Successful composites centre looking to expand

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Successful composites centre looking to expand

by Martin Cash

THE Composites Innovation Centre (CIC) has become too successful for its own good.

Canada’s largest composites manufacturing research centre is struggling with finding the financing for a new facility as its staff and project pipeline continue to grow.

“We are going to have to move,” said Sean McKay, the CIC’s executive director. “It’s not a matter of if, but when, we move.”

He said additional assessment in the next short while will likely allow the not-for-profit research centre to decide on a move before the end of the year.

McKay said it was originally expecting to be able to move in 2011, but now it looks as if it might not be until 2012.

Its ongoing efforts to finance a new building underscores its predicament as a strategic driver of economic development that still struggles to attract adequate public sector funding.

Not that it is a reliable indicator of support, but the CIC’s annual meeting on Tuesday drew almost twice as many people as the previous meeting.

Formed in 2003 to support the development of composites manufacturing in the city, the CIC has gone on to undertake about $12.5-million worth of projects to date.

It has also helped turn the city into what some are calling the composites capital of Canada.

Kevin Lusk, chairman of the CIC’s board of directors, said Quebec’s composites manufacturers produce more volume, but it is spread throughout that province.

“We have a larger cluster right here in Winnipeg,” he said. “

The CIC is turning into an economic engine that is not thoroughly recognized in the province. It is very exciting.”

Earlier this year, it spun off an aerospace-specific consortium — the Canadian Composites Manufacturing Research and Development consortium (CCMRD) — formed by the CIC with Boeing, the National Research Council and six other Canadian companies including a couple from Manitoba.

The CIC-managed research group is a virtual consortium with its first project underway at the Bell Helicopters location in Montreal.

McKay said ideally, the CIC’s work would be done in Manitoba.

“If we are to make this work in Manitoba for the benefit of Manitoba companies of which we are highly represented,” McKay said, the CIC ideally would have space enough to acquire technology, some that does not exist elsewhere in Canada, and transfer the expertise back to industry.

Peter Bjornson, Manitoba’s minister of entrepreneurship, training and trade, referred to the CIC as a “mini economic engine,” mentioning its work in developing bio-fibres made from flax and hemp fibres as having the potential for “enormous impact for the provincial economy.”

Composites in Manitoba

Boeing Canada Technology (Winnipeg Division) is the largest composites manufacturing site in the country.

Magellan Aerospace has more than a dozen manufacturing sites in Canada, the United States and the U.K., but its Winnipeg unit, Bristol Aerospace, is the only one with composites capabilities.

The Composites Innovation Centre is working with Winnipeg bus manufacturer Motor Coach Industries to commercialize composites parts made from flax and hemp fibres.

The development of Boeing’s all-composites 787 Dreamliner earlier this decade marked a dramatic increase in the use of composites in transportation equipment manufacturing. (Boeing’s Winnipeg plant makes several key parts for that model).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2010 B6

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