Setting Global Benchmarks in Advanced Manufacturing


Jayson Myers

Canada’s manufacturing sector represents more than 10 per cent of the country’s total GDP. Manufacturers export more than $354 billion each year, representing 68 per cent of all of Canada’s merchandise exports. So, it was no surprise that one of the supercluster winners is a manufacturing group. As Next Generation Manufacturing Canada’s CEO, Jayson Myers, writes, innovation in manufacturing means both adopting and adapting.

Stretching from Windsor to Quebec City, Canada’s innovation corridor is home to some of the best research, technologies and manufacturing capabilities in the world. The region boasts a globally ranked start-up ecosystem in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, a diverse and concentrated manufacturing base, many leading technology companies, a highly skilled workforce, world-class research and educational facilities and a remarkable entrepreneurial dynamic. Imagine the economic powerhouse it would be if we could combine these assets more effectively, applying more advanced technologies to improve the competitiveness and growth potential of our manufacturers and scaling up more technologies to apply and manufacture them in Canada.

Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, the industry-led, not-for-profit organization established to lead Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster initiative, aims to do just that.  We believe the transformation to advanced manufacturing will enrich all our lives, delivering better products and good jobs while generating the economic growth that is essential to building a better world. Our goal by 2025 is to see Canadian manufacturers setting world benchmarks in competitiveness and growth through the application and production of advanced technologies.  

In order to turn this vision into reality, Canada’s manufacturers and technology companies must be able to offer globally competitive solutions to customers around the world.  Manufacturers will need to speed up the adoption of advanced digital, materials and production technologies to manufacture new products, provide new services, optimize production processes, improve operating efficiencies and develop new revenue opportunities. Technology companies will need to scale up production capabilities more quickly as well. More of the technologies developed in Canada will need to be applied and produced in Canada. And, companies will have to attract and retain the highly-qualified people, capital investments and product mandates they need in order to sustain growth.

Federal supercluster funding will kick-start our efforts in promoting collaboration across the many companies, academic and research institutions, business networks, and government agencies and programs that make up Canada’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem while building greater capacity among smaller companies to adopt and scale-up advanced technologies. It will enable us to address some of the most important challenges inhibiting the competitiveness and growth of Canada’s manufacturing and technology sectors.

The first challenge is simply to increase visibility. We do great things here. But, who really knows what we do?  Many of the capabilities and assets within our advanced manufacturing ecosystem are among the best-kept secrets in Canada. NGM Canada will build an online collaboration platform that will identify technology capabilities, map out the assets in our research and training infrastructure and allow companies to connect more easily with the resources that can help them adopt and scale-up advanced technologies. We will also support networking opportunities and collision events designed to bring people together and bridge the solitudes that exist between manufacturers that have business problems to solve and technology providers that can offer potential solutions.

The second challenge is to improve upon our record in commercializing and scaling up the technologies that are being developed here. That requires increasing awareness about the technology capabilities resident in Canada and their possible applications in manufacturing. It also requires more active facilitation of connections between small technology companies on the one hand and the manufacturers and pilot centres on the other that can provide the testing, process improvement and production support to take new technologies from prototype to full scale manufacturability and build linkages into international manufacturing supply chains. By focusing our efforts on expanding the application of new technologies in Canadian manufacturing, NGM Canada is looking to build customer demand for Canadian technologies, exponentially accelerate business growth and enhance the ability of our technology companies to attract capital and talent from around the world.

Realizing that objective depends in turn on addressing a third challenge—how to accelerate the adoption of advanced technologies by Canadian manufacturers, most of which are small companies that often lack the resources required for effectively applying new tools and techniques in their business.  Manufacturers in Canada currently lag behind their counterparts in other industrial economies when it comes to investing in research, training and new technologies. In an era of intense global competition and the rapid development and deployment of potentially disruptive technologies, the competitiveness and growth potential of Canada’s manufacturing sector is at risk, and along with it the value creating potential of a large part of the Canadian economy.  

