SFU opens state-of-the-art Smart Manufacturing Hub in Surrey

June 22, 2023

By Ray Sharma

Simon Fraser University is now home to a new Smart Manufacturing Hub that will help revolutionize traditional manufacturing processes, provide space for innovation and collaboration with industry and train the next generation of the industry's workforce.

Housed at the Surrey Campus, the space is the first-of-its-kind in Western Canada, comes equipped with a state-of-the-art Industry 4.0 training system that simulates a highly automated smart factory, and is embedded with artificial vision, collaborative robots, smart devices and more.

“Manufacturing is a fundamental human activity. We have been making products since the stone age. Smart Manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, on the other hand, is a concept which only emerged about 10 years ago,” says John Shen, director of SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering.

“It allows the production of small quantity custom products off the same assembly line with the same low-cost benefit of high-volume standard products, made possible by sensors, digital twins, data analytics, and other modern digital technologies.” 

While the first industrial revolution shifted workers from hand production to steam-and-water powered manufacturing systems, the second revolution saw electricity reach new areas such as production, transport, and homes, while computer and automation technologies became embraced by the third revolution.

The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, will see the emergence of cyber-physical systems that integrate robotics and automation with advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

Long-term success of smart manufacturing ultimately depends on a highly skilled workforce, and digitally skilled labour in Canada’s manufacturing sector is currently in short supply. Training the next generation of Industry 4.0 professionals who can develop and implement high-tech solutions to establish Canada as a leader in the field remains crucial. 

SFU launched the hub to build a highly skilled workforce of Industry 4.0 professionals who can develop and implement high-tech solutions to establish Canada as a leader in the field. The hub will be a space of innovation and collaboration with industry and new training opportunities for working professionals. 

Students in SFU’s Master of Engineering in Smart Manufacturing and Systems (MSE) program will be among the first to train in the new space as they develop an interdisciplinary skillset to build engineering solutions for a smart manufacturing future. 

“The Smart Manufacturing Hub builds upon SFU’s leadership in innovation as well as our commitment to build world-class research spaces, and transform industries and economies through technology,” says Dugan O’Neil, SFU vice-president, research and international. “The Hub will be a catalyst for further industry partnerships and the new Master’s program will deliver job-ready graduates to meet the needs of Canadian companies.”

“Smart manufacturing at SFU has equipped us with techniques to revolutionize traditional manufacturing practices towards enhanced sustainability and eco-friendly approaches,” says Sanjam Chhabra, a Master of Engineering student in Smart Manufacturing and Systems at SFU. 

“As the demand for mass customization of products increases, the role of smart manufacturing becomes more prominent,” says Chhabra. “While acknowledging that automation and AI may replace certain repetitive tasks, smart manufacturing will generate opportunities for new types of jobs that require skills in data analysis, AI programming, system integration, and cybersecurity.”

The unveiling, hosted by SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE), included a keynote speech from Jean-Pierre Giroux, President of Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium Canada, an update on B.C.’s Manufacturing Industry from Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation, a panel discussion with members in the manufacturing sector and tours of the new facility. 

“Canada will transition into this new era and need a new workforce to support this paradigm shift," says Shen. "We have established this Smart Manufacturing Hub to address these needs.”