Seeking to grow
By Rick Adams
When the 2012 Aerospace Review Report (otherwise known as the Emerson Review) recommended that the Canadian government fund technology demonstration projects to support the country’s aviation and space businesses, David Emerson’s emissaries travelled the world – from Seattle to Beijing – in search of best practices examples.
By Rick Adams
When the 2012 Aerospace Review Report (otherwise known as the Emerson Review) recommended that the Canadian government fund technology demonstration projects to support the country’s aviation and space businesses, David Emerson’s emissaries travelled the world – from Seattle to Beijing – in search of best practices examples. As it turns out, they didn’t have to look any further than the province of Quebec.
|Collaborative CRIAQ projects have helped Bombardier with its Learjet 85 program. Photo: Bombardier
In April, federal Industry Minister James Moore applauded the formation of the new nationwide Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC), a commitment, he said, “to keeping Canada’s aerospace industry flying high.” The similarly named program on which CARIC is modelled, which is known as the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Quebec (CRIAQ), has been doing that since 2002.
“CRIAQ was very successful in creating a framework for funding technology development between the universities, industry, and the federal government. The framework created a lot of adherence and has aligned all the players to the point where the Canadian government realized this was a fantastic formula for success,” comments Claude Lauzon, a Montreal-based aerospace strategy consultant.
Technically, CARIC is a joint initiative of CRIAQ and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which represents Canada’s more than 700-company, $27-billion aerospace manufacturing and services sector. Few will be surprised, though, if CRIAQ is eventually absorbed into the broader scope of CARIC. “Ideally, CRIAQ would go away and we’ll have only one CARIC across the nation, but, in practice, this will not happen in the short term because the federal government has agreed to fund research through CARIC on the condition that in every province the provincial government contributes,” Bombardier Director of Engineering, Fassi Kafyeke, told Wings.
The purpose of CARIC, as it has been with CRIAQ, is to foster a collaborative research network among industry and academia, bringing together the best minds among Canadian technologists to initiate investigations, which will help the nation’s aerospace businesses to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
The CRIAQ Forum is “like a stock market of research,” says Kafyeke. The 7th Forum was held in April this year, simultaneous with the first national CARIC gathering, attracting an estimated 1,500 participants, including more than 400 from outside Canada. “We present the five or six projects we are interested in, and we are seeking inputs from academia to find out which professors have competency in that area and are willing to work on those projects,” he says. “Then we select the professors that best match our needs and then develop IP agreements, work statements, and start the project.”
In selecting projects to propose for CARIC/CRIAQ, Kafyeke explains: “At Bombardier we always start with the potential applications to one of our current, derivative, or new airplanes, and then we work backwards to the technology drivers we need in order to have a competitive product,” he says. “Then we find out what technology gaps we have, things we need to learn more about, and from there we come out with potential research subjects.”
One of the notable CRIAQ projects in recent years was a study of out-of-autoclave composite manufacturing. Industry partners included Bombardier, Bell Helicopter and Delastek. University participants (15 students – four undergrads, seven Master’s and three PhD candidates, and one post-doctoral) were McGill University, Ecole Polytechnique Montréal, the University of British Columbia in Quebec, and Le Centre de développement des composites du Québec (CDCQ) du Cégep Saint-Jerome.
Kafyeke says the project “explored ways to use materials for composite structures that can be cured simply in an oven so you don’t need the pressure of an expensive autoclave.” Bombardier is applying some of the knowledge gained to its Learjet 85 aircraft. “It gave us better understanding of how this material works and how to get the best advantage of it.”
Flight simulator manufacturer CAE submitted nine potential projects this year, according to Marc St-Hilaire, Chief Technology Officer and secretary on the transitional CARIC executive committee. “The student talent is fabulous,” he says. “With this type of fundamental research through the universities, you get a lot bigger bang for the buck. It’s especially helpful for small- and medium-size enterprises which don’t have the runway to do research on their own.”
