The power of three

The power of three

Yes, most R&D in Atlantic Canada takes place in the region’s colleges and universities. But ultimately, an innovation only truly exists when it’s put to use. The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s recent R3 Gala celebrated the synergies that happen when business partners with post-secondary innovation

“Designing new or better products and systems inside a company, although critically necessary, is very challenging and requires a lot of investment and agility,” says Calvin Milbury, CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF). “Getting innovations that have been developed at colleges and universities into the hands of industry is an entirely separate challenge.”

One way that NBIF works to overcome that challenge is to show the business community how working with researchers can make a significant difference in their companies’ competitiveness and growth. In March 2016, they did exactly that at their biennial R3 Gala, where they celebrated three of New Brunswick’s top innovators with the R3 Innovation Award for Excellence in Applied Research, each of whom is working with companies with tremendous results.

John and Peter GriffinTHE FIRST RECIPIENT was Dr. Luichen Chang, an electrical engineering professor at the University of New Brunswick. He was recognized for his wind and smart-grid innovations.

“What we are doing with electricity now is very similar to the early Internet era,” says Dr. Chang. “We are integrating more small power generators into the grid, so we have a large virtual power plant formed. Down the road, more citizens will be able to integrate electricity from their own generators into the grid.”

The 20th-century power grid only allowed electricity to move in one direction, from power plants to transmission lines to its end use in someone’s home or business. As more people and businesses start generating their own renewable energy, technology for a two-way flow of electricity is needed. Dr. Chang is one of the world leaders in this area of research.

“I can see tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs to get into this domain and create a business,” says Chang. “Actually, we have 90 entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses in this domain. Imagine if we had solar panels everywhere in New Brunswick, we had wind turbines everywhere; we’d have the ability to generate several gigawatts of renewable energy.”

John and Peter GriffinTHE SECOND RECIPIENT was Dr. Amber Garber, Scientific Director at Huntsman Ocean Sciences in St. Andrew’s, N.B., for her selective breeding program and technology for commercial salmon farmers.

“In the past you would’ve gone into a sea cage and selected the biggest fish to create the next generation of production fish, which means you may be crossing brothers and sisters, leading to deformities that decimate the value of the fish,” says Dr. Garber. “With our selective breeding program we are preventing this, and at the same time isolating and breeding families that show resistance to sea lice and bacterial kidney disease.”

Growing and selling what Garber calls “elite broodstock” like the ones she is raising in the lab will significantly reduce the need for sea lice treatments and antibiotics.

“Specific Atlantic salmon might produce mucus that may be a deterrent to sea lice, just like if you were sitting around a campfire and your friend gets bitten by 15 mosquitoes, and you don’t get bitten by any” says Garber. “My ultimate dream is to have a pedigree broodstock program for all of our commercial fish species, even mussels, and oysters; every species can have a broodstock program, and it’s my job to try to make a fish that’s better.”

Salmon farming in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia generates around $350 million per year, which translates to about 300 million meals and 3,000 jobs. Protecting both fish and coastal health is critical for sustaining and growing the industry, and one way to accomplish this is with a custom selective breeding program. Dr. Garber’s work makes a direct impact on preventing quality downgrades that cost salmon producers many millions of dollars in lost opportunity every year.

John and Peter GriffinTHE THIRD RECIPIENT was Alain Doucet, who heads up the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick’s (CCNB) Metal Fabrication Laboratory in Bathurst. Doucet led the research and development of dozens of innovations for industry, most notably for engineering company Leading Edge Geomatics and garment maker Confection 4e Dimension.

Leading Edge Geomatics is a remote sensing company based in Fredericton, N.B. that mounts cameras and lasers on airplanes to map the surface of the earth, the height of the trees, the height of the power lines (and more) for private industry and governments all over North America. Due to strict aviation rules around the modification of aircraft, the company had to have a separate aircraft for every type of surveying equipment they used.

“Imagine having 25 different planes and 25 different technologies… do the math, you have to have so many different interfaces for different technologies and planes,” says Doucet. “So, we developed one Transport Canada-certified plate that acts as a plug-n-play for all of their survey equipment options. Now the company can install and remove any configuration they want, adding significantly more capacity to their everyday business.”

Confection 4e Dimension, located in St. Léonard, N.B. manufactures over a quarter million pairs of uniform pants for Tim Horton’s every year. To compete with cheaper labour in Asia, its founder, Michel St-Amand and his team developed a robotic system for cutting and sewing garments. However, the one part of the process the company could not figure out how to automate was sewing the elastic into the waist. As a result, the speed of production was hindered by this still manual process.

Through NBIF, Doucet and his team developed a robotic and control system that is now installed and operating, eliminating 95 per cent of the costs associated with sewing elastic waistbands. Now that’s innovation.

“If you or your company has an innovative idea for a new or better product or technology, NBIF can help,” says Milbury. “We can provide both the funding and find the scientists, engineers, programmers or designers companies and founders need to see it through. After all, innovation is our business.” •

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