Automation for industry

Timmins company offers robotic welding solutions for industry

Countless times over his 22-year career, Kevin McWhirter has walked into a client’s shop to find a very expensive piece of robotic welding equipment sitting in a corner, unused and collecting dust, because it isn’t working right.

Typically, the company has been sold equipment that’s either wrong for their purposes or hasn’t been properly calibrated, leaving the company out a lot of money and frustrated by the experience.

It’s those negative incidents that make people leery about the applications for automation, despite the advantages it can bring to industry, said McWhirter, a welding engineering technician and president of Autonomous Welding Inc. (AWI).

“People are afraid to make those purchases because they’ve heard so many bad stories because of bad implementations,” he said. “I want to make sure that when they buy something, they’re not going to have that horror story machine that’s going to be mothballed in the corner.”

Originally from Timmins, McWhirter completed the welding engineering technician program at Northern College before leaving the city to start his career in 1995. Over the next decade and a half, he worked for a number of firms, including Hobart and Motoman, before launching his own company in Fergus, just north of Guelph in southern Ontario, five years ago.

AWI offers automated solutions for fabricators and manufacturers of welded products in a range of sectors. McWhirter’s primary clients are in the military and mining industries, but he also works with companies in the power and forestry sectors, as well as on more general applications.

“A lot of the customers that I work with are job shops, so they supply product to a lot of different industries themselves,” he said. “So they might be doing mining products, but they also might be doing logging products or whatever customers they find that need some parts automated.”

Earlier this year, a desire to be closer to family prompted McWhirter to move back to Timmins, and he’s now looking for industrial space to set up his shop, as well as new clients across the North who can benefit from his services.

When implemented properly, robotic welding can be a game changer for companies looking to up their production and make their operations more efficient, but it’s a misconception that automation is only beneficial to clients producing large volumes.

“Automation can be applied to pretty much anything,” said McWhirter, who recently earned his International Welding Technologist designation.

He specializes in servicing existing equipment, adjusting the technology to make a poorly functioning machine work again, and returning for ongoing support. But his true passion is the design and implementation of full robotic welding systems. He’s a whiz at designing from scratch programs that can perform highly specific functions.

For one client in the mining industry, McWhirter designed a program that can do welds on an entire family of parts. The program engages the robot in identifying the geometry of the part, take its measurements, and adjust the program positions to a rough position, and then the robot fine-tunes a search to find the part.

It took McWhirter six months to do the programming, but the application can adapt to any part in the entire product family. That program has now been running successfully for five years, welding hundreds and hundreds of parts for the client.

“Even though they have a whole variation of different parts, it might take me a few months to create something, but if I create something that can handle their whole product range, then every time you throw a new style of part on it, the robot can just come in, figure it out and then weld it,” McWhirter said.

“Even if it takes you a little longer up front to set it up like that, now you have a smart machine that can actually do all this stuff.”

Eventually, McWhirter envisions having a team of two to three people in place to help with design and sales at AWI.

The company has served clients in southern Ontario, Ottawa, Québec, and even Colorado, and now, with a move to Timmins, McWhirter is putting Northern Ontario on his radar.

Autonomous Welding Inc, presented at the NOA/PIC Private Pitch Session on April 6, 2017 in Timmins.

Getting the Upper Hand on Injuries

Timmins entrepreneur’s safety gloves protect against impact, punctures

Anthony Gilin was working on a welding project at an underground mine in Timmins when a 150-pound bar came down on his hand, fracturing a finger and leaving him in pain for weeks.

The 34-year-old had already been brainstorming ways to make more effective industry apparel, but the incident affirmed his goal to resdesign the standard safety glove.

“I think if I had (better) gloves, I wouldn’t have a fracture in my finger and it wouldn’t have been sore for two weeks,” Gilin said.

After returning to school to earn a business marketing diploma at Northern College, Gilin launched Mine Safety Solutions, a company focused on creating better-designed safety products for the mining industry.

