Skull plates for a dog’s tumorectomy surgery. A portable, cost-effective EEG acquisition system used to measure electrical activity in the brain. A large-scale steel sculpture featured at the InterAccess Gallery in Toronto. These are just a few of the diverse applied research projects that have come to life at the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT) at Sheridan’s Davis Campus in Brampton.
The flexible innovation space housing state-of-the-art technology is a sought-after destination in the Greater Toronto Area for small- and medium-sized businesses to collaborate with Faculty of Applied Science and Technology professors and students on real-world applications. Its director, Dr. Michelle Chrétien, helps facilitate these partnerships and brings to the role more than a decade of industry experience. Under her leadership, the technology hub is helping to prepare students for the workforce and catalyzing new opportunities for collaboration across the college.
Learning ‘life skills’ through applied research
At CAMDT, applied research projects are completed in partnership with industry. Chrétien helps match businesses with a real-world problem to a faculty member with appropriate expertise, the scope of the project is defined, and students are recruited to help execute it with guidance and mentorship along the way. It’s through these structured opportunities that students practice and refine the essential skills that are crucial to their learning before entering the workforce. These skills include creativity, agility, teamwork and problem-solving and are touted as future-proof in the age of automation and AI. While they’re often labeled ‘soft skills’ or ‘21st-century skills’, Chrétien simply calls them ‘life skills.’
“Applied research mimics what students will be doing on the job and allows them to use their in-class learning on projects that make a real impact.” – Dr. Michelle Chrétien
“I really believe applied research is an amazing tool to prepare our students for the future,” she says. “Applied research mimics what students will be doing on the job and allows them to use their in-class learning on projects that make a real impact.” She likens learning agility to that of a muscle that needs to be developed over time, and applied research opportunities at CAMDT give students room to do just that.
The CAMDT formula is one that has a proven track record with industry, with partners often returning for second and third projects. “We don’t have to do much enticing to industry. We are almost overwhelmed with demand,” says Chrétien. She’s heard from many companies that the diligence and motivation of Sheridan students combined with the expertise of faculty, many of whom have advanced degrees and experience in the field, is the recipe for a successful collaboration.
Fascinating work at the intersection of studies
Sheridan’s array of programs including science and technology, arts and design, health and community studies and humanities and social sciences, allows for readily accessible opportunities for collaboration. It’s the work happening at the intersection of studies that’s the most fascinating, says Chrétien. “This doesn’t necessarily mean an artist is working with a chemist but great applied research doesn’t happen in silos. There’s an ecosystem at Sheridan that allows interdisciplinary work to flourish.”
Faculty are invigorated by this type of research. “We have excellent researchers who are keen to engage with industry. It fills their bucket and they bring that energy back to class,” says Chrétien. “It keeps them current and gives them real-world examples to use in their teaching, which then benefits all their students.”
New equipment brings new opportunities
Added to the fleet of ABB robots, water jet, and prototyping technology is equipment that helps expand applied research possibilities at CAMDT. A multi-material 3D printer outputting at an extremely high resolution and integrating multiple colours and textures at once, opens up applications for medical use. A hand, for example, can have bone printed in one material with something softer for the flesh. This printer was used in the applied research project involving the dog undergoing a tumorectomy. Its skull was recreated so veterinarians at the University of Guelph could practice the procedure and custom-fit titanium skull plates could be printed.
On the electronics side of things, an investment was recently made in circuit board printers. Previously, students were designing boards and having to wait a long time for production. Often when they received them back they’d have to make fixes before putting them to use. “Having this technology allows our students to design and iterate on site,” says.
Entrepreneurship and advanced manufacturing
One of Chrétien’s passion projects is mentoring entrepreneurs and she’s eager to find more ways to integrate entrepreneurship into the work done at CAMDT. During her time with the Xerox Research Centre of Canada before coming to Sheridan, she connected with small businesses on research and development projects and was inspired to continue doing her part to support these types of ventures. “I think our economy is strong when the engine of small businesses and entrepreneurs are fueled,” she says. “There’s a positive downstream economic impact from investing in these businesses and our applied research projects do just that.”
With the Entrepreneurship Discovery and Growth Engine (EDGE) nearby at the Hazel McCallion Campus in Mississauga, Chrétien is eager to create opportunities to get more of its student entrepreneurs connected to CAMDT.
“I think our economy is strong when the engine of small businesses and entrepreneurs are fueled. There’s a positive downstream economic impact from investing in these businesses and our applied research projects do just that.” – Dr. Michelle Chrétien
Promoting diversity in advanced manufacturing
Another passion of Chrétien’s is pushing for diversity in her field. She takes any available opportunity to draw attention to diversity issues, particularly with the lack of women represented in advanced manufacturing. She quotes American activist Marian Wright Edelman who said, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and adds: “while this isn’t necessarily true, I do think it’s a lot easier when you see yourself represented. We need to work to normalize participation in science and engineering for everyone.”
Chrétien has sat on the board of a Women’s Caucus Group focused on gender issues and often meets with postsecondary clubs and graduating students to talk about the benefits and challenges of working in the field. It’s through this type of advocacy that she sees how important it is to implement programs and supports that entice women from an early age. “We can’t expect students to tour a post secondary institution and walk into a room where they don’t see themselves represented and feel welcome in that environment,” she says. “There’s work to be done to create spaces that are more inviting and adaptable to different student needs and backgrounds.”
Interested in staying up to date with what’s new at CAMDT? Follow the Centre on Twitter @CAMDT_Sheridan.
Pictured at top of page: Dr. Michelle Chrétien, Director of the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies at Sheridan.
Story written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.