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January 2013

Intern innovation drives business forward

“Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs.” Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company and automotive industry revolutionary.

Since the introduction of mass-production in the automobile industry, efficiency and innovation have been of upmost importance for companies wishing to be on the cutting-edge in this highly competitive business.  Aurora, Ontario-based automotive parts supplier Van-Rob Kirchhoff Automotive has found their competitive advantage in the Mitacs-Accelerate program.

Cheng Zeng, Research and Development Manager at Van-Rob, has engaged many Mitacs-Accelerate interns and is continually impressed by how much their research contributions benefit the business.  “The Mitacs-Accelerate program provides companies with opportunities to explore novel concepts with highly qualified students, and – most importantly – supplies the resources required to seize these opportunities,” he reports.

Trevor Tomic, one of Van-Rob’s Mitacs-Accelerate interns, is a Masters student from the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queen’s University.  He recently completed a research project at the company where he assessed and enhanced an automatic system that detected faulty laser welds during production.  “The previous detection system only caught about 60-70% of faulty welds, with many false alarms,” explained Mr. Zeng, “and it required constant human inspection which was also not very reliable.”  Trevor spent his internship tweaking a new system for post-weld analysis that involves complex code and digital camera technology as opposed to the previous system which measured active weld light intensity. Trevor’s objective was to test this method in hopes of one day achieving Van-Rob’s goal of creating a new detection system which identifies 100% of unacceptable welds and falsely flags no more than 2% of acceptable welds as defective.

Mr. Zeng was so impressed with the outcome of Trevor’s project that he engaged another Mitacs intern, Greg Szkilynk, also from Queen’s Mechanical and Materials Engineering, in hopes of both innovating Van-Rob’s stamping machines by increasing the efficiency of their lubrication system. Greg examined whether applying lubrication to materials once inside a press rather than prior to entering the press would reduce the amount of lubrication needed, and thus the cost.  This would ensure that lubricant was only applied to the areas needed, thus improving the stamping quality, especially for deep draw parts.  Greg’s contributions will carry on, even though his internship has finished, through the efforts of other Mitacs-Accelerate interns Mr. Zeng is currently engaging.  Once finished, the project Greg started will make the stamping facility cleaner, more efficient and significantly more cost-effective – all while improving the final product.

Student interns like Trevor and Greg enhance their research through Mitacs-Accelerate by applying it to practical, industry-relevant challenges.  “Collaborating with a company like Van-Rob who is motivated to see your research succeed inspires you to rise to the occasion and really try your best,” states Trevor, who feels his internship has better prepared him for his career post-graduation.   Greg relayed that his internship has jump-started his future by giving him “the opportunity to see, first hand, the needs and wants of an industry I am passionate about,” and highly recommends other graduate students pursue this opportunity by applying.

Mitacs would like to acknowledge the partnership of the Networks of Centres of Excellence’s IRDI program and the Government of Ontario in supporting Accelerate internships in Ontario.