Understanding MI-zone and It's Role in Northwestern Ontario

The NWO Innovation Centre has been working with early-stage innovators for over 20 years.  MI-zone was developed with the recognition that often innovators have had to go outside of our region to find the needed prototyping and product development resources and capacity.  This has resulted in a lost opportunity to develop the skill sets needed to service an innovative economy, niche manufacturing leaving the region, and a manufacturing sector that is often not at the leading edge of technology.  MI-zone was initiated as a facility with the expertise and technology to address some of these issues.  This new approach to high tech manufacturing and development is designed to stimulate innovation within the region and build a vibrant sector that meets the needs of current innovators and future opportunities.

Project Need:

Northwestern Ontario has a strong history in manufacturing.  Over the past few decades, this region’s manufacturing technology and capacity has not always developed at the pace of other regions in Ontario and North America.  As innovators attempt to develop new manufactured products and technology they have had to outsource the development and manufacturing outside of our region. As a result, the region has not fully benefited from the innovation stemming from businesses and individuals.

This project addresses four needs/opportunities:

  1. Support for local innovators – currently many innovators are often required to leave our region to link to technical assistance for prototype design/development and small-scale production.
  2. Retention of niche manufacturing opportunities – Often our local manufacturers do not have all of the advanced manufacturing equipment or a proven level of demand to justify the purchase of equipment to enter and develop a market for a specific product. Providing access to equipment that can:
    • achieve high tolerances
    • provide consistency in machining finish and tolerance
    • support the development of complex design, programming, and parts
    • allow for accessible rapid prototyping capability
    • provide for cost-effective small manufacturing runs supporting early-stage market development

The facility also provides for:

    • advanced 3D design and prototyping capability
    • the integration of market, business, and financial support for niche manufacturers
  1. Talent development – To support students and employees of new and existing businesses to develop advanced manufacturing skills.
  2. Export related services and attraction of new innovation  – This facility facilitates additional opportunities for our region as it complements the region’s existing manufacturing capacity. This is important as we embrace innovation and a knowledge-based economy.

Capacity Framework

This facility has the capacity to adhere to tight tolerance requirements by using modern advanced manufacturing equipment that is:

  • made of more rigid and repeatable structural and mechanical components
  • set up to avoid operator handling of parts by taking advantage of robotic loading and unloading of stock and parts
  • equipped with automatic bar feeding of stock with sub-spindle handover for subsequent operation
  • capable of reducing operations by utilizing sub-spindle and 5-axis milling
  • ensuring consistent machining tolerances by probing of parts during manufacturing.

And has the capability to consistently manufacture even the most complex components with:

  • simultaneous 5-axis machining capability
  • cutting edge machine programming (CAM) software
  • parts adhering to specified surface finish requirements

MI-zone collaborates with experienced professionals in 3D Modeling and Design (CAD) to:

  • provide face-to-face consultation with a team approach to design
  • provide the foundation for regional prototyping capability
  • provide dynamic motion analysis on mechanical assemblies
  • provide stress analysis on structural components and assemblies
  • provide environmental sustainability analysis at the product design stage

The facility provides clients with rapid prototyping services, production-grade machined prototypes, and full production services in a clean professional environment that will reflect the modern high-tech nature of the services provided. We are committed to regional skill development through:

  • co-op and internship positions for college and university students
  • cooperation and leadership in the development of training and awareness activities