Revitalizing Canada’s manufacturing industry, and becoming a world leader in advanced manufacturing, is a necessity for our economic future, but it’s not possible alone.

What we need is a coalition of motivated parties spanning the public, private, and education sectors working together toward a common goal. At McMaster University, this philosophy of collaboration has been fully embraced and is already beginning to pay dividends.

So why is manufacturing so important, anyway?

The export of goods and services makes up 31 percent of Canada’s GDP, but the manufacturing component has been steadily shrinking for five decades.

“This is cause for alarm,” says Ishwar K. Puri, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University. “Because manufacturing tends to be among the biggest job multipliers, when you lose a single manufacturing job, it has a 10-fold impact on the economy in terms of job loss.”

For Canada to reclaim manufacturing prominence, we need to reconnect our innovative research with our homegrown industry. “When we decouple manufacturing from society, we lose a lot of our innovative capacity,” says Stephen C. Veldhuis, Director of the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI). “We’re a very innovative country, but unfortunately we’ve been sending too many of our innovations outside of Canada. One of the things we would like to see is more of the innovations we come up with being manufactured in Canada for global markets.”

The MMRI has, for 16 years, been working to bring the various parties together to make that happen. “We collaborate closely with industry, and through our interactions we learn where the real challenges lie,” explains Veldhuis. “We get access to real data and information from our industry partners and take it back to the lab where our researchers can try to better understand and improve the processes.”

McMaster’s research within the manufacturing sector is diverse, spanning high-performance manufacturing processes to additive manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 technologies targeting emerging opportunities in electrified and autonomous vehicles and biomedical devices. It’s this combination of reputation, experience, and scientific discovery that appeals to industry.

“We see McMaster University and the MMRI as a great resource for our company and reach out to them for guidance and input when we are trying to solve a particularly tricky machining problem,” says Stewart Cramer, CEO of Vertex Precision Manufacturing.

Collaborate and listen

This interplay between industry and academia is extremely valuable in both directions, with government policy-makers forming a vital third point to the triangle. “We as academics bring fundamental knowledge, whereas our industry partners come in with more applied knowledge,” says Veldhuis. “Independently, these are both strong, but they are much stronger when brought together. The government’s objective is to grow the manufacturing component of the economy, and so their support really needs to be there to grow this collaboration and realize the economic benefits of it here in Canada.”

McMaster is labouring hard to dismantle the very idea of the ivory tower. They still revere the value of pure scientific research, but believe strongly that real progress is only made when disparate voices and perspectives gather to work together. “Research is important for its scientific content, but also for its translational content, which helps our economy and grows the well-being of our society,” says Puri. “It’s very important for universities to work with their local business communities and Canadian industry. We also need to work with other universities and with the government. If we’re going to build prosperity, it has to be a project that includes many players. Collaboration must be our core value.”