Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Editorial: Patents and people are pipelines to growth

December 2, 2019
By Kristina Urquhart

Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Encouraging innovation in the manufacturing sector was one of the main messages at the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS), which took place in Toronto earlier this fall.

Jim Balsillie, chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators, delivered a keynote at the conference and shared that only two per cent of SMEs in Canada hold a patent. “I think this is a place for policy,” he said. “That two per cent needs to get to 20 per cent, fast.”

Balsillie discussed the shift from tangible assets (such as plants and equipment) to intangible assets (such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and complex data analytics systems). He noted that today, intangible assets comprise 91 per cent of the market value for the S&P 500.

“The basis of wealth [in the global marketplace] is driven by control of data and control of intellectual property,” shared Balsillie. He said that Canadian SMEs holding formal intellectual property (IP) are three times more likely to have expanded domestically and four times more likely to have expanded internationally. “Simply put, if you have IP, you do much better,” he said.


After the keynote, Balsillie held a conversation with Peter Cowan, co-founder of strategy advisory firm Northworks IP and head of the Innovation Asset Collective. The non-profit “patent collective” is receiving $30 million from the federal government to help SMEs in the clean technology sector to expand their businesses. The Canadian Council of Innovators has partnered with Innovation Asset Collective to develop a national IP strategy focused on boosting awareness and education among business owners.

“This shift [toward IP] is happening and it’s separating the winners from the losers,” Balsillie said. “I think the policy bodies have recognized that there is a market failure.”

He suggested manufacturers start on their journey to innovation by developing capacity and knowledge. “Your first job is to be a sponge […] Be smart and look for pieces to claim,” he said. “It has to be part of your cost structure or you’ll always be squeezed on margins.” (Here’s our list of top funding opportunities for Canadian manufacturers.)

Another thing to remember is that innovative ideas don’t always come from the top floor. Manufacturing AUTOMATION’s own columnist, Paul Hogendoorn of FreePoint Technologies, gave a talk at CMTS on engaging machine operators for not only better equipment performance, but also workforce performance. “Industry 4.0 can help us get there but we can’t forget about the people,” he said.

The first step is to mitigate risk so you can see where there are opportunities for improvement or innovation. One of the easiest ways is by connecting and collecting data from your machines to figure out where you stand. It’s low-cost and can be done in as little as 15 minutes. “Get yourself an empirical baseline now,” Hogendoorn said.

Any machine can be connected to the cloud. For example, FreePoint connected a client’s machine from 1928 and began collecting data to show where downtime was occurring. The company saw 12 to 15 per cent improvement just by making that data visible to the operators, who became more engaged in wanting to troubleshoot if something went wrong, and in suggesting improvements to be made based on the data.

“The best way to engage your operators is to listen to them,” Hogendoorn advised.

For more coverage from CMTS, read our show report.


A condensed version of this article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. 

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