Canadian-made software leads to manufacturing startup

A University of Toronto professor’s research on predicting when machines need servicing has led Materials and Manufacturing Ontario (MMO) to create a new company.

Optimal Maintenance Decisions (OMDEC) will commercialize the EXAKT software developed in Dr. Andrew Jardine’s laboratory and try to help manufacturers get the most out of their equipment.

Ben Stevens, president of OMDEC, said the Windows-based EXAKT software will be one part of a package of software and services that his company will offer to manufacturers, helping them predict equipment failures and determine when to service machines and replace parts.

Jardine said EXAKT evolved from research he did for the Department of National Defence in the mid- to late 1980s to assess the risk of aircraft engine failures. Seeking to apply the technique to commercial work, Dr. Jardine incorporated economic factors such as the cost of failure in his models. He published a theory in 1992, then approached Materials and Manufacturing Ontario — part of the province’s Centres of Excellence program — to help fund further research.

Several private companies put up money, which MMO matched, to help Jardine develop software based on his research. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council also supported the work, he said.

Geoff Clarke, president of MMO, said the private companies joined an MMO-managed consortium that gives them access to Dr. Jardine’s work while they provide feedback. Dr. Jardine said that feedback has helped his research team improve EXAKT, which reached version 3.3 in December.

The software takes raw data from equipment tests — such as levels of metals in samples of engine oil — and combines this with data about the impact on the business if a particular piece of equipment fails to make recommendations using a colour-code system. Green means the equipment should keep working until the next scheduled testing, red means it needs immediate repair or replacement, and yellow means the owner should plan for repair or replacement before the next scheduled testing.

Stevens said EXAKT is suited for use with mechanical equipment, where signs of failure can usually be detected in time to predict problems before they occur, but not to electronic gear, which usually shows no detectable signs of trouble before it fails.

Stevens said the software is one component of a complete solution that should include integration with a manufacturer’s other systems as well as other tools to help manage maintenance. OMDEC will provide consulting and develop or license other software to make up that package, he said.

OMDEC currently has two full-time employees and one part-time consultant and will rely heavily on a network of consultants in a kind of virtual corporation model, Stevens said.

Stevens does not expect to land major contracts with big manufacturers right away, but said OMDEC can fill niches for companies at first and then expand those relationships as it builds trust. Clarke noted that relationships built through the MMO-backed consortium — which has included companies such as Dofasco Inc., Syncrude Canada Ltd. and Campbell Soup Co. — will help the startup get established.

Creating spinoff companies is one way MMO helps commercialize research of interest to Canadian manufacturers, said Clarke. The organization typically sets up two to five such companies each year. MMO is supported by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the private sector.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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