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Smart tech takes on the liquid-steel manufacturing challenge
Steel-making is a science but still relies on experienced human operators at key stages of production.
But what if “smart” technology replaced manual tasks with digital sensors that consistently update information and reveal insights impossible to detect with the trained eye – or brain?
Answering the “what if” question is a top priority for Canadian steel giant ArcelorMittal Dofasco as it strives to compete globally. To speed the hunt for answers – when Canadian steel already is under siege from U.S. tariffs in a burgeoning global trade war – the Hamilton-based manufacturer hopes to join forces with innovative startups, university researchers and even a competitor, Essar Steel Algoma Inc., to promote a new generation of manufacturing.
Dofasco wants to improve its ladle metallurgy process, a key step in steel-making, while Algoma eyes the potential to automate product development. In both cases, the companies look to artificial intelligence and machine learning to help them set new, world-beating standards of efficiency, quality, energy savings and generate as-yet unimagined innovations.
The steel makers’ projects are the kind of game-changing breakthroughs imagined for a new $950-million fund announced this year by the federal government. The Innovation Superclusters Initiative, with federal dollars matched by industry, identified advanced manufacturing as one of five economic “superclusters” to spark collaboration among large and small Canadian businesses, postsecondary institutions and non-profit groups to solve industry-identified problems. Inspired by playbooks in Silicon Valley and Germany, Ottawa predicts that these new relationships will boost Canada’s lagging performance in innovation, expand the economy by $50-billion over the next decade and add 50,000 jobs.
“Usually our innovation policies have spent a lot of money supporting university and college researchers and it is usually up to the researcher to find their industry partner,” says Jayson Myers, chief executive officer of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, a new network of private and public sector organizations created to reverse the trend of Canadian manufacturers trailing on innovation, global competitiveness and growth. “This [supercluster arrangement] turns it [the previous funding model] on its head: Now the money is going to industry.”
With government funding and project selection expected this fall, Mr. Myers hopes his organization will be able to disperse up to $1-billion over four years (up to $250-million from Ottawa and the remainder pledged by industry) to mobilize transformational projects of the kind proposed by Dofasco and Algoma.
Dofasco, for example, is exploring the potential to fully automate its ladle metallurgy process – the stage when trained operators manually add the “secret sauce” to liquid steel before it is cast into numerous grades of steel slabs for construction, car-making and packaged goods. Assuming supercluster funding, the company would draw on the applied steel research by university professors and tap the expertise of startups already building artificial intelligence platforms to modernize manufacturing operations.
If successful, the collective effort would mean that Dofasco technicians no longer physically rake the surface of the liquid steel to remove imperfections and assess when to add alloys and chemicals for the exact grade of steel ordered by a customer. In future, it is hoped, digital sensors could determine exactly what inputs to add, and when, guaranteeing consistent quality every time and reducing energy required for the process.
“This would be the first [steel maker] in the world to have a fully automated ladle metallurgy facility,” says Angela Pappin, vice-president of technology for Dofasco, who hopes the project rolls out over the next four years. “Now I will know that when I made this vat [of liquid steel] six months ago it resulted in this type of performance at the customer’s plant. The machine will learn from that and I can feed [the information] back in.”
Ms. Pappin says the workers now performing the manual tasks would not lose their jobs, but would be deployed in different capacities in monitoring the metallurgy process. “We still need the workers, we still need the brains and we need to teach the system what the workers know and it never stops,” she says. “Steel just keeps advancing.”
Embracing the latest technology to generate consistent, high-quality data also holds true for Algoma, though its challenge – how to respond fast to ever-changing demands of customers – is different from the one at Dofasco.
“Traditionally, the research and development of a product in steel-making is a slow process,” says Pramod Shukla, chief operating officer of Algoma, in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., estimating his company needs an average of six months to test new steel products to customer specifications.
In future, he says, Algoma could apply self-learning algorithmic models to assess multiple variables at once – beyond the capacity of any experienced technician. As a result, the product development cycle could take just 15 days to two or three months.
“When you have a machine learning model, it will tell us exactly the best way to achieve our objective,” he says. “That is what smart manufacturing is all about.” He also sees a role for artificial intelligence in probing “the hidden capability in our [Algoma] assets,” further expanding the company’s ability to respond quickly to customer demand.
