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Building FibreCITY ...and what that means for the Canadian economy

Photo of MP Bruinooge viewing visuals of the equipment to be installed at the Composites Innovation Centre for FibreCITY – the biofibre grading centre

MP Bruinooge views visuals of the Centre’s future equipment.

With the creation of FibreCITY, North America’s first centre of excellence for fibre grading, Canada is set to become a leader in the development of composites using agricultural fibre.

A WD investment has allowed the Composites Innovation Centre (CIC) to establish a centre for the innovative use of agricultural products. Federal funding went towards the purchase of equipment for the new Winnipeg facility, which is designed to evaluate and grade the physical, chemical and mechanical properties of fibre available in agricultural crops across the Prairies. The ultimate goal is to be able to use this fibre in development of new, leading-edge composites.

"Our Government is helping ensure that Canada remains at the cutting edge of the composites industry," said MP Rod Bruinooge at the January 2013 funding announcement. "Through this investment we are helping Canadian manufacturers gain a competitive advantage in this growing sector."

According to Simon Potter, Product Innovation Sector Manager at the CIC, the uptake of biofibre composite products in the wider market is currently being prevented due to lack of consistency.

As it stands now, the use of agricultural fibres in composites is done through experimentation, thus not allowing for large-scale applications. While Potter acknowledges this is the current state of the technology, he said he believes the new facility will change all that, and explained that the goal of the centre is to move research on agricultural fibres "from empirical to rational design."

"We have representatives from the automotive, heavy equipment, and aerospace industries on board," Potter said. "They are keen to apply the technology to their respective sectors, they just want to see consistency, and that is specifically what FibreCITY is set up to demonstrate."

In composite development, there are many benefits to using agricultural fibre over synthetic. Among the advantages are:

  • agricultural fibres are a renewable resource;
  • the final product contains less embodied energy than synthetics; and
  • agricultural fibre composites are lighter than their synthetic counterparts.

There is also enhanced value for farmers, who would normally burn plant matter left over from crop harvest. In the future, they will be able to generate additional income from this.

"This is a very important science initiative, and a significant business opportunity for the Canadian agricultural sector," said Potter. "It brings together various aspects of scientific research, and allows Canadian farmers to directly benefit from them."

Putting tools in the hands of innovators

Photo of Minister Toews speaking with David Prystupa, who has invented a more effective grain-sorting machine.

Minister Toews speaks with David Prystupa, who has invented a more effective grain-sorting machine.

Winnipeg’s innovators and inventors are expanding their horizons thanks to federal funding which will enhance AssentWorks’ prototyping and fabrication facility.

"Our Government is committed to creating jobs, economic growth and prosperity," said Minister Vic Toews. "This investment will remove barriers for new entrepreneurs who would not otherwise be able to purchase the specialized equipment necessary to undertake the research and development needed to produce new prototypes."

Prototypes are working models that allow builders of everything from snowboards to complex machines to test the functionality of their designs and explore different alternatives to their design concepts. They can also serve as a finished product to bring before investors when seeking funding for mass production and marketing.

"The funding we received from WD will give us finished prototyping capability, which means entrepreneurs will be able to produce a finished object that is refined enough to showcase to investors, and even do small-run batches," said AssentWorks co-founder Michael Legary.

The equipment needed to develop an idea from a concept to a marketable physical object is prohibitively expensive for most entrepreneurs.

This is where AssentWorks comes in. For an affordable monthly fee, they provide their members with access to 3D printers, wood and metal working equipment, and a host of other tools used in building prototypes.

The successful marketing of prototypes built by AssentWorks members will bring many economic benefits to the province. As Legary puts it, this will be a case of the Manitoba economy "reinvesting in itself."