His first product? An improved safety glove.

Gilin’s gloves feature extra padding in the palm and fingers, to reduce impact and vibration, and the back of the glove is coated in a rubbery, honeycomb-like membrane, offering protection against punctures and cuts.

Neon-orange in colour, the gloves are highly visible and can be washed and dried repeatedly without deterioration.

The tight-fitting design means users retain their dexterity, making them more likely to keep wearing them, regardless of the task at hand.

Many gloves are bulky and cumbersome, making work clumsy and difficult, Gilin said, and workers would often discard them as soon as their supervisor was out of sight. His coworkers shared stories of injuries underground that he surmised could be prevented by a simple redesign.

“I wanted to make a difference, so I started looking at safety reports, and that’s when I started coming out with these safety gloves,” he said.

Through research, Gilin learned that the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) is growing: the Canadian market was worth $3 billion in 2015, and is estimated to grow to $5 billion by 2024, he said.

Gilin sketched out a rough idea of his glove and enlisted a Barrie-based design team to fine-tune his concept. A company in China is doing the manufacturing.

Three years after he embarked on this project, he’s reached the testing phase. He’s secured $1,500 in investment money from NEOnet to produce 50 pairs of the gloves, which will be tested at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT).

After getting feedback from users, the gloves will be sent to a lab to be analyzed for strength and durability. Gilin is aiming for the gloves to have Level 5 puncture- and cut-resistance.

Once that testing is complete, he’ll approach Timmins-area mining companies about letting their staff test them in a real-world environment. He’s optimistic they’ll see the benefits of his product, not the least of which is fewer lost-time injuries as a result of accidents to the hands.

“I strongly suggest if a company is going to purchase a glove, to make a glove that is almost custom to their hand,” Gilin said. “And that’s the thing: when you wear these gloves, eventually, they’ll fit to your hands.”

In addition to his safety gloves, Gilin has other ideas percolating, and he’s also open to working with companies to help them design and commercialize their own ideas for safety apparel.

“I’m sure there are a lot of ideas out there that companies have, but they just don’t know the steps and the process of getting into it,” Gilin said.

He believes his safety gloves have applications beyond the mining industry: forestry, construction, manufacturing and even the military are on his radar.

He’s slated the official launch for his safety gloves for January, 2018.

Gilin is currently seeking the participation of mining companies interested in testing out the gloves and filling out a survey. His goal is to send out 500 pairs of gloves for people to try, to gain feedback on their experience.

In April, Gilin was one of three presenters pitching his idea to potential investors at an event hosted by the Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC) and Northern Ontario Angels (NOA) in Timmins. He’s still open to hearing from investors who might be interested in backing his venture.

Update on the Ring of Fire – Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie citizens and business stakeholders/partners including NOA were given an update on the Ring of Fire. The Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation and Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce hosted a special presentation on the regional development project on May 10, 2017.
Guest Speakers for the forum were Mr. Alan Coutts, President and CEO, and Mr. Stephen Flewelling, Chief Development Officer, of Noront Resources Ltd. The Canadian-based mining company has the largest land position in the Ring of Fire, an emerging multi-metals area located in Northern Ontario. The presentation centred around the current status of Noront’s Eagle’s Nest Project, the scale of Eagle’s Nest and future chromite projects, business and employment opportunities, and the impact and benefits to neighbouring and Ontario communities such as Sault Ste. Marie because of our geographical importance to our transportation infrastructure (harbour and rail) and vacant local industrial land..
The event was held at Grand Gardens Downtown, more than 125 people attended the luncheon. The forum was sponsored by Port of Algoma and here is the presentation  NORONT Presentation May 10, 2017 in SSM

NOA partners with PITCH Sudbury

Northern Ontario Angels partnered with Sudbury’s Innovation Mill 2017 PITCH Session on April 27, 2017.  There were four companies pitching.  Gripp (Sudbury), EventsWearables(Little Current), Heuristext (Sault Ste. Marie), The Yoak (Sudbury).