An important feature of the supercluster model is that companies like Dofasco and Algoma no longer have to go it alone on innovation. As a facilitator for supercluster projects, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada hopes to attract private and public sector players, big and small, (including some whom might not have met otherwise) to bring their collective expertise to bear in applying digital and other technological tools to modernize manufacturing. In the process, say supercluster advocates, small and medium-sized Canadian companies at the forefront of artificial intelligence and machine learning will be able to raise their global profile.
“We are not supporting manufacturers to do the same [as before] to acquire equipment and we are not supporting technology companies just to scale up,” says Next Generation’s Mr. Myers. “We are really trying to leverage the strengths of both manufacturing and technology.”
“The supercluster is allowing companies like Dofasco to create an ecosystem of partners and providers to help them in all areas,” she says. “They need a digital strategy, a data transformation strategy and they need folks like us, where AI now can be applied on top of all the data.” Her company, a member of the advanced manufacturing supercluster, is exploring a possible relationship with Dofasco.
Meanwhile researchers at McMaster University’s Steel Research Centre in Hamilton already have a relationship with Dofasco, creating a computer model that could predict outcomes for the ladle metallurgy furnace. Assuming supercluster funding, the McMaster mode could become a “digital twin” for Dofasco’s ladle metallurgy process, enabling sensors and robotic samplers to gather large amounts of data from the plant, learn from the “experience” and identify ways to ratchet up consistency in steel making.
“This is based on a concept generally known as Industry 4.0, a buzzword that refers to the idea that each of your processes would have a virtual computer twin that would communicate with the real process through information from the sensors,” says Ken Coley, director of McMaster’s Steel Research Centre in the department of materials science and engineering, and an ArcelorMittal Dofasco chair in ferrous metallurgy. “It would predict what happens next and the predictions and the real data would be stored in the cloud and be available for subsequent analysis … or even immediate analysis.”
Both Dofasco’s Ms. Pappin and Mr. Shulka, of Algoma, use the same word, “transformational,” to describe the potential of the advanced manufacturing supercluster.
Mr. Shukla says “the beauty of the supercluster concept is that it is bringing all of us together and giving us an opportunity to innovate together – and create a platform that can really accelerate the entire process of innovation.”
Article courtesy of Jennifer Lewington, The Globe and Mail
Canada’s science minister announces $10.5 million federal boost for McMaster research commercialization
McMaster’s Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization, which converts research on medical isotopes into new diagnostic tests and cancer treatments, has received a significant boost in the form of $10.5 million in federal funding.
Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan visited the university’s commercialization hub at McMaster Innovation Park to announce a total of $79.8 million in federal funding for five National Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research across the country, including McMaster’s CPDC.
“Today we are investing in science for healthier communities,” Duncan said. “The five research centres awarded today mobilize Canada’s best research, development and entrepreneurial talent to transform new discoveries into concrete products, services and processes to improve our lives.”
The four-year commitment to McMaster’s CPDC makes it the only National Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research to receive three rounds of federal funding.
“We are grateful for this investment and proud to have this opportunity to prove that our discoveries can be scaled up to improve human health while also creating important, high-quality employment,” says Karen Mossman, McMaster’s acting Vice President, Research.
The federal funding, together with continuing funding from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and industrial partners, is expected to propel the CPDC through the critical next four years of its operation, which includes working with leading private sector and academic partners to develop and manufacture radiopharmaceuticals – an emerging class of diagnostic tests and treatments for diseases that include cancer and heart disorders.
“This funding is a welcome affirmation of the impact and quality of the work by the talented staff at the CPDC,” said CPDC founder John Valliant, a professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at McMaster. “The CPDC is attracting significant private-sector investment in Canadian science and creating new high-tech jobs while providing products that help patients every single day. This is possible because of the support of government, industry and McMaster itself, which promotes innovative research, education and commercialization.”
The CPDC, located on the west part of McMaster’s main campus, has created spinoff companies that include two in Hamilton: Fusion Pharmaceuticals and NuGeneris Inc.
