Defined as the manipulation of the physical world to achieve human goals, technological innovation has been a key driver of the Canadian economy since the country’s inception. From the technologies that Indigenous peoples used to adapt to harsh environmental conditions to Canadarm2, the robotic arm used on the International Space Station, Canada has a long history of technological development and innovation. A major factor in achieving this status has been Canada’s continued investment in organizations and programs supporting the research, development, and market application of new technology. One such federal organization is the National Research Council (NRC), responsible for shortening the gap between early-stage research and development (R&D) and commercialization. The NRC does this through its offering of over 30 approved collaborative programs designed to assist a broad spectrum of activities and business structure models.
Established in 1916, the NRC has worked with various collaborators to face challenges head-on and develop new and innovative solutions to improve society and the well-being of Canadians. Over its 100-year history, the NRC has been involved in the production of many groundbreaking technologies, such as Canadarm, the Cobalt-60 cancer bomb treatment, computer animation, the crash position indicator, the electric wheelchair, the electronic synthesizer, the explosives detector, and the pacemaker. The NRC enables effective collaboration across multiple industries by utilizing its 22 separate research facilities throughout the country. Each facility specializes in a different area of R&D. For example, the London, Ontario location focuses on innovation in automotive manufacturing.
The NRC’s London location was originally built in 1997 as a research institute of manufacturing and construction. The facility’s current purpose is to support the Canadian automotive industry, as it is in close proximity to a majority of the Canadian market. David Muir, R&D Director of this location, states that the facility is within a two-hour radius of 90 percent of the market. Although the London location currently focuses on automotive manufacturing, Muir believes that the facility’s capabilities, coupled with its talented team of employees, will allow NRC London to improve Canada’s manufacturing sector as a whole, through new technological development and collaborative work within the sector.
The facility is currently undergoing a $5 million renovation that will transform the space once used for construction research into a working digital Microfactory. The space will also include multiple reconfigurable research and development (R&D) labs, experimental vehicle bays, a Digital Microfactory demonstrator, and meeting space. The result will be an open-plan collaborative workspace in which all levels of the automotive supply chain can work together with the NRC. Allowing collaborators to work with each other’s products and processes in an open, creative environment will accelerate the development of technological innovations, ultimately making the manufacturing process more efficient and effective. The renovation is expected to be completed by April 2018 and will be accompanied by the hiring of 10 additional employees to operate the new facility.
NRC London currently has 45 employees who possess a variety of skills and educational backgrounds, which allows the facility to maximize its collaborative efforts. The NRC’s partnership with Western University enables the organization to easily recruit summer students from Western’s engineering and science programs; however, it has also recruited from universities in nearby cities in the past, such as Hamilton, Guelph, and Waterloo. In particular, with the new facility expansion, NRC London is looking to recruit from engineering and science programs that deal with manufacturing automation (e.g., software engineering and analytics), as the facility looks to bring Industry 4.0 to the Canadian automotive sector.
The NRC as a whole operates on a $1 billion budget. Muir states that NRC London operates through three different models: (1) investing federal money into research to benefit Canadian industry; (2) undertaking joint R&D projects with industry including consortia based work; and (3) performing fee for service research and specialized testing for individual clients. NRC also provides funding through the Industrial Research Assistance Program, constructed to help accelerate the growth of local businesses through innovation and technology. Muir notes that most of the work conducted at the facility is done through joint R&D projects. NRC London promotes this model by providing the option for businesses to become on-site resident partners at the facility, thereby giving businesses the opportunity to take advantage of working with the NRC’s highly skilled scientists and engineers, as well as gaining access to NRC’s research equipment to develop superior products and manufacturing solutions. Muir would also like to conduct more research projects in partnership with Western University in the future.
When considering growth metrics for the facility, Muir focuses on the measured impact that NRC London has on the community, rather than the number of projects being taken on. NRC London is dedicated to working on projects that will stimulate wealth creation for Canada through technological innovation. To ensure research projects address challenges in the automotive industry and create value for its partners, NRC London conducts the majority of its research based on industrial feedback so that it can understand present or future needs and concerns.
The NRC is referred to as Canada’s “best-kept secret,” as it has produced or collaborated on so many major innovations that directly affect Canadian society. The organization will continue to push Canada to the forefront of technological advances through its broad spectrum of programs designed for a multitude of industries.
The NRC London facility is part of NRC Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre. The facility supports the Canadian automotive industry, owing primarily to its proximity to the Canadian market, automaker and supplier manufacturing facilities and R&D centres. This sector is vitally important to the regional economy and is the focus of regional and provincial initiatives.
Headquarters: 800 Collip Circle, London, Ontario N6G 4X8
Facility size: 75000 sqft
- David Muir-R&D Director
Year established: 1997
Number of employees: 45
Line of business
NAICS Code: 541330 – Engineering Services
541690 – Other Scientific and Technical Consulting Services
NRC London operates through several different models:
- Joint R&D projects with industry including consortia based work.
- Fee for service research and specialized testing for individual clients
- Internal R&D in areas to benefit Canadian industry
NRC London operates within the Canadian automotive sector and conducts most its business with private stakeholders within the industry. The application of their technology can be extended to multiple other sectors outside of automotive.
R&D, Skills and Educational needs
Employees: Recruit within a broad spectrum of educational backgrounds as different research projects require different skills and specialities.
- Internal R&D capabilities are conducted through the use of its facility’s numerous physical spaces designed for research and production and planned new facilities including Four new laboratories for flexible and confidential work. Lab space can be expanded as required.
- Two new vehicle labs/bays, complete with lifts and related automotive shop capability. Each bay has the ability to maintain project confidentiality.
- A high crane bay as a manufacturing space for scale up and/or digital Microfactory workspace development.
The NRC’s London location was originally built in 1997 as a research institute of manufacturing and construction. The facility’s current purpose is to support the Canadian automotive industry, as it is in close proximity to a majority of the Canadian market.
Government Relationship: NRC is a Government of Canada organization.
Education Institution Partnerships: Being located on the Western University campus and in close proximity to many university and colleges, NRC partners with educational institutes and recruits summer students from technology focused-programs.
WHY WORK WITH THE NRC
- Offers a flexible and agile collaborative space set-up to rapidly solve industry problems with novel technology solutions that can be integrated on a short-term basis.
- Large facility capable of taking on big projects
- 2-hour radius to 90% of Canadian automotive sector players
- Host collaboration projects in which NRC staff and partners integrate products/technologies from multiple members (academic, government, SME, NRC) into a digital factory or vehicle platform or subassembly.