Hamilton,
02
May
2016
|
09:30 PM
America/New_York

Robert Gerritsen

Spotlight on: Robert Gerritsen, Mohawk School of Engineering Technology Professor

Summary

Spotlight on is a special series profiling the faculty and staff at Mohawk who are making a difference at the college and in the community.

Even as a new graduate of Mohawk College’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program almost 40 years ago, Robert Gerritsen had an idea he would eventually head into teaching.

He spent 35 years in industry, engineering design and management, product design, and research and development in a range of sectors, including food, pharmaceuticals, confectionary and general industrial.

“I always kind of thought that, at some point, I would want the opportunity to give back, mentor student and usher in a new crop of engineers.”

That opportunity came in the form of a professor of mechanical engineering position that opened up at Mohawk about four years ago. It was earlier in his career path than he had imagined, but Gerritsen decided the time was right to get into education.

He brought with him experience in exploring additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, for industrial applications. And he was just in time to help open the doors to the Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre (AMRC) at Mohawk’s Fennell campus.

“I delivered on the concept but the real visionaries in seeing an industry need and putting the concept forward were Tony Thoma (Dean of Engineering Technology), Brad Bowman (Professor in Engineering Technology) and other colleagues,” said Gerritsen, who serves as AMRC’s coordinator and lead faculty researcher.

“This is one of the best-equipped labs in the country and then added to that we have an enormous amount of local expertise at McMaster and the CANMET lab to support the AMRC. This is developing into an industry cluster around additive manufacturing. Our centre helps attract businesses to the region.”
Robert Gerritsen, Professor

In a nutshell, additive manufacturing creates an object by building up layers of plastic or metal material. That’s different from traditional manufacturing techniques, such as machining, casting and milling which remove material to form a part.

The industrial-strength additive manufacturing printers in Mohawk’s $2.5-million lab takes computer-generated digital or CAD files and prints them within oxygen-free chambers using a laser to fuse fine layers of plastic or metal powder into solid forms.

“This is one of the best-equipped labs in the country and then added to that we have an enormous amount of local expertise at McMaster and the CANMET lab to support the AMRC. This is developing into an industry cluster around additive manufacturing. Our centre helps attract businesses to the region.”

The big advantage of additive manufacturing is the ability to create objects that are either impossible or too costly to create with conventional techniques. There’s the added bonus of far less waste of valuable and costly materials. Products can also be built as whole units rather than as parts needing assembly. That cuts down on labour and eliminates potential failure points such as bolts, adhesives or welds.

The machines can print multiple copies of the same part or dozens of different ones at the same time. But the printers are still slow compared to other manufacturing techniques and the process doesn’t work well for producing parts in large volumes.

“It’s the right tool for the right job. It deals very well with complexity and can produce impossible geometry.”
Robert Gerritsen, Professor

Gerritsen says 3D printing is just another tool for industry, not an across-the-board solution. It can produce designs not possible through conventional techniques. As Gerritsen explains, curved holes can’t be drilled but they can be printed.

“It’s the right tool for the right job,” he said. “It deals very well with complexity and can produce impossible geometry.”

The “pride and joy” in the lab’s equipment is an EOS M280 direct metal laser sintering machine, which can produce parts out of stainless steel, chrome, titanium, nickel, aluminum and other metals. Only a few academic institutions in Canada have that technology. None are currently available at a college or university in Ontario.

The facility is also home to an EOS P395 selective laser sintering machine, which prints parts in polyamide, polystyrene and thermoplastics. A Stratasys FDM printer and state-of-the-art design tools, as well as other additive accessories, are also in the lab.

Demand for industry partnerships has been huge. The client roster is now well over 100, with Mohawk partnering to educate, develop new materials and find additive manufacturing solutions to production challenges.

Mohawk works with McMaster and CANMET to offer a “one-stop shop” to clients in aerospace, healthcare, consumer goods and a wide range of industrial production.

Use and access to the lab continues to grow. Adding to a roster of targeted industry workshops and internships and co-ops using the lab’s resources, Mohawk kicked off is first embedded course at the start of the year. The course is offered to third-year mechanical engineering technology students.

“We are constantly thinking about the evolution of the lab, such as degree offerings and post-grad certificates.”

The lab is already a terrific recruiting tool for the college and one of the clearest manifestations of Mohawk’s commitment to collaborations, partnerships and applied research, he says. Mohawk aims to be among the top 10 colleges in Canada for applied research activity.

Students who have trained in the lab are immediately snapped up for industry jobs.

“This affords them access to absolutely state-of-the-art equipment in a rapidly emerging technology.” says Gerritsen. “They have skills and experience that are in heavy demand and short supply.”

AMRC received a total of $720,000 in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund, along with industry partners.

And support from Mohawk’s leadership for the lab has been “outstanding,” says Gerritsen.

“When you start engaging with applied research and new emerging technology, it takes some fortitude and strength to make one of the best labs in the country a reality. That’s what we’ve achieved here at Mohawk.”

Contact Robert at:

robert.gerritsen@mohawkcollege.ca

Spotlight on is written by Freelance writer and editor Meredith MacLeod.

Follow Meredith on Twitter @meredithmacleod

Mohawk College educates and serves 30,000 full-time, part-time and apprenticeship students at three campuses in Hamilton, Ontario. Mohawk has been ranked the number one of the college in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area for student satisfaction for the past six years and number one for graduate satisfaction and employment for the past four years. Mohawk has also been recognized as one of Canada’s greenest employers and one of the top employers in Hamilton-Niagara.