Local firms show big interest in Project Arrow

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell

 

Over 40 Windsor-area companies and more than 15 from London were part of the wave of 302 firms to put forth proposals to be part of the bid to create the first all-Canadian, zero-emissions vehicle dubbed Project Arrow.

The request for proposals closed earlier this month and the project’s organizers at the Automobile Parts Manufacturers Association will now take the next 90 days to compile the list of required suppliers.

“We blew right through our RFP targets by 50 per cent,” said APMA president Flavio Volpe. “It’s exciting.

“It’s a real maturing of the project.”

Volpe said when the Arrow concept was first announced in 2020 there were 93 companies expressing interest. He admitted he thought he was being optimistic when hoping for 200 RFPs.

“It says people believe we will really be able to deliver it,” Volpe said.

The Arrow is expected to ready for the road by the end of 2022.

Volpe said the southern Ontario firms making bids range from the traditional parts stamping and automation firms to new technology companies not generally associated with the auto industry.

“There are a couple of software companies for in-car systems,” Volpe said.

“Some companies have multiple business units — stuff for the interior and power management. There’s lots of interest from the tool and automation companies.”

Just how the industry has evolved into what is now called auto mobility is reflected in the 40 RFPs from Quebec.

The province has developed a world-class reputation for work in the artificial intelligence field, battery research and the design of products related to autonomous vehicles.

The APMA’s chair of the Tooling and Automation Committee Mike Bilton said Project Arrow has sparked a rethink among domestic firms.

“Connections are being made all up and down the 401 corridor,” said Bilton, who is Windsor Mold’s Supervisor-Toyota Business Unit.

“Quebec and southwestern Ontario companies, who used to view themselves as competitors, are forming partnerships because Project Arrow is presenting opportunities and opening up communication within the Canadian supply chain that never existed before. The partnerships forming to produce products benefitting the Arrow project are going through the roof.”

Bilton said the concepts being presented to southwestern Ontario’s tool/mould making sector have primed the pump for development at a pace he’s never seen in his nearly three decades in the industry.

“It’s allowing the supply base to be our spark plug of innovation,” Bilton said.

“Project Arrow is allowing our technical, engineering and skilled trades people to be unleashed.”

Bilton said the “diversity of suppliers in the product segments they’re proposing will make your jaw drop.”

He credits the success of companies pivoting during COVID for a renewed confidence among manufacturers.

“There’s less fear and anxiety among suppliers at trying new things,” Bilton said.

Volpe said there’s some duplication in the RFPs to sort out while other categories are a little light.

Ironically it’s not necessarily the high-tech parts of the project that are a bit thin in applicants, but rather it’s some of the production of basic components that has been off-shored to low-cost countries.

An example of that is in securing wiring harnesses which are mostly built in Mexico now.

“We might have to put out micro-RFPs or approach Canadian companies directly in those areas,” Volpe said.

Volpe said work on the project will begin shortly at the Institute for Border Logistics and Security’s virtual reality cave in Windsor.

Canada’s largest, publicly accessible virtual reality cave will be used to create the digital twin needed to test the various components before the physical build commences.

“Work on the initial VR model is almost done,” Volpe said.

“We have mapped and illustrated the surfaces. The final (version) will be populated by the digital twin we build via the CAD (computer-aided design file) for all the unseen systems that make up the rest of the guts of the vehicle.”