Niagara College’s SONAMI projects are stimulating local economies and supporting the innovators of tomorrow

Recipient: Niagara College, Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation (SONAMI) Project
Region: Niagara Region
Total funding allocated: $14 million

Businesses across southwestern Ontario now have the equipment and expertise to succeed through the SONAMI project.
Businesses across southwestern Ontario now have the equipment and expertise to succeed through the SONAMI project.

Southern Ontario is a key region for Canada's manufacturing industry, which remains an important driver of the Canadian economy. As the industry continues to evolve, Niagara College's Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is leveraging partnerships and expertise to help create the workforce of the future.

SONAMI is a network of academic institutions that provides small- and medium-sized manufacturers across the region with the expertise and state-of-the-art equipment needed to develop innovative products and services related to advanced manufacturing.

Since FedDev Ontario's initial $7.3-million investment in 2016, SONAMI has worked with 145 businesses to adopt next-generation manufacturing technologies and commercialize more than 144 products, including agri-food equipment that automates the harvesting process and high-powered battery systems that can replace industrial gas and diesel generators. With a growing client base, the network has also expanded to include seven post-secondary institutions—Mohawk, Sheridan, Conestoga, Fanshawe and Lambton Colleges and McMaster University. 

According to Andy Skrepnek, Director of Innovation at voestalpine Rotec Summo Corp. (vRSC), a leading manufacturer of steel tubular components for side and knee airbags for the automotive industry, the support from SONAMI has been invaluable.

"What I was looking to get out of the SONAMI network was the expertise to bring our vision into reality," says Skrepnek. "And that is exactly what happened."

As a result of the advanced drilling processes and cost savings made possible by the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI), part of the SONAMI network, vRSC is now one of the largest worldwide suppliers of the inflator bottles, that house compressed gas used for airbag deployment in vehicles.

"Currently 13 million of these bottles are being purchased from Europe, and we are now bringing all the business into Canada," says Skrepnek. "There's nothing like this in the world."

"We don't have the expertise in-house for this specialized research and development, so without McMaster and the support from FedDev Ontario, we would not have the sales we have today," he explains. 

And Skrepnek's story is just one of many. In fact, Niagara College received the 2019 Research Partnership Award from the Canadian Association of Research Administrators (CARA) for the significant impact SONAMI has had on the regional economy.

"SONAMI is not just a network, it is a direct pipeline to state-of-the-market technology and to some of the brightest up-and-coming minds Ontario has to offer," says Dr. Marc Nantel, Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation, Niagara College.

"Colleges and institutes have the equipment and expertise that is reflective of the needs of industry in their region," he says. "By doing applied research, we help companies create new products and services, which then can generate new jobs and wealth."

Recognizing the success of the project in the Niagara region, FedDev Ontario provided an additional $14 million to SONAMI in 2019 to expand its advanced manufacturing capabilities and geographic reach. The network will grow by three members—adding expertise in bio-industrial manufacturing, green product manufacturing and "Industry 4.0" technologies, and will offer support to manufacturers across southwestern Ontario, including London, Sarnia, Middlesex and Lambton Counties.

With this new funding, SONAMI is expected to provide technical expertise to another 240 businesses, while also creating and maintaining 640 permanent jobs and providing training and development to up to 360 students and researchers.

With all of SONAMI's current momentum, it is contributing to creating the right conditions for southern Ontario's manufacturing sector to seize new opportunities, adopt the latest technologies and build skills for the jobs of the future.

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Most small businesses do not have the resources to bring their innovative solutions to market. Through the additional funding provided by FedDev Ontario, SONAMI is able to partner with more institutions as we continue to help industry partners compete on a global stage.
Dr. Marc Nantel, Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation, Niagara College
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