In March 2020, when most of the North was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping (ICAMP) was busier than ever.
The North Bay facility, located on the campus of Canadore College, completed 25 applied research projects last year – the highest single-year tally in its nine years of operation.
Brad Gavan, ICAMP’s director, attributes 2020’s record numbers to a couple of factors.
Companies whose operations slowed or ceased temporarily finally had time to consider their business needs from a research and development (R&D) perspective, he noted.
Others had their supply chains interrupted by the pandemic and, when they couldn’t get an item or component they needed, started searching for ways to make it themselves.
Either way, Gavan said, the momentum gained in the last year alone could herald the start of a new era of Northern Ontario-created products that could meet a need locally, provincially and nationally.
“I think companies are going to start thinking, ‘How can I create new products in Canada so people can get it quicker?’” he said.
“We need to foster more people creating new products and services, and I think the COVID piece, regarding where people work now, there are really no boundaries. People can move to Northern Ontario.”
ICAMP has been a pioneering organization in innovation and prototyping since it launched in 2012.
It all started when Canadore’s president, George Burton, conducted a series of meetings with business owners in the community to find out how the college could help them increase their potential.
What he heard is that companies wanted to develop new products, but didn’t necessarily have the financing to outfit their shops with expensive equipment that they might only use a handful of times a year.
In other jurisdictions around the globe, there were innovation centres set up to address this exact need, and Canadore decided to make North Bay home of the next.
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After raising $6.8 million in private and government funding, ICAMP opened its doors in 2012, and today the centre boasts a range of sophisticated technology – precision 3D scanners, CNC machines, robotics, microscopy, design and simulation software, and additive manufacturing equipment – to assist with product design, prototyping, materials testing, and more.
Experienced and knowledgeable staff are on hand to train users in their function, and they can even help clients conduct market research and access funding.
Gavan said one of ICAMP’s strengths is its ability to create partnerships with other businesses and organizations.
“We’re really trying to bring more people to the table, so it’s not just our resources,” he said.
“What other connectors do we have in Ontario or throughout Canada that have other services that could help prototyping or processing, or whatever makes sense.”
Starting out, ICAMP focused its efforts on the mining and manufacturing sectors, but in ensuing years, their reach has expanded to aerospace, forestry, transportation, consumer goods, environmental products, medical products, sporting goods, and information technology.
And while the bulk of ICAMP’s clients are based in Northern Ontario, Gavan said the centre has attracted clients from southern Ontario and the western and eastern coasts of Canada.
“We’ve really grown,” Gavan said.
To date, the centre has hosted more than 800 projects for 380 clients, most of which have been established companies that are looking to rejig a product or process.
In the last few years, ICAMP has seen a rise in demand for services catering to young companies that take more time to become established.
So, in March, the centre announced it was launching its newest division, the Concept Development Lab, to help startups define a concept, conduct market research, or develop a prototype.
“If the person or the small company has a product, then they can come into the Concept Development Lab and actually make their product,” Gavan said.
“They can come in and learn whatever machines they need to use. They would be taken through the whole process in the commercialization wheel.”
To accommodate the new lab, the college is refurbishing 5,000 square feet of space, which will have its own equipment. As at ICAMP, staff will train users on the technology and provide guidance on everything from prototyping to funding assistance.
Gavan expects it will open for use in the fall of 2022.
“We’re all about the success of the business, and if we can help along the way, then we want to help along the way.”
Since launching in 1986, the Northern Ontario Business Awards has become the largest annual gathering of its kind in Northern Ontario. These awards serve to heighten the visibility and influence of business in the North and bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.