Photo: L-R – Peter Dal Bianco, NOA Consultant (Sudbury), Chris Winrow – NOA Chair, Kimberley Wahamaa, NOA Consultant (Sudbury/Timmins), Ian Kilgour, NOA Consultant (North Bay).


NOA partners with PIC – Timmins

Northern Ontario Angels partnered with the Timmins Productivity & Innovation Centre (PIC) for a second year Private Pitch Session on April 6, 2017. There were three presenters.  More details will follow about these companies shortly.

Necessity leads to invention

Original Article

In his nearly 30 years as a volunteer firefighter in Timmins, Brian Nankervis has seen his share of tragedy — fatalities that destroy families and burned-out buildings among the most devastating. In each case, the same problem popped up time and again: access to water.

Now, Nankervis has invented a tool that gives firefighters faster, easier access to water while on the job.

The Handy Hydrant is a sturdy but pliable accordion-like tube that holds up to 2,000 gallons of water, depending on the model. It can be transported into awkward spaces that traditional firetrucks may have difficulty traversing and handled with minimal manpower — two issues that continue to plague volunteer fire departments across North America, Nankervis said.

“There used to be five or 10 people standing at the door to be a volunteer firefighter,” he said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

When the outcome of a fire can be determined by a matter of seconds, setting up firefighting equipment has to happen quickly and efficiently. The sooner a crew can start putting out a fire, the better the result.

It was this niggling thought that kept Nankervis brainstorming, until one day it hit him: a dog agility tunnel could provide the answer. He purchased his own dog tunnel, made a few modifications, and filled it with a garden hose in his driveway to try and prove his theory.

“It wasn’t perfect, but the concept was there,” Nankervis said.

Four years later, his product has received the backing of an investor through the Northern Ontario Angels program, and his product is ready to hit the market.

It comes in four sizes — 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 gallons — and can be easily hooked up to a pump and hose that then sprays out the water.

It’s designed primarily for rural and remote areas that don’t have municipal water hookup and source their water from lakes or streams. Rural neighbourhoods, First Nations, and cottage associations are among the communities Nankervis believes can benefit from his invention.

But its portability is also ideal for bush firefighters. Handy Hydrant weighs between 75 and 90 pounds and can be folded up into a backpack or hoisted onto the bed of a pickup truck.

Nankervis cautions the Handy Hydrant isn’t fully replacing the equipment that’s already out there, but can work in tandem with the pumper trucks and tanker trucks that take water from nearby lakes and streams before transferring it to the Handy Hydrant.

“It’s just another tool that we can adapt to what we’re using now,” Nankervis said. “But in most instances, this is probably a better way when you talk about manpower, and time, and setup, and the real estate.”

There are also commercial applications. In industries like construction, agriculture and mining, where water and its associated machinery are pricey commodities, the Handy Hydrant can be a welcome, less expensive alternative.

To start out, Nankervis is targetting rural areas throughout Ontario. With 460-plus volunteer fire stations in Ontario and more than 1,000 First Nations just in the James Bay basin, it provides a good starting market. After that, he plans to promote the Handy Hydrant across the country.

He’s already made contact with some distributors, and has been awarded a distributorship by the manufacturer of a pump that he will sell in conjunction with the Handy Hydrant.

“The ultimate goal is to have one of these tanks on every firetruck, which is a reasonable statement, because that’s what they’re doing now in mostly volunteer, smaller communities,” Nankervis said. “They have a water tank on every truck, if not two.”

He’s also applied for his international patent and next plans to roll out his product across the globe. Nankervis said Handy Hydrant may even find a use watering down winter roads connecting the rest of Ontario to Northern Indigenous communities.

As buzz intensifies about the Handy Hydrant’s benefits, Nankervis remains humble about his budding success.

