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Manufacturing consortium seeking companies to share ideas

A new training program has been designed to help Northern Ontario manufacturers streamline their operations for efficiency and productivity.

A new training program has been designed to help Northern Ontario manufacturers streamline their operations for efficiency and productivity.

The two-year Productivity/Lean Management and Productivity Cluster Initiative is being funded by FedNor and facilitated by the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium of Canada (EMC). It’s free of charge to participants and open to businesses across sectors.

Participants will be divided into two cohorts: one encompassing Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay, and the second comprising Timmins, Thunder Bay, and Muskoka.

The program consists of regular meetings and networking sessions devised to encourage businesses to work together to solve similar problems.

The Northern Ontario program follows in the footsteps of a successful Brockville-area pilot project, which showed a lot of promise, said Al Diggins, EMC’s president and general manager.

“The return on investment was staggering,” Diggins said of the pilot. “It was numbers that you very rarely see in productivity improvement training.”

Since then, the Brockville pilot group has grown to 35 companies, which still get together on a monthly basis to trade tips and network.

The Northern Ontario iteration began in April and will run quarterly in all communities. Sessions will be hosted by EMC.

The biggest benefit to participating companies is the access they gain to EMC members countrywide.

“We’ve got thousands of members across Canada, and our core business is facilitating manufacturers so manufacturers can help each other out,” Diggins said. “The people participating in either one of these (Northern Ontario) programs have access to our entire network for the period of time of this program, and that is huge.”

If, for example, a Timmins manufacturer is stumped by a perplexing problem, that company can put out an inquiry to consortium members to determine if anyone has experienced a similar problem, and what their suggested solutions are.

Once companies start networking more with their Northern neighbours, they might just find more commonalities than they anticipate, Diggins added.

Participants sourcing parts in China may find someone in Ontario making the part they need, for example.

“We want to bring that kind of thinking, that kind of culture, to the North and let them know that there are great resources within your own community,” Diggins said.

Diggins is respectful of the unique characteristics that define each of the North’s various communities, but at the same time, he said, the challenges facing Northern Ontario communities are roughly the same across the board.

“Timmins is a whole lot different than Thunder Bay, and Thunder Bay is a whole lot different than Muskoka, as Thunder Bay is a whole lot different than the Sault, so, yes, we recognize that,” Diggins said.

“But we’re really dealing with the people doing the work who have the issues and things they would like to be solved, and if they can access those answers within their own community, or reach out to a community of like-minded people throughout Canada, that should hopefully make them more productive and happier and more profitable.”

EMC’s goal is to reach around 30 participants, and the maximum is 50, but Diggins said numbers will be determined by the demand in the community.

As the idea of a network, or cluster, catches on, Diggins believes companies will continue to meet and work together on Northern-made problems beyond the two-year project, which could breed additional opportunities for similar programming in the North.