An exclusive look at the future of advanced manufacturing in Waterloo

This May, a select group of global association and corporate executives gathered in Waterloo, Ontario. Their purpose: to become immersed in the city’s advanced manufacturing expertise while attending an event like no other, Innovate Canada.

As one of Destination Canada Business Events’ signature events, Innovate Canada rotates destinations and areas of focus each year to highlight the cutting-edge work taking place across the country’s key economic sectors. Since it launched in 2018, it’s showcased Montréal’s competitive edge in technology, Toronto’s innovative life sciences capabilities and St. John’s global leadership in oceans sciences. Beyond intellectual capital, Innovate Canada also highlights the unique venues, attractions and experiences available to international corporate and association executives.

A natural choice

When it comes to advanced manufacturing hubs, Waterloo leads the way. It’s home to the country’s largest robotics and automation cluster and more than 1,400 manufacturing companies working in areas like automotive, aerospace and food processing, not to mention over 400 technology firms. The region also boasts three globally recognized academic institutions: the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College and Wilfred Laurier University.

When business events are hosted in destinations that offer this level of knowledge and expertise, they become more meaningful than ever. As Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, Executive Director of Business Events at Destination Canada explained, that’s precisely what Innovate Canada aims to demonstrate.

“The idea behind the event is to showcase the transformative work that’s taking place within Canada’s leading economic sectors,” she said. “We want clients to return home with a deeper understanding of what hosting a conference or meeting, doing trade with, investing in or locating a business in the country can ultimately mean to their organization.”

A hotbed for innovation

By creating an agenda that was equal parts inspiring and informative, Destination Canada achieved exactly that. In partnership with Explore Waterloo Region, they took attendees on experiential tours to see the industry’s most forward-thinking companies and facilities, as well as meet with the brilliant minds who are driving the sector into the future.

At the University of Waterloo, they visited the state-of-the-art RoboHub, where they marvelled at an impressive fleet of robotics that includes a full-size humanoid, unmanned aerial and ground vehicles and collaborative robot arms. While on campus, they also visited the Autonomous Vehicle and Research Intelligence Lab (AVRIL), a 10 bay R&D workspace with an array of mobility applications — including Canada’s first autonomous vehicle licensed for on-road driving.

Nearby at Conestoga College, the group had the chance to go behind the scenes of the 13,000 square-foot Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies (SMART) facility, which supports applied research and training in advanced manufacturing, advanced recycling technologies and cybersecurity.

Innovate Canada guests also attended site visits of leading companies garnering global attention, including OTTO Motors and ATS Automation. During these exclusive tours, they gained a glimpse into the future of the robotics industry, seeing the factory’s inner workings as it’s developing.

“What really impressed attendees was the breadth of expertise and amount of knowledge in Waterloo,” added Virginie De Visscher, Senior Director of Business Events at Destination Canada. “There’s so much creativity and business happening in the region, thanks to exceptionally strong universities, a highly skilled talent pool, innovative businesses and an unmatched collaboration within the entire ecosystem that makes everything happen.”

A host of possibilities  

Waterloo isn’t the only region at the forefront of advanced manufacturing. To showcase Canada’s full range of offerings, Destination Canada invited advanced manufacturing centres of excellence from across the country to participate in the event, including Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal.

Part of the agenda was devoted to giving clients the chance to meet one-on-one with these destinations — which included their business events expert and advanced manufacturing sector expert. This allowed them to learn about the many opportunities for business events, investment and development across different cities and provinces.

A powerful first

This year’s Innovate Canada marked a major milestone: it was Destination Canada’s first carbon-neutral event. Among the many sustainability initiatives, the team eliminated the use of single use plastics, served only vegetarian lunches, prioritized reusable materials like glass for table place cards and refillable water bottles, and walked to venues with a commute of 20-minutes or less.

While environmental sustainability was a core focus, the team’s efforts didn’t stop there. Recognizing that sustainability also has sociocultural, economic and well-being components, they incorporated health breaks into the agenda, led morning runs and sourced from local suppliers whenever possible, such as soaps and snacks for hotel rooms.

“We took clients and partners through the entire sustainability journey, from the time they left their homes through to the very end of the event,” said De Visscher. “By doing so, we helped set a new standard for what can be done. Many clients left with creative ideas of how to incorporate sustainability into their own events — at little or no cost.”

A lasting impression

After seeing the cutting-edge work that takes place in Canada, attendees returned home feeling inspired and enlightened on how they can elevate their future advanced manufacturing events across the country.

“I came for the business; and I stayed for the people,” said Anton Seidler, Senior Tech Scout. “The warmth, the kindness, the openness and the innovative spirit of all the people met was overwhelming. It didn’t feel like a business trip, more like meeting old friends and enjoying a great time together. The innovation ecosystems and the drive make it a perfect spot for getting things done.”

“The Innovate Canada team shared best practices from some of the most innovative companies I've ever visited,” added Kimberlee Humphrey, President of The Association for Manufacturing Excellence. “Our members across the globe would be very interested in visiting and seeing what "great" looks like.”