He plans to maintain his local suppliers and keep the manufacturing in the North — a response to the support and help he’s received from people across Northern Ontario. Most of all, he wants his product to help people

“Six, seven years ago, I remember a poor, pregnant mother with three kids running around, and it was a windy, hot, humid day, and her house was going up,” he said. “My God, when you’re there beside them, you really feel for them, and you bust your guts to help them out.”

Northern Ontario Angels rank 1st in Canada for investment deals totaling $50 million

Northern Ontario Angels (NOA); a not for profit corporation that facilitates business deals between entrepreneurs and accredited angel investors, ranks 1st in Canada for the number of investments closed in 2015, it announced today. With 139 total deals completed, NOA has now achieved $50 million in investment capital flowed to Northern entrepreneurs. The National Angel Capital Organization’s (NACO) 2015 Report on Angel Investing Activity in Canada looked at 32 angel investment organizations across the country and reveals that angels in Northern Ontario contributed more investment capital into regional entrepreneurs and businesses than any other similar network in Canada. “$50 million signifies an enormous amount of investment capital flowed into our Northern Ontario economy by private investors;” says NOA Executive Director, Mary Long-Irwin. “NOA is proud to be the number one angel network in Canada but most importantly, we are proud of the increasing economic capacity, opportunities and impact that angel investing is bringing to the region. Today, investments are being made in diverse sectors from technology and manufacturing to real estate and entertainment. Almost all of the $50 million comes from local investors, directed to local entrepreneurs, to build local businesses across the North.” Also reported today were some of the results generated by $50 million in investment capital. Key socio-economic impacts are: • 139 investment deals closed totaling $50 million • 1,324 full time equivalent positions created • 378 full time equivalent positions maintained • A total of $91 million in management and staff salaries generated. Northern Ontario Angels is supported by various community partners across Northern Ontario and is funded with support from FedNor. “We encourage innovators, entrepreneurs and high-growth businesses to get in touch with our organization. For those seeking additional capital or business mentorship to take their business to the next level, we have a network of angels ready to help,” says Long-Irwin.

Original Press Release

Representatives from four local companies walk into a Bear Pit

Original Article

On Thursday, May 26, the first ever “RBC-NOA SSM Bear Pit” pitch event was held in Sault Ste. Marie at the Delta Waterfront Hotel.

The event, similar to Dragon’s Den on television, was a pilot event which invited local technology startup companies to pitch their products and/or services to local angel investors as well as business, finance and community partners.

Four local companies pitched their businesses at the Bear Pit on May 26, including: Digital Grounds Inc. (Gentroo), Heuristext Inc., North Origin Games Inc., and Veracity Asset Management Group Inc.

Each company was selected based on their unique business ventures, business development achievements to date, and ability to execute on plans for future growth and business expansion. All four companies were established in Sault Ste. Marie and are clients of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre.

“We were pleased to be invited to participate in the recent Bear Pit event,” said Graham Nelson, Veracity CEO. “It was a unique opportunity to introduce our company and present our business plan to a key group of local investors.”

RBC Royal Bank and Northern Ontario Angels (NOA), a northern based organization that helps entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground, were primary sponsors of the event, in partnership with Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC), FedNor, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation – Millworks, and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

“These home-grown companies have made tremendous strides towards becoming significant contributors to the future prosperity Sault Ste. Marie and the Northern Ontario economy,” said Gerry Bugyra, Business Development Manager, Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre. “At the Innovation Centre, we work directly with over 70 new companies that have the potential to create new jobs in the Sault and generate wealth in the community; we are so proud of these four and the many other exceptional clients we get to work with.”

Over 65 guests attended the event and feedback has been very positive.

“The Sault Ste. Marie Bear Pit event outcome was a great success with a strong investor, funding partner and local business turn-out. Several local NOA Investors expressed interest in future ‘one on one’ meetings with the business presenters,” says Mary Long-Irwin, Executive Director NOA. “We will continue to promote, help grow and support Northern Ontario businesses.”

