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By Jayson Myers

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada: Supercluster Update

Jay-Myers-Speaking-3It’s been two years since Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster. It’s time for an update.

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada – NGen for short – is the industry-led not-for-profit organization that leads the Supercluster. NGen is dedicated to building world leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada to benefit Canadians. We are in business to promote Canada’s strengths in advanced manufacturing at home and around the world, connect and build collaboration in support of advanced manufacturing across Canada, support collaborative projects in world leading technology applications in manufacturing, and help smaller companies de-risk technology adoption and scale-up.

I’m incredibly proud of what the NGen’s team of industry experts has been able to achieve over the past year as we have scaled up our operations, worked with the federal government to determine the rules around project funding, and launched initiatives that are already building unique advanced manufacturing capabilities across Canada. I want to celebrate that!

Early on, NGen’s Board of Directors, led by Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar, set four strategic objectives for the Supercluster. The Board told us that NGen needs to be transformative, that we need to focus on building advanced manufacturing capabilities that confer a competitive advantage on Canadian industry, recognizing full well that digital technologies are revolutionizing the business of manufacturing worldwide.

They also said that, in order to be transformative, NGen needs to support collaborative initiatives. World leading capabilities in advanced manufacturing are built by leveraging Canada’s technology and manufacturing strengths, our skilled workforce, and the business services, networks, and funding supports that exist across the country. NGen works to integrate technologies and develop new solutions for manufacturing. Our goal is to enable capabilities that no individual company or organization can achieve on its own.

Our initiatives have to be applied, focusing on later-stage technology development and testing in manufacturing, and have significant commercial potential. And, they need to be able to strengthen connectivity and contribute know-how, tools, or testbeds that build advanced manufacturing capabilities locally or across Canada.

NGen launched its membership drive early in 2019. All companies, organizations, and individuals making a contribution to advanced manufacturing in Canada are invited to join. Membership is free. We use the data describing the capabilities of our members to help identify partners for innovation projects and new commercial ventures. We have now expanded from the hundred founding members of the Supercluster to a membership of more than 1,500 from across Canada. And, we are continuing to grow.

We launched our open call for project proposals a year ago as well. NGen reimburses 44 percent of the eligible costs incurred by industry partners in collaborative projects that build world leading manufacturing capabilities and that offer significant benefits to Canadians. Any NGen member can propose a project or apply to be a partner in a project funded by the Supercluster. All projects go through a short but rigorous review process and are assessed by panels of independent industry experts.

Granted, it’s a tall order to meet NGen’s project approval criteria. But, that hasn’t stopped companies with really exciting projects from going ahead. To date, we have eleven projects on the go and more than 100 in our pipeline. The projects we have approved so far involve 33 partners from across Canada, mostly small and medium-sized manufacturing and technology companies, with all but one led by SMEs.

It’s the level of ambition that impresses me. Our project pipeline currently encompasses a whole range of advanced manufacturing technologies and multiple sectors, ranging from biologics and medical devices to steel, automotive, aerospace, and food processing. We are looking for new proposals all the time. One of the lessons we’ve learned over the past year is that amazing things can happen when companies who have never known each other before come together to do something they could not achieve on their own, but which is truly ground breaking.

NGen is also committed to supporting smaller companies adopt and scale-up advanced manufacturing technologies. We do that by partnering with leading public and private sector organizations that offer support by way of technology development and training, business services, networking, and funding.

A majority of manufacturers that invest in advanced technologies fail to achieve their business objectives. Small technology companies find it difficult to scale up their manufacturing operations in Canada for lack of customers and supporting infrastructure. Everyone faces a challenge in sourcing the people or the expertise they need to compete and grow.

These challenges will not be met unless new collaborative ways are found for manufacturers, technology companies, our schools, research centres, supporting business and financial services, and business networks to work together. NGen will be playing our role by supporting new industry-led initiatives to enhance workforce education and training, de-risk technology investment decisions for smaller companies, and help equip manufacturers with the tools they need to reconsider their business strategies, increase throughput and improve processes, understand what’s needed for the successful deployment of advanced technologies, and identify partners with capabilities that can help them compete and grow.

Thanks to all our members and supporters. If you are not already a member, join us. Tell us about your capabilities and interests in finding partners that might help grow your company. Propose a project or apply to become a partner in a project funded by NGen. Above all, stay connected to the community that is dedicated to building advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada. Our economy, and Canadians at large, depend on it.

Please take NGen's 2020 Advanced Manufacturing Survey here.