This year’s projects to receive funding are expected to be announced in October or November, according to CARIC spokesperson Lucie Boily, AIAC Vice President Policy and Competitiveness.
Providing the seed money
The project dollar amounts are not huge. The not-for-profit CARIC network’s operating budget will start at less than $4 million annually, but it is expected to grow to more than $20 million a year. In addition, the federal government has budgeted $55 million annually for technology demonstrator projects. The Quebec progenitor, by comparison, has an estimated $15.0 million worth of projects in development. Across a dozen years, there have been 106 completed or ongoing CRIAQ projects with a total value of $101.4 million.
But big money is not necessary for the types of projects involved. In research parlance, CARIC projects are restricted to “pre-competitive” programs, Boily says, or those at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 or below. (See sidebar, “The Readiness Process” for an explanation of TRLs.) Once research reaches the systems prototype stage of TRL 7 or other caveats, the World Trade Organization prohibits governments from subsidizing commercial companies. Witness the decade-long accusation/counter-accusation between Airbus and Boeing over allegedly
illegal trade practices.
The flow of funds is from industry and the government to the university research partners. In the proposed CARIC model, the federal government will ante up half the project’s cost, the provincial government will add 25 per cent, and the commercial enterprises who may ultimately benefit from the research will share the remaining 25 cent. In addition, the companies will provide an equivalent 25 per cent “in-kind” contribution such as equipment. Each project requires at least two industry partners and two universities.
The government funding can help fill the gap that Boily calls the “Valley of Death.” The early stages of research in labs are usually not expensive, she says, “but when it transitions into industry, you’re dealing with real-life situations and it becomes expensive. A lot of ideas that could have been good often get dropped because no one has the funds to follow through.”
Dr. Hany Moustapha, one of the co-founders of CRIAQ, former Chief Technology Officer for Pratt & Whitney, and now Professor and Director AéROéTS at école de Technologie Supérieure, notes the exposure to industry is a big advantage in career recruitment. For the university, the benefit is the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from other academic institutions, particularly what he calls the “G7” of aerospace universities in Canada: McGill, Concordia, the University of Montreal, and his own ETS in Quebec, Carleton in Ottawa, and the University of Toronto and Ryerson in Ontario.
What are the challenges CARIC faces? Foremost, will the provinces other than Quebec financially support proposed projects, as required by the model? According to the AIAC’s 2013 State of the Canadian Aerospace Industry report, Quebec generates some 60 per cent of the nation’s aerospace manufacturing and spends 65 per cent of the sector’s R&D. Montreal’s aerospace cluster is one of the three largest in the world, together with Toulouse, France and Seattle.
|Montreal’s Bell Helicopter is just one of the Quebec-based companies participating in CRIAQ. PHOTO: Bell Helicopter
Boily says CARIC will have offices in British Columbia, Manitoba, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and the Atlantic Provinces. “These people will scour the environment to look for potential matches for projects, encouraging companies to submit project ideas, and most important to develop a culture of collaborative research,” he says.
“Governments and industry often change funding priorities or altogether eliminate funding,” cautions Adolfo Klassen, President, Paladin: Paradigm Knowledge Solutions, Montreal, and former Chief Technology Officer for CAE. “If one industry partner decides that it no longer supports the project or its R&D budget was cut, the project is at risk of termination or, as a minimum, does not achieve its original objectives.”
Klassen says another issue that often prevents projects from starting or completing is the ownership of resulting intellectual property (IP). “The researcher is intent on publishing a paper and the company is intent on gaining a competitive advantage through possible patent protection or simply by trying to ensure IP becomes the sole ownership of one company. If general agreement cannot be reached, projects get cancelled or simply do not achieve their objectives.”
Bombardier’s Kafyeke considers CRIAQ, and now CARIC, a guichet unique, a single point of contact, “where you can go and meet all the academic professors. We got to know all the expertise available in the universities in Quebec so we know now who to work with. I think we’ve developed a unique skill at finding common ground with other companies and between the university professors to be able to join forces and advance faster than if we were doing the research alone.”