Both companies will be co-located with the Fraunhofer Project Centre for Biomedical Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing at McMaster, and other emerging biotech commercialization initiatives, in an environment designed to facilitate mutual success.
The funding will be used to translate and commercialize new radiopharmaceuticals with particular emphasis on products developed from therapeutic medical isotopes. Through innovative local, national and international partnerships, and by creating learning opportunities for young entrepreneurs, CPDC will create new businesses and employment opportunities. By the end of the funding period, the aim is for CPDC and its spin out companies to support as many as 200 jobs.
Minister Duncan announced five grants, totaling $79.8 million, to be delivered through the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program. The five hubs are located in Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Article courtesy of McMaster University
Ontario’s Hamilton Health Sciences developing healthcare AI applications
Ontario medical group Hamilton Health Sciences has announced a partnership with clinician company Real Time Medical on artificial intelligence (AI) application development for healthcare.
Real Time Medical will work with Hamilton Health Sciences and MIIRCAM (Medical Imagining Informatics Research Centre at McMaster) on the following services:
- Advanced research and collaboration on new projects
- AI training
- Clinical trials and leadership and advisory services
- Data labeling and validation
- Identification of the most beneficial clinical applications
- Joint IP development and patenting
- Provision of various balancing technology for use during validation and clinical trials
- Validation of resulting algorithms with over a hundred 100 licensed radiologists
“The development and validation of algorithms using high quality, well correlated clinical data sets is still very much a challenge for AI application initiatives,” said Dr. David Koff, chair of the Department of Radiology, McMaster University Hospital, of the need for the new partnership. According to Hamilton Health Sciences, the collaboration will bring together AI technology developers and close to 100 faculty, 32 residents and 12 fellows, medical physicists and engineering resources.
Article courtesy of Bradley Shankar, BetaKit
Land for new Coppley building approved for brownfield remediation grant
Feisty low-cost Euro airline Norwegian Air taking off at Hamilton’s airport
Low-cost airline Swoop takes flight in Hamilton
A new low-cost airline is coming to Hamilton.
Swoop, an offshoot of WestJet Airlines, will be taking off from Hamilton International Airport with its inaugural flight to Abbotsford, B.C., taking off at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
Steven Greenway, president and CEO of Swoop, said they chose Hamilton because it’s cost-effective, efficient, and travellers can board and disembark from the plane in a matter of minutes, which is ideal for a ULCC (ultra-low cost carrier).
Greenway said the average flight will start at just over $100 and doesn’t include excess fees like baggage and seat selection.
“I think Swoop can actually revolutionize Canada in terms of travel patterns,” said Greenway. “Where people are catching cars and buses today, they’ll be able to fly. For those who can only afford perhaps one flight a year, they can now afford two or three. For those people who are taking their hard-earned Canadian dollars over the border and flying U.S. airlines to other destinations, I say, ‘Come back, and fly with us from Hamilton.’”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Hamiltonians have been asking for more convenience when it comes to travelling out of the city’s airport.
“You know, if you talk to a Hamiltonian today, what do they want from our airport? They want to have more destinations, more locations, more convenience to be able to fly right here out of Hamilton. And that’s what we’re able to do today.”
He added that Canada is behind other parts of the world when it comes to offering consumers a low-cost no-frills model of air travel.
“To go to one major city to another, in Europe, it’s a hundred bucks, or equivalent to a train ride or a boat ride or any other form of transportation,” said Eisenberger. “High volume at lower cost and building your own amenities is really the way to go for future flight.
Cathie Puckering, president and CEO of Hamilton International Airport, said the launch of Swoop comes halfway through a year that began with the airport earning the title of the fastest-growing airport in Canada, with 600,000 passengers travelling through in 2017.
“We’ve known for over 20 years that this is the airport that needs to satisfy the passengers and the new opportunities that are in the marketplace today,” said Puckering. “And flying on Swoop is an opportunity that we are so glad to be supporting and part of.”
Currently, Swoop only has two planes and five destinations within Canada — Hamilton, Abbotsford, Halifax, Edmonton and Winnipeg — but the airline hopes to have six planes and offer international destinations by the end of the year.
Article courtesy of Lisa Polewski, 900 CHML