Digital tech set to transform Alberta's manufacturing sector

Industry 4.0 is the next step in adigital transformation influencing how products and parts are designed,fabricated, operated and serviced - all to help Alberta companies remaincompetitive in the face of globalization.

InnoTech Alberta continues to be a leader in this trend through itsAlberta Manufacturing and Innovation (AMFI) program. Industry stakeholdersrecently gathered for an AMFI workshop to learn the benefits of digitalmanufacturing technologies through a series of presentations and equipmentdemonstrations.

Gary Fisher, Principal Researcher at InnoTech Alberta, says the program has a proven record of introducing commercial technologies to the manufacturing sector in Alberta.

"We have new tools such as the IndustrialInternet of Things (IIOT), additive and smart manufacturing, new welding andjoining technologies and the like, which will greatly benefit industry if wecan adapt to improve efficiency and quality of things made in the province.

Workshop attendee Sean Lepine, of Enbridge,participated in a demonstration of a new digital welding process using datacapture and visualization. He sees the value of this technology to bettermanage the full life cycle of a project from the first weld to the delivery ofthe final documentation to clients.

"Using data capture, this tool canidentify an error as it's happening or a deviation from your prescribed processas it's happening. That allows you to mitigate a problem before it's evershipped to a client which saves down time, redos and, of course, money."

The demonstration highlights howdigital manufacturing technologies can be used to improve product design,production efficiency and equipment servicing.

"Part of our group's push forward islooking at how we can actually take that data we collect during constructionand utilize it on the asset management integrity side of our business," says Lepine.

Tom Petruch, of the company Oerlikon Metco, is a repeat workshop attendee. He believes that while the digital revolution in manufacturing is already here, smaller companies remain slow to adopt. Part of the issue is cost, especially when the majority of manufacturers in Alberta are serving the slumping energy industry. However, he sees promise in adoption of additive manufacturing technologies, otherwise known as 3D printing using metal. 

"The niche seems to be for themanufacture of complex pieces that would typically see two or three differentparts being welded together. Now, 3D printing might be an option. There's alsoa lot of options available for designing parts with different types ofstructural integrity that weren't previously available using traditionalmanufacturing methods," Petruch says.

Fisherbelieves the best way to remain at the head of the manufacturing curve isthrough information-sharing and the adoption of new processes and technologies."While the majority of our clients are energy-focused,we'd love to expand this program to include other industries like pulp andpaper or paper or agriculture. The challenge is those are proportionatelysmaller markets than energy, so our next steps involve looking at ways we caninvite the participation of new industries into the AMFI program."