James Renfrow examines one of the robotic arms that packages DIY garden bench kits developed by North Island College’s industrial automation class.

North Island College students innovate for industry

One-of-a-kind bottling process could revolutionize the way sparkling wine is manufactured

North Island College industrial automation students created a one-of-a-kind bottling process for a Hornby Island winery that could revolutionize the way sparkling wine is manufactured.

Industrial automation students were challenged to tackle two year-end projects: an experimental wine bottling technology and an IKEA-style garden bench kit. Both projects were demonstrated at the program’s annual open house at NIC’s Campbell River campus in May.

For Hornby Island Estate Winery and Farm owner John Grayson, it was an opportunity to bring NIC students a unique challenge — find an absolutely motionless solution to his super-fine sparkling wine bubbles.

He needed an automated bottling process that could fill bottles without shaking them. Any vibration in the patent-pending process could disrupt bubbles in the winery’s sparkling wines and beverages.

“No one else the world does what I do,” said Grayson. “I couldn’t go to industry for help but NIC students have helped me develop my idea; we’ve gone through the learning curve together.”

Grayson worked with students Douglas Chesini, Jean Moneria de Lima, and Marco Aurelio, exchange students taking industrial automation as part of Brazil’s Science without Borders program. After trying different nozzles, hoses, and filling methods, they developed a process to handle wines and beverages that results in tiny bubbles so stable they won’t dissipate if left in open air for five days. The process also eliminates bottle shock, a by-product of traditional bottling methods that causes off-putting odors and requires valuable time for wine to recover. Grayson is hoping to work with the students this summer to refine the process and automate production. The second student project is designed to cut, compile and assemble build-your-own garden bench kits for retail distribution with the help of robotics, automated controls and instrumentation. It took a few tries to get the system working as planned but student project manager James Renfrow says brainstorming before family, friends, politicians and senior NIC leadership is a highly sought after skill set.

“A project like this gives you hands-on experience worth more than 20 textbooks and tests,” he said. “At the end of the day, nobody asks how you did on an exam. They want to know what kind of skills you used in the field and how you managed the experience.”

Renfrow started NIC’s Industrial Automation diploma after taking introductory engineering courses and deciding he preferred moving parts to theory. “As much as engineering is really cool, and it still something I’d be interested in following up on, this is my passion. I like programming and making things happen.”

He is looking forward to an apprenticeship with a Comox Valley employer after graduation.

For more information about NIC’s Industrial Automation program visit www.nic.bc.ca/trades, or www.nic.bc.ca/CARTI .