Composites centre nets $4.2M more from feds

August 16, 2013

Winnipeg's Composites Innovation Centre will have at least three more years to pursue its groundbreaking efforts to help manufacturers develop new composite and bio-composite products and technologies.

Western Economic Diversification Canada announced Wednesday it is providing another $4.2 million in funding for the 10-year-old non-profit centre.

CIC executive director Sean McKay said the centre will use the federal funding, which will be allocated over the next three years, to leverage a further $7.5 million in funding from industry and other sources.

"This allows the organization to fulfill its new mandate for providing leadership and innovation to the composites industry in Manitoba and Western Canada, allowing our partners to advance to the forefront of new technology developments and, most importantly, integrate these advanced capabilities into their commercial operations," McKay added.

"By developing and promoting innovative composite technologies and products, the CIC is helping to advance key economic sectors -- including aerospace, bio-composites and ground transportation -- in Manitoba and across the West," said Michelle Rempel, the recently appointed new Minister of State for Western Economic Development.

"This support will allow these industries to continue to grow, prosper and to strengthen Canada's economy," the Winnipeg native added.

Bus-maker Motor Coach Industries is one of the local firms that stands to benefit from the infusion of new funds for the CIC. MCI has been working closely with the centre for a number of years as it strives to develop new composite components for its highway coaches -- things like bumpers, fenders, sidewall panels and doors.

Jim Macdonald, executive director of engineering for MCI and a member of CIC's volunteer board of directors, said MCI recently ran into some technical problems while trying to develop a new entrance door for its highway coaches that could be made from composite materials instead of metal.

"When we have a difficult problem, we very often come to CIC for help," he said following Wednesday's funding announcement, which was made at the CIC's research facility in the Tuxedo Business Park. "They have that expertise and they were able to step in and work directly with us. We're in the preliminary testing stage now, and it looks very good."

Macdonald said without CIC's help, MCI's manufacturing subsidiary, Frank Fair Industries, would have to hire its own design experts to solve the design problems. And that would have taken a lot more time and money -- likely three or four times more money, he added.

He said some of the advantages of using composite or plastic bus-body parts instead of metal ones is they're lighter, they're often less expensive to make, and they're nicer to work with.

"You can create some really nice, rounded shapes."

MCI is also working with the CIC on research projects aimed at developing new bus components made from bio-fibres like hemp or flax.

"There will come a day when that (using bio-fibre components) will happen," Macdonald said. "It's just a question of when."

McKay said the developing a robust and fast-growing bio-products industry in Manitoba and the rest of Western Canada is one of a number of areas where the new funding will be used.

It will also be developing leading edge design and analysis capabilities that composite manufacturers can use, educating companies about the benefits of developing and using composite and bi-composite materials.

Earlier this year, the CIC also received $1.9 million in WED funding to help develop the first-ever grading system for bio-fibres.

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