast, shaves down metal, engraving a specific part, creating waste in the process.

“Instead, what (additive manufacturing) is doing is building up the engraving inside,” he said.

But the additive manufacturing station also allows for more applications with the ability to create complex diagrams for conical screws, for example, which eliminates the need for multiple washers and threading.

He sees the potential for its use in the manufacturing of prosthetics, which uses carbon fibre, in an efficient, waste-free way that will also cost less than alternative approaches. And, as he looks forward to his career, that element of sustainability, he adds, will become increasingly important.