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The Latest in Advanced
Manufacturing by Jayson Myers

What’s Super about a Supercluster?

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada is one of five superclusters launched two years ago by the federal government to foster connections, strengthen collaboration, and leverage the outstanding research, technological, and business strengths of Canada’s key innovation ecosystems in order to develop world leading capabilities for the benefit of Canadians.

NGen is committed to building world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada. Like other superclusters, we aim to support industry-led innovation, increase investment in Canada, help scale up smaller companies into global competitors, and create new commercial opportunities to boost both exports and job growth.

But, what actually is a supercluster? More to the point, what makes a supercluster so super?

These are questions that are so frequently asked they’ve become great conversation starters! Yet, they go to the heart of what NGen is trying to achieve. Our experiences over the past couple of years provide some fitting answers.

First, let me explain what NGen is not. We are not just a typical business cluster. Generally speaking, business clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated organizations in a particular field of activity. For the past thirty years, since being popularized by Michael Porter, business clusters have been a key focus of economic development strategies because of their potential to leverage local competitive advantages to enhance productivity, stimulate innovation, and create new business opportunities, both locally as well as internationally.

A supercluster like NGen works to magnify the potential benefits of business clusters in a number of important ways.

NGen has a national mandate and a super-high level of ambition. Our sights are set on global excellence. We work to combine the best in terms of knowledge, technologies, and production capabilities from across Canada to develop unique solutions for Canadian manufacturers that can subsequently be commercialized in world markets. And, to promote Canada’s strengths in advanced manufacturing across the country and around the world.

NGen has developed a network of more than 2,300 members – businesses, research, education, and other supporting organizations, as well as experts from all regions of the country. We work with and support existing clusters. We also help develop new clusters with significant innovation and commercial potential. Our ultimate aim, though, is to maximize economic opportunities by connecting and strengthening collaboration among businesses, organizations, and clusters across the country.

The breadth of technologies and the potential to deploy solutions across a variety of manufacturing sectors are other distinguishing features that underscore what is “super” about our role as a supercluster. Today, leadership in advanced manufacturing depends on developing value-adding solutions by combining a variety of competencies, technologies – digital, analytic, materials, and production processes – and other business capabilities, including supporting private and public services, to solve manufacturing problems and take advantage of new market opportunities.

Collaboration is key to success. Few, if any companies, have the ability or the expertise to develop and commercialize truly world-leading solutions on their own. For manufacturers in Canada and around the world, value networks encompassing broadly distributed product, service, innovation, and knowledge supply chains are more important than ever in developing new methods of value creation and sustaining their business success. Advanced manufacturing networks need to be agile. They need to respond and reconfigure rapidly in order to respond to changing market conditions and take advantage of emerging innovation opportunities.

By enabling partnerships and leveraging the power of networks, NGen helps companies build capabilities faster and more effectively than they would be able to achieve on their own. That is especially true for Canada’s small and medium sized manufacturers and tech companies where partnerships – perhaps especially when it comes to sharing expertise, infrastructure, and best practices – are vitally important for innovation and growth. The challenges that companies face in scaling up and successfully deploying advanced manufacturing capabilities are to a large extent shared across NGen’s membership.

The investments that NGen is making in industry-led projects and the connections that we are making across Canada’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem reduce the risks that businesses, and especially smaller companies, face in pursuing cutting-edge collaborative innovation. Our IP and data strategies are designed not only to protect intellectual property rights and confidential information but to encourage the application of new knowledge to generate value within Canadian manufacturing.

After all, technology is just a tool. It’s people and know-how that make the real difference. And, it is the vision, commitment, entrepreneurship, and management expertise of leaders from across Canadian industry, our research and education institutions, and government, working together, that will have the most powerful impact in shaping the future of advanced manufacturing in Canada.

Supported by NGen, their innovation initiatives are already leading to some rather super outcomes. They are creating new high-value, technology-intensive manufacturing capabilities that will lead to new economic and job opportunities for Canadians. Even more important, though, they are saving lives, improving health care, strengthening food and water security, creating new and interesting career opportunities for young Canadians, and improving industrial emissions and environmental performance. These are the contributions of Canada’s advanced manufacturing supercluster that really count.