Innovation Nation: If the program works as intended, cookie factories and printing shops could soon be using robotic arms and self-driving vehicles
” The effort to jumpstart the growth of Ontario’s advanced manufacturing sector, such that even cookie factories and printing shops could soon be using robots and self-driving vehicles, started in earnest around December 2016.
That’s when consulting firm McKinsey & Co. produced a short report that concluded “the Toronto-Waterloo region has the potential to become one of the world’s top innovation ecosystems,” on par with Silicon Valley. That got people talking.
“It was the first report of its kind,” said Jan Da Silva, chief executive of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, who began hosting a series of formal and informal discussions with executives from the manufacturing and technology sectors in southern Ontario.
About six months later in May 2017, the federal Liberal government announced its intention to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in “innovation superclusters,” essentially densely concentrated business sectors that could possibly evolve into larger economic engines with a little more investment.
Da Silva said many local executives felt Ontario’s budding tech sector and its longstanding manufacturing sector could both benefit from greater collaboration. There is a symmetry to their challenges: Manufacturing companies need the latest technology to increase productivity and keep pace with competitors, while the small companies building some of that technology need local customers that can help them test and expand their products.
But the idea that investing several hundred million dollars will be enough to transform any sector into an economic powerhouse and a hotbed of innovation has been critiqued as both too small to make a difference and just a large corporate giveaway.
Nonetheless, fast-forward two years, and the Liberal government has signed on to the idea, entrusting $230 million to a non-profit in southern Ontario to build next-generation manufacturing capabilities.
Exactly how that money will be spent, and the contours of the nascent program, remains vague in nearly all respects, but participants said the basic idea is set: The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster (AMS) program would like to see robotic arms, self-driving vehicles and other new technologies widely distributed, from the low-margin warehouses in drab industrial corridors to the factory floors at the largest automotive plants. ” CONTINUE READING