RRC’s savvy fuels green buses

Students built prototype for U.S.-ready MCI vehicles


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Members of the Red River College community have every right to feel a tinge of pride when they see a 2010 Motor Coach Industries J4500 coach roll by.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/11/2010 (4454 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Members of the Red River College community have every right to feel a tinge of pride when they see a 2010 Motor Coach Industries J4500 coach roll by.

That’s because it was students and staff at RRC who designed and built the prototype of the 2010 coach to allow it to accommodate the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for the new reduced-emission engines.

Of course, they worked with MCI’s existing bus design, but the new regulations required all of the air flow, water and electrical components that interfaced with the engine also be installed to the new EPA standards.

Submitted photo Red River College students and staff stand by a prototype of a Motor Coach Industries' J4500 bus. Students and MCI collaborated on a project that makes the coach meet United States Environmental Protection Agency standards for reduced emissions engines.

That required a new set of drawings and documented production protocols for every one of MCI’s different models.

The work RRC staff and students performed on the 2010 J-coach was the fifth commercial project on which RRC and MCI collaborated dating back to 2006, and it’s one of the shining stars of the college’s aggressive initiative to become a real presence in addressing the applied-research needs of the province’s industrial community.

Earlier this month, RRC and its partners won an All-Star Award from the Manitoba Aerospace Association for a new training centre it has established in collaboration with Standard Aero and with the support of federal and provincial governments.

It’s an indication that efforts are starting to pay off.

Fred Doern, chairman of the college’s Department of Mechanical, Manufacturing and Communication, said in the past, colleges have been overlooked for their contribution to applied research and development.

“If you think about whole innovation scheme of things, colleges are closest to commercialization,” Doern said. “While you could say the universities are focused on the ‘why,’ colleges focus on the ‘how.’ “

The applied-research initiative is a natural progression of RRC’s tradition of being responsive to the skilled-employment needs of the private sector.

“Historically, we have always worked close with industry,” he said. “Our programs are geared to providing job-ready graduates.”

Jim Macdonald, executive director of engineering at MCI, bears witness to that reality.

“For some time, MCI has been a company that hired graduates of electrical or mechanical engineering technology programs,” Macdonald said. “It seemed like a reasonable thing to do to see if we could work together on some kind of project.”

Neither side would say how much RRC was paid for the job or for a similar project in 2006 for the previous EPA engine-emission upgrade, but Ray Hoemsen, RRC’s director of the office of applied research and commercialization, said the college benefits from these projects in a number of ways.

Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg free press archives A Motor Coach Industries' J4500 coach.

“The main motivation is it gives our students a better learning experience,” Hoemsen said. “It broadens their background and it gives our faculty a chance to work on something that is an issue and a challenge in the industry. So it’s more relevant.”

In addition to MCI’s interest in maintaining its pipeline of trained graduates to hire, the company also faced some time constraints with the EPA’s reduced emission requirements.

Macdonald said MCI did the prototyping for its other coach models in-house and if pressed, could have done them all. But because there was already an established relationship with the college and all of the requisite legal and intellectual-property issues were covered, it became an excellent way for the bus-maker to deepen its relationship with the college.

And as it turned out, the company ended up hiring three of the five students who worked on the project. (Students in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program have two four-month co-op job placements as part of the course. The MCI work served as one of the co-op assignments.)

Like any other instance of heavy equipment fabrication, there are risks.

But in this case, they were greatly mitigated by RRC instructor Ed Hohenberg, an instructor in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program and a former MCI engineer.

“He is an expert in power train technology, so that helped,” Macdonald said. “It was a lot less risky with the right person helping to lead it.”


Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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