Canadian manufacturers may have been under siege due to offshore competition and the strong Canadian dollar, but they aren’t about to wave the white flag.
“Unfortunately, there are those who think manufacturing is dying; what is happening is really more a transition than anything,” said Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, a nationally recognized consultant in the field.
Lassaline-Berglund is the senior project lead for a rapidly expanding initiative known as iMiN, the Interactive Manufacturing Innovation Network.
“iMiN is a free interactive network that connects manufacturers and allows them to collaborate, share knowledge and meet the demands of global competition,” she said.
Chatham-Kent was one of four communities chosen last year (Windsor, London-Oxford and Brockville-Leeds Granville being the others) to take part in the network.
This year, York and Durham regions have joined the project and there are plans to double the network by next year.
“Our goal is to provide manufacturers with as many resources as possible,” she said. “Manufacturers are engaged more than ever, at looking at new ways to do things, driven in part by the recent economic downturn.”
iMiN has about 40 members locally and 1,500 nationwide. “Our strength is in our numbers and each time we grow, we become better,” she said.
Lassaline-Berglund said there have been instances where one local firm was searching globally to fill a need, only to use the network and discover another firm from Chatham-Kent could provide exactly what was needed.
“Not everyone here knows what everyone else is doing,” she said. “A member firm can enter information on the network and find out things they wouldn’t be able to use otherwise.”
Since the network is member-driven, firms are already vetted.
“It’s not like using the Internet and wading through millions of possibilities and having to verify whether the firms are legitimate or not. The system does that for you.”
Lassaline-Berglund said the term “manufacturing” is too often strictly interpreted as heavily industrial.
“We define manufacturing as someone who – through the use of machines, tools and labour – transforms raw materials into finished goods,” she said. “That definition fits a lot of sectors.”
iMiN was developed by the Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium (EMC) a not-for-profit organization of manufacturers, founded in the mid 1980s and incorporated in 1997.
EMC bills itself as Canada’s largest manufacturing consortium and has nearly 1,000 corporate members, 140,000 individual members and is active in 200 communities.
EMC began as a grass-roots organization, a philosophy it continues to this day.
“We’re very much about serving the needs of our members,” Lassaline-Berglund said. “This is a very practical group designed for those who are in business and want us to provide tools to help them achieve their goals.”
Primarily a source for manufacturers’, the group does have community partners in the private and public sector.
EMC’s other strength is in the fact that it is driven through local steering committees comprised of member industries.
The steering committees make sure we keep on course,” she said.
“Those people make us who we are.”