Industry throughout Alberta and Canada is striving to become more innovative and competitive. Its success is essential to our nation’s prosperity. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) is a partner in achieving these ambitions. NAIT assists industry and business partners in developing solutions and enabling their success.

Opening in Fall 2018, NAIT’s new Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC) is a game-changer that builds on the institute’s established strengths and deep relationships with industry. PIC provides more than 17,650 square metres (190,000 square feet) of innovation space. Through an integrated framework called Industry Solutions, NAIT works with partners on applied research, product development and improvement, productivity enhancement, and business innovation. “NAIT works with industry partners in their pursuit to be globally competitive. The solutions NAIT offers its clients and partners will help them to succeed in our rapidly changing world,” says Dr. Glenn Feltham, President and CEO of NAIT.

Helping to innovate

Feltham attributes part of PIC’s preparedness to key funding and support from the federal government. “The foresight from Ottawa in putting forward funding through the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund will be transformative for NAIT and Canada,” he says.

PIC is part of a natural evolution for NAIT. Since its inception in 1962 industry has been a partner to NAIT. This started with education and led to training for businesses. Then in 2007 it expanded to include applied research. PIC takes this to a new level allowing NAIT to offer comprehensive industry solutions to businesses and companies.

Most energy-related products produced in Alberta are sold out of province and to other parts of the world. Edmonton and its surrounding area have also grown to be among the top manufacturing locations in Canada.

Through NAIT’s established partnerships it helps companies adopt technology to increase their operational efficiency, with robotic welding or automated manufacturing, for example. This also includes consultation to help understand workflows and identify more effective methodologies.

“It’s not curiosity-based research initiated by staff, it’s companies coming to us and asking for help to solve an issue,” says Dr. Sue Fitzsimmons, Vice President, Academic at NAIT. “We’re really not about radical innovation but more about incremental innovation and the productivity solutions that go hand-in-hand with that.” 

Building solutions

The results are already encouraging, she adds. For example, reclaiming land following oil operations has been difficult because of soil erosion, but research has created new seed technology to help plants to take root, reforesting those areas and reintroducing biodiversity.

Smaller manufacturing companies also benefit from being able to innovate a product when they don’t have the expertise to create a prototype.

“They’ll come to NAIT, work with our specialized equipment, and we’ll support them with qualified technicians to create what they need,” she says. “If they want to adopt more advanced machinery used in the prototyping process, we can provide training to help their employees learn how to use it.”

Dr. Fitzsimmons is quick to note that PIC will not act as a startup incubator. Rather it will cater more to businesses that are already operating. She believes the institution brings a number of research areas together that span various industries and contribute to Canada’s global economic advantage.

“Our ability to connect the dots between different kinds of industries is really heightened,” she says. “I think that’s going to be key to the success of whomever we work with.”