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This article was published 8/6/2019 (426 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After four years on the planning desk, the construction contract for the National Research Council’s (NRC) $60-million Advanced Manufacturing Program building is expected to be awarded by the end of the month.
The 70,000-square-foot building will become the centrepiece of the Brookside Industrial Park and provide underpinning for the province’s manufacturing sector for decades to come.
The Advanced Manufacturing Program building is one of the largest NRC developments in many years — the NRC is about to open a smaller $25-million materials-research operation in Mississauga in October — and could become a key research centre not just for researchers and manufacturers in Manitoba, but across the country.
"All our centres have a national mandate, but there is also always a regional focus because of the nature of the relationships," said François Cordeau, the NRC’s vice-president of transportation. "It is always easier to establish relationships with the people who are around you."
With advanced manufacturing as the central focus, the NRC’s centre — which is expected to be commissioned no later than March 2021 — will broadly support the sector in areas such as additive manufacturing (3D printing), robotics and the integration of new digital technologies — such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things — into the manufacturing process.
When completed, it will accommodate about 100 people, but Cordeau said it is imagined that maybe only 40 per cent of those working in the building at any given time will be NRC staffers, while the rest will be from industry and academia.
"The building is really a platform for collaboration," Cordeau said.
A little less than two years before it will open, the NRC is already working with the faculty of engineering at the University of Manitoba to initiate programs so that they will be up and running before the building opens.
Jonathan Beddoes, the dean of the faculty of engineering at the University of Manitoba, said he and his staff have been meeting with NRC people for more than a year.
"It is definitely going to be important," he said. "It will provide access to equipment that might not otherwise be available, and by drawing industry in, it allows us to ensure that our research and development can be quickly applied to problems facing industry and contribute to their competitive position in Manitoba and beyond."
As well, extensive consultation with industry has been ongoing. The Manitoba division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) struck a coalition a couple of years ago to ensure the NRC was aware of the most pertinent issues that need to be addressed.
The relevance of the research to be conducted is top of mind to all concerned. Cordeau said 80 per cent of work at the project will be in collaboration with industry.
"We will not develop technology in the hopes that it will solve a problem — we will do it because we know from our feedback with industry that there is a problem," Cordeau said.
That is exactly what officials from CME want to hear. Ron Kozlowsky, CME’s Manitoba vice-president, said they are determined to make sure the facility will affect not just the largest players, but small and medium-sized operations across the spectrum.
"That is our biggest worry," Kozlowsky said. "We want this thing to be of use and of value broadly, not just for few companies in Manitoba. We need to really reach out to manufacturers and get together with both the big companies and the little ones. We need to do a lot of selling and building awareness."
As well as being critical to positioning the Canadian manufacturing industry for the next few decades and beyond, it will be a prestige addition to the manufacturing sector in Manitoba, which represents about 10 per cent of the provincial GDP.
Its presence has already helped spur a development boom around it in the southeast portion of CentrePort Canada, the inland port.
Diane Gray, CEO of CentrePort, said the presence of a new federal government building that is working on technology of the future will be a boost to the province.
"It is really going to help continue to keep our manufacturing industry competitive and relevant in a changing global market," she said.
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.
Updated on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at 11:41 AM CDT: Corrects typo.
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