The Bear Pit event was created to help raise the profile of exceptional startup companies in Sault Ste. Marie, and allow them the opportunity to network and share their products and services with the local business and investment community.

By presenting their business pitches to these individuals, they are provided with an alternate option for funding to grow their business, beyond grants and personal investment.

“We at RBC are inspired by the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that defines Northern Ontario,” shared Bill Bray, RBC Commercial Financial Services Vice President. “Through our active support of the Bear Pit, we are honored to rally around our dynamic business community while providing these companies with the tools and advice to thrive and prosper.”

Based on attendee and presenter feedback, Bear Pit organizers are encouraged that there is an appetite for this type of event in Sault Ste. Marie.
As a result, NOA has determined that the Bear Pit event will continue in the future in some capacity, and is hopeful that there can be greater community engagement and new business participation.

Consideration must be made in respect of legal and confidential matters for new businesses owners, who often conduct pitches and engage investors in a confidential manner to protect the intellectual property rights of their business and proprietary information.

Investors, such as members of the Northern Ontario Angels, may also wish to remain anonymous.

Timmins Very Own Dragons’ Den

Timmins and regional based business recently felt the spread of angels’ wings that have been sweeping across Northern Ontario. On April 7th, the Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC) partnered with Northern Ontario Angels (NOA) turning Northern College’s Quill Lounge into their very own Dragons’ Den. Other Northern Ontarian cities have held such pitch events in the past but this was the first of its kind for Timmins. Making the most of it, the pitches were recorded, courtesy of Near North Video Productions, for almost 350 investors to view. Another first as far as pitch sessions go.

During the event, three Timmins and regional based companies, Millson Forestry Service, Rheault Distillery and a new venture, spent the evening networking with other companies including sponsoring companies, TPS Group of Companies ( and White Industrial Products (, and pitching their products and/or services to the angel investors.

NOA gathers investors with northern innovative companies who need alternate funding routes to start or grow their business in a positive environment through networking and pitch events. “Playing the role of mentors, investors and agents, we attract, support and invest in the growth of innovative companies with the potential of having global significance,” says Mary Long-Irwin, Executive Director of NOA, “as well as keep those companies here and contributing to the future economy of Northern Ontario.”

Pitch events are not only an opportunities for companies to gain traction and grow globally, but they hold a greater significance to the economic growth. “Not only do they help to advance the smaller businesses, these events have been known to assist in the creation of jobs and increase the development of dynamic innovative economies,” says Kimberley Wahamaa, NOA Consultant.

“The Productivity and Innovation Centre wants businesses to take advantage of the services they offer as well as offer other opportunities that support their knowledge and scale them to accomplish their goals, increase capital and have the option to grow and succeed,” says Fred Gibbons, Chair of Timmins Economic Development Corporation.

PIC is part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE), and is supported by FedNor, NOHFC, Timmins Economic Development Corporation, NEOnet, and other partners. For more information on the Productivity & Innovation Centre (PIC) and its initiatives please contact Ana Blouin, Project Development Manager, or 705-269-1354.

NOA, Northern Ontario’s premiere organization for entrepreneurs and angel investors, is also part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE), and is supported by the Government of Canada, FedNor, The Network of Angel Organizations – Ontario, and other partners. For more information about Northern Ontario Angels (NOA) please contact Mary Long-Irwin, Executive Director, or 807-344-4440.

Costarter is Looking to Accelerate Start-up Businesses

Costarter, a program run by the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre, is looking at accelerating five start-up businesses that have prototypes, a proof-of-concept, or a demo that want to grow in to a global business. The program is focused on teams of two to three early-stage entrepreneurs and is driven by experienced mentors and entrepreneurs. Costarter will invest $15,000 into the selected teams and provide office space, hands-on support and access to mentors, investors and potential customers. Teams will work with the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre towards demo day: a final investor presentation and the beginning of life as a company working to change the world. Interested start-ups can apply at