Pivoting in a pandemic: Two BCIT engineering alumni help businesses optimize using smart technology

During a pandemic, it’s not business as usual. Grocery stores have expanded to digital ordering. Restaurants have shifted to curbside pick-up. Breweries and distilleries are making hand sanitizer. And now, with help from innovation experts like BCIT alumni Steve Thompson and Kam Dhillon, businesses are optimizing their production processes and fulfillment operations with technology including robotics and AI (Artificial Intelligence).

“Mobile robots allow you to do flexible manufacturing, eliminating the need for conveyors,” explains Kam, Robotic Sales Specialist, Pacific Northwest and Western Canada region, at Omron. “In case you need to do frequent changeovers for a different product, you can manufacture different products if need be. For example, you may be manufacturing masks now, but what will you do after the pandemic? Businesses are looking to renovate or upgrade their facilities to be smart and flexible.”

Thriving during the pandemic and beyond

Kam is working with Steve, North America President of Malone Group, to help businesses become nimble enough to not only respond to market changes due to COVID-19, but also to thrive when the pandemic is over.

One of their many clients is in the process of evaluating Kam and Steve’s proposal to develop a smart and flexible manufacturing and fulfillment process to produce face masks in response to the pandemic and in support of the federal government’s strategy to make personal protective equipment in Canada.

“You can’t place employees closely beside each other anymore,” says Steve about how businesses are adjusting during the pandemic. “They are pivoting to using robotics that are integrated, intelligent, and interactive. This allows for perfect harmony between humans and machines. Some of the plants that we’re working with now have gone physically dark because they’re using autonomous robots who don’t need light, and they’re saving power by not running them.”

Steve adds that AI is another innovation that is helping operations become more efficient: “It’s running 24/7 with 100 percent uptime. For example, it can tell you if a pump is going to break before it breaks.”

Smart, flexible education is the foundation for innovation

Kam Dhillon (left), Omron, and Steve Thompson, Malone Group

Steve graduated from the BCIT Civil and Structural Engineering program in 1984 while Kam completed the Electrical – Automation & Instrumentation program in 2004. Even though their time at BCIT is separated by 20 years, they say the education they received has prepared them for an ever-changing world.

“The market sectors aren’t as rigid as they were when I graduated,” reflects Steve, who says back then most graduates went to work for employers that were directly tied to their area of study. “Nowadays, you have to wear a bunch of hats. The world is changing, and you’ve got to be self-motivated and a self-starter.” He adds his BCIT education armed him with an entrepreneurial mindset that has been instrumental in helping him to pivot in dynamic times.

Kam, a more recent alumnus, says his education at BCIT has enabled him to not only hit the ground running upon graduation, but also to advance in his career.

He adds that the number-one reason he chose BCIT is its grads gain real-world skills that they can apply right away: “BCIT grads come out with that experience, which helps them excel a lot faster in their professions. They end up getting involved in more projects and can move up in the profession a lot quicker. BCIT gave me the tools to solve any problem.”

While technology, economies, and markets can change at a rapid pace, both Kam and Steve agree that a BCIT education—even decades apart—has equipped them with the perennial ability to successfully turn big challenges into new solutions. It’s not business as usual. It’s business by innovation.

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