The formation of a new micro manufacturing company unique to Canada and the establishment of an automobility accelerator at St. Clair College are the centrepieces of the new Canadian Automobility Hub announced Wednesday by Invest WindsorEssex
The hub, which will be housed in the college’s Truck and Coach building on its south Windsor campus, is a public-private partnership consisting of the new manufacturer Automobility Enterprises and the academic branch Automobility Research.
“We know disruption is going on and we want that disruption to be here,” said Invest WindsorEssex’s Matthew Johnson, executive director, Mobility Partnerships and Innovation.
“We want the jobs that come with the disruption.
“Green projects are part of this and will be taking place side-by-side with these innovations. What will be happening is going to diversify the economy more than you think.”
Automobility Enterprises is a micro manufacturer formed by Windsor Mold, the German engineering firm PEM Motion and Ottawa-based Integris Software.
The plant will produce zero-emission, electric vehicles aimed at last-mile commercial delivery. Its focus will be on small batch production, 5,000-10,000 units or fewer, with the ability to quickly pivot to produce a different product.
The new company will also offer services in other areas of automobility such as conversions of vehicles from gas to electric power as well as helping local firms and individuals develop and test new innovations and future proof their operations.
“What’s good about this is it helps the community transform into the new transportation environment,” said Integris Software’s managing director Randy Zadra.
“It’s not just automotive. In talking to mining companies, they want all EVs in their mine shafts, so there’s no exhaust fumes. Agriculture is another industry well suited for this.
“It’s participating in the redefining of transportation.”
The factory will be located in a building currently owned by Windsor Mold on Durham Place and is expected to be operational in 12 to 18 months. We now have a great pipeline to take innovative ideas from the start right through to completion.
The plant is expected to cost approximately $30 million to launch. The number of jobs at launch will be determined on the contracts secured by that time and could range as high as 100 to 150 positions.
The company’s first contract is to convert two of Enwin’s vehicles from gas to electric power. Automobility Enterprise employees will begin that work immediately at the college offering experiential learning to students.
Zadra said the Windsor plant will be like no other in Canada in its ability to be flexible by using the manufacturing processes developed by PEM Motion. He added It will give Canadian companies in the automobility space, from manufacturing to tech development and cyber security, a new tool to help innovate and develop their products faster and more inexpensively.
It’s also a proven model as the zero emission vehicles PEM produces have been in use globally for several years, including by the German postal service.
“It’s manufacturing that’s already developed, agile and fast,” said Zadra, who added there’s a very high interest from clients around the world in the Windsor project.
“You can build 5,000 of Type A vehicles and then nine months later, after a short changeover period, build something completely different. There’s no long retooling period.”
PEM Motion director Karl Anton said by year’s end there would be 25,000 of the company’s vehicles in service.
“PEM started seven years ago to prove e-mobility could work,” said Anton, who worked 34 years for Ford Motor Company and rose to become head of European production.
“Now it’s one of the largest EV fleets in the world.”
Anton said what is different about the PEM Motion manufacturing process and planning is it involves all employees and is constant. There’s a reliance on artificial intelligence, machine learning and even the use of gaming platforms.
“We’re looking for people with higher competency levels,” Anton said. “Everyone has a responsibility in planning and executing and it creates more job satisfaction. This is where manufacturing is going in the future.”
The seeds for the new company were planted two years ago at the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association annual conference in Windsor.
After both sides did their due diligence, slowed by COVID-19, Anton said Windsor emerged as a natural fit for PEM.
Based on the measure of North American industrial codes, the Windsor region already has twice as many companies in the automobility space as the next closest Canadian community.
“We wanted to tap into the manufacturing expertise and ecosystem that’s here,” Anton said.
Windsor Mold President and COO David Mastronardi said the marriage of German expertise in new manufacturing processes with the quality of local firms and talent is precisely what the region needs to remain competitive in a re-birthed industry.
“One of our founding principles is we’re technology focused and we need to continue to evolve,” Mastronardi said.
“The other thing is we also have to evolve with the latest manufacturing processes.
“It’s how do we get our engineering to a different level? How do our technologies apply to that?”
Automobility Enterprises won’t be operating in a vacuum as the company will also support the activities of students and local firms through the hub.
Both the university and college are reviewing their curriculum and faculty needs to meet the industry’s demand for new skills and talent in the coordinated regional approach.
The University of Windsor will also begin a $3-million renovation and expansion of its Faculty of Engineering building this month. The expansion will include a doubling of the size of the Centre for Hybrid Automotive Research and Green Energy Lab where research is being conducted in the areas of batteries, powertrains and the next generation of electric motors in partnership with the industry.
In the past five years, the area has received $12.5 million from the federal government and $2.5-million from the province strictly aimed at nurturing Windsor’s automobility ambitions.
“The ecosystem has been built by everyone,” University of Windsor executive director of research and innovation Heather Pratt said. “We’re taking that knowledge and we’re trying to monetize it.
“We now have a great pipeline to take innovative ideas from the start right through to completion.”
St. Clair College’s director of research, innovation and entrepreneurship Peter Wawrow said the interaction for students with industry will prepare them for jobs but also for the wider impact automobility will have on society.
“The transformation of the auto industry is also transforming the city itself,” said Wawrow after seeing the effects in PEM Motion’s home in Aachen, Germany.
“Windsor is similar to Aachen and we see the same potential. The preparations to be part of this are also a great opportunity for the college to transform as well.”