Conference highlights Windsor's emergence as automation powerhouse

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell


A record number of exhibitors and registrants at this year’s Emerging Technologies in Automation Conference and Trade Show highlights the fact the Windsor region is emerging as a national powerhouse in the field of automation.

It’s been a long journey in a short time since a humble gathering of 40 local people attended the first conference four years ago in the basement of the Caboto Club.

“It was a small beginning but we saw the potential,” said Lee McGrath, director of business retention and expansion for the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation. The conference next Tuesday at Caesars Windsor, is also drawing in buyers from as far away as India.

“The real opportunity from the conference is for local companies to present their technology and educate those in the region and from elsewhere,” said McGrath. “It’s been a bit of a different pathway than our usual economic development.”

This year, there will be 51 exhibitors, an increase of four, and the number of registrants has surpassed last year’s total of 350.

McGrath said the conference is attracting registrants from the 401 corridor and the Great Lakes basin in the U.S.

There will also be up to 10 buyers attending, which doubles last year’s total, including some from India, Mexico, possibly Germany along with automaker representatives.

The keynote speaker this year is Paul Zikopoulos, IBM Canada’s vice-president of big data-cognitive systems.

“Every year, it’s becoming easier to attract businesses,” McGrath said. “The buyers that are coming are looking specifically at automation solutions produced here.

“We were also very fortunate to get Paul because he’s so in demand. He usually speaks to crowds of 5,000 to 6,000 people.”

McGrath said the conference has helped bring attention to the fact the Windsor region is emerging as a national powerhouse in the field of automation.

“I think we’ve been discovered,” McGrath said.

“The Windsor area has a cluster of automation companies, some 350 to 450, greater than anywhere else in Canada. It’s why Automate Canada was created here to act as a voice for those in automation.”

Advanced technology and artificial intelligence is finding its way into sectors of the local economy beyond automotive. The region’s second-largest industry is agriculture and there’s a huge demand for technology in greenhouses.

Addressing those opportunities will be Justine Taylor from the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Darren Ward from the Vineland Research and Innovative Centre.

“This year, there’s a focus on automation and agriculture,” McGrath said. “A lot of the technology they use (in greenhouse production) is from the Netherlands. We want to show them how they can get involved in the automation cluster locally.

“We also want to make partnerships with the Netherlands to potentially use our technology.”

Among the speakers on the main stage will be: Siemens senior vice-president Joris Myny; Reid Schook of Rockwell Automation; Automate Canada chair Shelley Fellows; Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association president Flavio Volpe; John Laughlin, chief technical officer, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada; and Raed Kadri, director of automotive technology and mobility with the Ontario Centres for Excellence.