That is why the supercluster will provide funding to develop and deliver a suite of tools and programs designed to help manufacturers identify the potential advantages offered by advanced technologies, the business requirements for successfully applying and managing those technologies and available options for sourcing integrated technology solutions. It will also provide funding support for technology audits, feasibility studies and access to modeling, testing, pilot, and training centres that will help manufacturers de-risk the adoption of new technologies.

While these efforts aim at enhancing customer demand and building capacity on the part of smaller companies to adopt and scale-up technologies in manufacturing, the largest share of supercluster funding—approximately $200 million—will be invested in industry-led collaborative projects designed to develop and strengthen Canada’s leadership in technology and manufacturing. NGM Canada will invest in three types of collaborative initiatives:

1. Partnerships that aim to develop unique technologies that will significantly improve the ability of investing companies to compete and grow in global markets;

2. Partnerships that aim to transform existing manufacturing processes through the adoption of advanced technologies in order to improve the competitiveness, innovation and growth potential of companies in key sectors of Canadian manufacturing, such as steel, auto parts, food processing, high-value wood products and aerospace; and,

3. Partnerships that aim to promote the application and scale-up of brand new technologies for manufacturing in Canada.

These initiatives will involve a variety of advanced technologies including digital applications, data analytics, microelectronics and sensors, Internet-of-Things devices, artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, vision systems, advanced materials, and additive manufacturing. They will be led by the companies that have together committed over $800 million to the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster. But, they will involve many more manufacturing and technology companies, universities, colleges, and research centres in their activities. Their purpose is to strengthen Canada’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem, not only by providing matching funds for industry investments but by creating new collaborative knowledge and technology supply chains, growing Canadian customers for new technologies developed here, and building entirely new manufacturing capabilities in Canada.

Collaborative initiatives will be evaluated and selected on the basis of their technology leadership, the extent of the engagement they will generate across the ecosystem, their contribution to education and workforce training, and the benefits they promise for the Canadian economy as a whole. The federal government estimates that the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster will generate over $13.5 billion in added economic value and create more than 13,500 jobs in Canada over the next ten years. We do not expect to disappoint.

But, the significance of the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster for public policy is much greater than the ground-breaking technology initiatives it will support and the economic benefits it is expected to deliver. It represents a new approach to innovation and industrial policy. It focuses on building industry demand for new technologies rather than pushing technologies into the market place. It complements the billions of dollars invested annually in basic and applied research with a system designed to draw knowledge and expertise from the laboratory bench to deliver solutions that can be used in manufacturing. It aims to facilitate the scale-up of technologies to a level of manufacturability, not simply to license them, but to apply and produce them in Canada. It pays attention to the importance of de-risking technology adoption and scale-up. And, it makes a concerted effort to build collaboration and strengthen the capabilities of small companies to manage the application and production of advanced technologies.

The significant commitments that businesses have made to the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, not to mention the potential investments identified in other related supercluster proposals, indicate the importance that industry across Canada attaches to the development and adoption of advanced technologies in manufacturing—and in many other sectors of the economy as well. What a tremendous opportunity to align Canada’s public policies and programs, our research infrastructure, and our education and training priorities to industry needs. The industry-led initiatives identified during the application process for the federal government’s supercluster program should be a beacon for governments, universities, colleges, research institutes, and business networks looking to support innovation. Next Generation Manufacturing Canada sees that policy leadership role as an important element of its mandate to position Canada as a world leader in advanced manufacturing, a mandate that will not end after the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster’s five-year funding agreement expires.

We have already seen a significant amount of progress—even before funding has started to flow from the federal government. A number of companies and supporting organizations are now working together because they became aware of each other’s needs and capabilities during the course of the supercluster application process.  That only emphasizes a lesson that stands at the heart of the way the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster is structured and the way we intend to operate. At the end of the day, it is really not about technology at all—it’s all about people.  


Jayson Myers is chief executive officer of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada.