The Power of Partnership in Aerospace Innovation

Collaborative industry and academic research is the edge

Marsh Brothers Aviation in Burlington has a world-class reputation for polymer engineering. They design and manufacture innovative light-weight non-metallic self-lubricating bushings, bearings, and seals. One polymer, AeroTough®, is already approved by Transport Canada for use in the manufacture of landing gear parts, and two others hold promise.

Recognizing commercial potential and leveraging their expertise in working with small- and medium size manufacturers, the team from Centennial College’s Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Services (ARIES) and Marsh Brothers Aviation are collaborating in an applied research project. They’re simultaneously running tests on two polymers for future use in landing gear manufacturing.

The project is funded by the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI). The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributes.

“We’re looking at how exposure to fluids affects them over time,” says Umar Javed, Coordinator for SONAMI projects at ARIES, “Short and long-term tests are being done submerging the polymers in jet fuel, hydraulic and de-icing fluids.”

Polymers require no lubrication and that means less maintenance. For an airline, it reduces costs and aircraft downtime. Parts made with polymers are one seventh the weight of a typical metal part. The use of multiple polymer parts can amount to a reduction of hundreds of pounds in weight. From a green initiative perspective, it means burning less fuel and emitting fewer pollutants.

Shashank Hemendrakumar Patel has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Navrachana University in India and came to Centennial as an international student to further his studies in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program. In September 2021 he joined the polymer research team. “In India I had performed hardness tests for a project using a large machine” he says, “The same test in Canada is done on a machine that’s a fraction of the size. New technological advancements really excite me.”

Patel and several other students analyze and compile results and work with the chemical and polymer experts. “We split the research up, and the portion of the testing the students got done through the SONAMI project took about a year and a half of internal effort off our schedule,” says Nicholas Choo-Son, Director of Business Development at Marsh Brothers Aviation. From an innovation and production perspective that’s powerful efficiency with serious economic benefits.

“Students in applied research projects get a unique skill set; it gives them an edge,” says Eric Blaise, Director of Applied Research and Innovation at Centennial College, “They gain knowledge and confidence and present their results to experts.”

The aerospace industry in Ontario, which includes avionics, aircraft engines, satellites and more, brings in $6 billion in annual revenue and employs almost half a million people. And the future is bright according to the Ontario Aerospace Council based on growth in business jet and commercial airline orders for 2023 and beyond. The edge provincial manufacturers have is research and innovation.

Landing gear prototyping begins quickly once a polymer application is identified. Then there’s aircraft testing before it goes to Transport Canada for final approval. This SONAMI research has the potential to increase sales of landing gear parts. In the global industry, Marsh Brothers Aviation has sales channels in South America, Germany, and South Africa. The knock-on benefits are more manufacturing hires and continued growth.

One of the most promising outcomes of the project is the development of a future skilled workforce for the growing aerospace sector. “Our company has a very long-standing tradition of engaging with local academic and community groups. It gives us access to facilities, capabilities, and people power we may not have in house,” says Choo-Son, “We get to test drive students for junior positions.”

That dream lights Patel’s eyes up and animates the discussion. He characterizes the onsite visits to the shop floor at Marsh Brothers Aviation as inspiring. In April 2021, Centennial College became SONAMI’s eighth academic partner. “We have had a successful first year,” says Blaise.