Lab Canada

New $2M lab facilitates research into high-performance manufacturing

Boucherville, QC – A $2-million laboratory devoted to a new technology called Thixomolding has been opened at the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Materials Institute (IMI-NRC) in Boucherville.

The research conducted in the laboratory – said to be the first of its kind in the world – will focus on optimizing the manufacturing of magnesium parts for use in high- performance applications in the automobile and electronics industries. Dr Frank Ajersch, professor with Ecole Polytechnique de Montral’s department of chemical engineering, is the head of the new laboratory.

The industrial-scale facility is set up for magnesium casting using Thixomolding, which is similar to the injection molding process used for plastics. The process was developed by Dow chemicals and marketed by Thixomat, which licenses Husky to build the machines. Thixomolding is designed as an efficient, clean and safe process (magnesium is a combustible metal) designed for the economical mass manufacturing of various auto parts and electronic components such as computer or camera housings.

Polytechnique and Husky Injection Molding Systems have collaborated closely to advance and implement the new technology. Husky, which supplied the Hylectric Thixosystem – a 500-tonne press that constitutes the laboratory’s core equipment – worked closely with Polytechnique to enable the purchase of this major installation.

“The IMI laboratory represents a major technology showcase,” says Carmen Lowe, general manager of Husky Canada. “Research conducted there will allow Husky to optimize its magnesium molding system and offer its customers a product whose combination of reliability, performance and user-friendliness will help them succeed in the emerging Thixomolding market.”

Polytechnique’s partnership with the Industrial Materials Institute (IMI) came about very naturally, since the objectives of Dr Ajersch’s team coincided with the mandate of the institute. The IMI has provided laboratory and office space, in addition to maintenance and operations staff as defined in a research agreement.

“The new facility is an asset to Canadian business, as it will help companies pick up business opportunities on the international market,” says Dr Blaise Champagne, director of the IMI-NRC. “We are delighted to support this initiative, particularly since, in enabling companies to access advanced technologies, it harmonizes so well with the NRC’s objectives.”

Magna International, the auto parts supplier, expressed interest in forming an association with Polytechnique to carry out a research contract. The research contract involves improving the performance and resistance of certain alloys and materials used in designing auto parts. The institution has conducted significant traction trials in laboratory settings, research that it expects should result in being able to manufacture components that are lower-cost, lighter and more durable.

The Thixomolding Laboratory offers Qubec and Canadian firms in the automotive or aeronautics sectors (or in any other field calling for high- precision parts) the equipment and expertise needed to conduct preliminary trials on new products or processes. “Many of these companies are SMEs, and investing millions of dollars in equipment before even being able to assess a project’s viability can be problematic,” says Dr Ajersch. “As such, local businesses stand to gain from the new facility, since it can help them become more competitive by allowing them to expand their product range and increase their productivity.” This lab is intended allow such firms to assess their projects much more quickly and effectively, because the equipment is of industrial- scale, which avoids any issues of the difficulty scale up production.

The project is an initiative of the Consortium de recherche en fabrication industrielle haute performance (advanced manufacturing research consortium) made up of researchers from a number of universities and colleges. The cost of the IMI facilities is estimated at over $2 million. A significant proportion of the budget came from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Qubec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport, each of which contributed $800,000. Other support came from private partners like Husky Injection Molding Systems, the main equipment supplier, whose sizeable contribution allowed Polytechnique to purchase the magnesium molding system.

The facilities are intended for use by graduate students, as well as by industry and other institutional members as part of research contracts. The trials carried out in the Thixomolding Laboratory will become a preliminary production stage that leads to significant technological progress for participating industries.