21st Century Manufacturing in Thunder Bay
By: Scott Butcher, Meaglow
There’s an old saying that says that it takes a village to raise a child. But if that’s true, it’s also true to say that it takes a community to raise a technology. Thunder Bay is no stranger to technology, amongst its laurels it can claim advanced DNA laboratories, smart materials for radiation detection, aircraft parts manufacture, street car manufacture and medical supply, all amongst the more traditional industries of forestry, mining, shipping and education. However, few people would know that a Thunder Bay venture, Meaglow Ltd, has recently managed to reach one of the apexes of supply, having provided a unique piece of advanced equipment to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the premier laboratories in the world.
From the picture, it looks a bit like a rocket ship, and if you put it in space and operated it there, it would actually operate a little like a rocket, but it’s actually a hi-tech plasma source. Not the medical kind, it’s more like a fluorescent light (which uses a gas plasma to create light) or like the sun, and it won’t be used in space, but on earth, where the plasma will be used to make active gas species to create new electronic parts – some of which may well end up in space.
About 95% of this space age tech was manufactured locally. Six different machine shops were used in the Thunder Bay area. This points to one of the hidden advantages that the T-bay area has, it has advanced and available manufacturing capacity. There are a large array of machine shops with the ability to work with advanced processes and materials, like the titanium much of this source was made from. Meaglow Ltd uses this capacity to produce prototype plasma sources in relatively short periods of 4-10 weeks, depending on the design. In the past parts produced locally for Meaglow have been made of such exotic materials as molybdenum, tantalum, tungsten, vacuum compatible stainless steels, platinum, Haynes alloys, machinable ceramics, quartz and Teflon, to name a few. There aren’t that many communities where products like those of Meaglow could be made, let alone made so quickly. So well done to the community of T-bay, you’re definitely part of the 21st century and can be proud to have raised a new technology in your midst.