The SONAMI success story
Developing educational alliances as economic engines
Marc Nantel, PhD
Vice-President – Research, Innovation & Strategic Enterprises

Niagara College

Gone are the days of colleges and universities functioning as two solitudes, pursuing individual research agendas and educational goals. Global challenges transcending borders and disciplines have necessitated a more collaborative approach. Issues such as climate change, public health crises, and technological advancements have underscored the need for diverse expertise and resources, leading to an era where collaboration is beneficial and indispensable. This reflects a broader understanding that complex challenges require multifaceted, interdisciplinary approaches, and Niagara College is proud to lead that charge.
Hamill Machine Co. owner and president Bob Benner (right) credits his SONAMI Niagara College partnership as a vital contribution to his company’s ability to expand into new markets, doubling his machine shop, increasing his workforce, and moving his sales figures into the millions.

Launched in 2015 with the contribution of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is an 11-member network of post-secondary institutions led by Niagara College bringing unique capabilities and expertise in advanced manufacturing. This collaborative environment, coupled with the FedDev Ontario support, makes possible industry-led research projects to develop new products, processes, and services at the speed of business.

SONAMI’s mission is centred around bolstering Canada’s position in the global manufacturing market. The network operates on a collaborative model, where industry partners identify their research and development needs. SONAMI then matches these needs with the expertise available within its member institutions, providing support to industry partners through specialized facilities, expedited product timelines, access to student innovators, and highly skilled technical experts and researchers.

SONAMI stands not as a competitor to industry but as a visionary ally and its research arm. By leveraging the combined strengths of its member institutions, SONAMI aims to accelerate the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. This, in turn, contributes to the growth and competitiveness of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within the manufacturing sector.

SONAMI maximizes the impact of each dollar spent, allowing for larger-scale research and development initiatives than what might be possible through individual investments, ensuring that government funds are utilized more efficiently

Since its formation, SONAMI’s assistance to more than 327 unique industry partners in creating and implementing 357 projects has spurred significant industry growth. This success is evident in the launch of 149 new products or services in the marketplace and the creation of more than 300 jobs in Southern Ontario, underscoring the pivotal role of these projects in driving regional economic growth. Collaborators can achieve more by assembling resources, sharing knowledge, and combining expertise. SONAMI maximizes the impact of each dollar spent, allowing for larger-scale research and development initiatives than what might be possible through individual investments, ensuring that government funds are utilized more efficiently. Networks such as SONAMI also create ecosystems that encourage continuous rapid innovation, attracting businesses and investors, leading to new industries and economic opportunities. For governments, this means sustainable economic growth powered by high-value industries. Integrating students into real-world projects leads to a more skilled workforce, essential for long-term economic growth and competitiveness. Governments benefit from having a more educated and capable population ready to meet the challenges of a modern economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed moment for industries worldwide, highlighting the vulnerabilities in global supply chains. Canada was grappling with shortages of critical items like personal protective equipment (PPE), medical devices, and sanitization products. As another example of the benefits of post-secondary collaborations and networks, SONAMI rose to the occasion, showcasing the power and agility of local research and manufacturing capabilities. Within the first six months of the pandemic, SONAMI members utilized their advanced manufacturing capabilities, such as 3D printing and materials engineering, to execute more than 32 COVID-19 projects to produce PPE, sanitization materials, physical-distancing apps, and pharmacological advances.

SONAMI has deployed a powerfully successful model, which its members are seeking to expand. Alliances and networks such as SONAMI, stand as testaments to the power of collective action, proving that when diverse minds and talents come together, the possibilities for progress are boundless. The future of collaborations and networks such as this is not just bright; it’s fundamental to shaping a more innovative and interconnected world.