Centre gets $6.6-M boost

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Centre gets $6.6-M boost
Materials research improves industry

By Martin Cash

WINNIPEG’S Composites Innovation Centre has been given a $6.6-million vote of confidence to carry on at least three more years of groundbreaking research in advanced materials.

The three-year-old centre works with the private sector and universities to do cutting-edge research on how to make stronger, lighter and less corrosive parts for manufacturing industries.

Among other things, it has helped Boeing Canada Technology develop lightweight, low-cost parts for the 787 Dreamliner passenger jet; stronger and lighter baggage compartment doors for Motor Coach Industries; and better corrosion-resistance material for underground storage of mining industry chemicals.

Composites are made by embedding strands of material like glass fibres, for instance, into a plastic material like resin. When cured, the final product is very light and very strong. Composites are particularly crucial for the aerospace and manufacturing industries. Research is also underway at the CIC to find alternative uses for agricultural fibres grown in the region, like hemp and flax.

The federal and provincial governments will equally share the new funding for the research centre. Yesterday’s announcement was the first for the new federal minister of Western Economic Diversification, Carol Skelton.

She said the CIC fits the federal government’s goals to build long-term economic and industrial growth.

Industry officials made it clear, however, that the CIC is helping industry now.

Robert Perry, executive director of operations at Motor Coach Industries, said the new baggage compartment doors the CIC helped develop will reduce the cost of the coach, improve its quality and reduce the weight of the bus significantly.

“We saw the first prototype recently and it looks like it will deliver everything we wanted it to,” he said “It is a significant development for us.”

The centre now has close to 30 different research projects underway and its executive director, Sean McKay, said the new funding will allow it to continue to do more.

Among its projects is a new one just started in collaboration with an American composites research centre and the National Research Council on using nanotechnology on clay particles to improve performance and reduce weight in bus parts and increase the corrosion resistance for holding tanks for mining applications.

Nanotechnology studies the molecular makeup of materials to develop miniaturized industrial applications.

Six months ago, the centre moved into an expanded location at a new building in Smartpark at the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus that also houses the provincial Industrial Technology Centre. The ITC is a special operating agency of the province that provides testing and consulting services to Manitoba industries.

Mark Ross, the chairman of the CIC and president of Boeing Canada Technology, said the progress of the centre is a clear indication of how important it is to the Manitoba economy.

“Three years ago, we had $50,000 and one employee,” Ross said. “Now there are 10 employees and about $14 million worth of funding.”

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