Conestoga news

October 7, 2003 11:07 AM

lectralogics Supports Advanced Skills Education at Conestoga College

Electralogics Incorporated is based in Fergus, Ontario and has an enviable record of success and excellence in something that we see in our everyday lives: touchscreen display devices in the quick-service food business. Though Electralogics is a small firm, founders Rick and Shirley Harnell have built an enterprise known across North America and Europe for its design capabilities and finished systems.

The company has developed products such as specialized modems for data storage and retrieval, kitchen automation systems, several touchscreen-based point of sale cash till systems and associated custom software.

An initiative at Electralogics from the late 1990s is having a lasting educational impact on Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in nearby Kitchener.

For a brief time, Electralogics pursued the idea of designing and producing custom hardware for video display systems used in quick-service food restaurants. Accordingly, the company secured state-of-the-art computer-controlled turning and machining centres to shape and produce the hardware, as well as a robot and programmable conveyor system to feed the machines and move the finished parts automatically.

After approximately 18 months, however, the company decided to concentrate on its core businesses, and with that decision a question arose: What was the best possible use for nearly $750,000 worth of top-of-the-line, nearly new equipment?

"As a successful company, we want to be a contributor to the larger community," says Gary Leiskau, Vice-President of sales and Marketing at Electralogics. "We wanted to be involved in a productive way with skills education, and we wanted to be a good corporate citizen."

The company contacted Ted Arnott, Member of Provincial Parliament for the Waterloo-Wellington constituency, who in turn put the company in touch with Conestoga's Associate Vice-President of Engineering Technology, Information Technology, and Trades and Apprenticeship, Mike McClements. In a relatively brief time, a donation agreement was in place, and the equipment was transferred to the college.

Conestoga is a comprehensive institution, serving midwestern Ontario with programs in technology, skilled trades, business, health sciences, media studies, information technology and many other areas. It is one of Ontario's largest colleges for apprenticeship training and serves one of Canada's most highly developed manufacturing regions.

To maximize the practical instructional use of the equipment, Conestoga assigned it to two different learning locations. The production machines, manufactured by Haas Automation, have been set up in the machining centre facility at Conestoga's Doon campus in Kitchener. Students pursuing certificate and apprenticeship studies involving computer numerical control machining have been able to learn on the Haas HL-2 turning centre and the VF-OE machining centre.

Greg White, who co-ordinates instruction in the machining centre at Doon, indicates that approximately 100 students receive CNC training there per year.

"These donated machines have certainly helped us move forward in providing effective and relevant training," White says, adding that Conestoga has plans to increase apprenticeship activity substantially in coming years to meet regional industrial growth and employer demand for a highly skilled, adaptable workforce. He notes that a CNC Motoman robot, which will be used at Conestoga's ATS Engineering Complex, is also a part of this donated machining equipment.

"It's been a wonderful experience," he adds. "Some of the students come from settings where they've had the opportunity to work on machines like these. So, there have been instances where our faculty and students have worked closely together, learning from each other how to get the most practical benefit from this resource provided by Electralogics."

Meanwhile, the Bosch Automation Technology U-shaped conveyor line has gone to the ATS Engineering Complex, which is a site of activity connected with Conestoga's programs and courses in automated manufacturing and robotics.

In September 2003, Conestoga launched its first four-year degree programs. One is in Integrated Advanced Manufacturing Technologies. It combines high-level instruction in technical areas with relevant business and management skills, plus liberal studies coursework and extensive co-op educational experience in industry. The conveyor line will be part of the teaching equipment in this program.

But there is more to the Conestoga-Electralogics story. Recently, the college received a $2.5 million grant under the Strategic Skills Investment Fund of the Ontario Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation. The grant is earmarked for development of a manufacturing and automation training centre, to be operational beginning in the fall of 2004.

The grant is part of a total project with an estimated value of more than $11 million, involving a major expansion of the ATS Engineering Complex and the introduction of new and expanded programming to increase the supply of highly skilled, versatile workers for local industries by 330 persons over the next five years, with 150 additional new graduates each year thereafter.

The aim is to create a focal point for studies and related applied research in advanced manufacturing, spanning all academic levels from trades and apprenticeship to engineering technology diplomas and degrees. Through its donation, Electralogics is one of eight industry partners that made the project proposal not only feasible but also successful.

"The value of partnerships between industry and the college opens up new, necessary worlds of possibility in education," Mike McClements comments. "In that context, our partnership with Electralogics becomes much more than just the initial donation of equipment. It is difficult to appropriately express our sincere gratitude to Electralogics for its generosity. This represents a very substantially improved learning environment for our students, who will benefit directly."

CONTACT: Greg White,; Mike McClements,