Trades instructor Lukas Skulmoski and aspiring carpenter Noah Dorsey will be sharing their experiences at next month’s Research, Innovation and Partnerships Expo. -Image credit: Okanagan College

Applied research expo coming to Okanagan College

Research, Innovation and Partnerships Expo set for May 9 at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus.

A visionary Okanagan developer, a 17-year-old carpentry student and an electrical trades instructor/emerging researcher are sharing in the excitement of an applied research project’s outcomes at Okanagan College. Their project is one of many cutting-edge College-industry partnerships that will be spotlighted at an applied research Expo at OC next month.

RIPE (Research, Innovation and Partnerships Expo) is happening on May 9 at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus. The free event is an opportunity for employers, researchers and students alike to learn about how applied research is growing new partnerships and enriching the educational experience for students at the College.

David Chalk, a cyber security and innovation expert, will be giving a keynote speech that day titled “Innovation is Nothing New.” More information about the event is available at www.okanagan.bc.ca/RIPEregister. In addition to Chalk, attendees will have a chance to speak with trailblazers like Andrew Gaucher, Lukas Skulmoski and Noah Dorsey.

Gaucher, president of GGroup and Catalyst Land Development and current president of the Okanagan’s chapter of the Urban Development Institute, approached the College about a year ago with an idea for a research project that would focus on a plug-and-play infrastructure system to make live, safe, connections between components of a housing system. Gaucher’s goal is to develop a system of modules that can be assembled – and disassembled – as a family’s housing needs grow, shrink or change.

One of the challenges was to find ways to build safe utility connections between pre-wired modules that wouldn’t involve having to alter electrical panels, bringing in electricians or tearing walls or structures apart.

“To bring this idea of modularity to reality we need to think about making it easy for families to add another module to their home or take it away as things change,” says Gaucher. “Safe, reliable, dependable and easy connections are vital. And while you’d think there were already-developed systems that meet that criteria, I wasn’t able to come up with any. The idea is to move away from hardwiring all connections to the grid.”

Enter Lukas Skulmoski, an Okanagan College trades instructor and licensed electrician who discovered his research talents while completing his Master’s degree, and is now honing them while working on his Doctorate. With support from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), through its community engagement grants, Skulmoski and Gaucher began research and scale prototype development.

Their initial work opened the door to student involvement. Noah Dorsey, a Grade 12 student at George Elliot Secondary in Lake Country who is taking the carpentry pre-apprenticeship program at the College for dual credit, brought his skills to the table next.

“I was amazed that this opportunity to engage in applied research opened up for me,” says Dorsey. “Our carpentry instructor explained there was an opportunity to engage in this, and I volunteered.”

Dorsey built scale-size mock-ups to house the components so Gaucher and others can explore how the technology could be applied to real-world construction.

And Dorsey wasn’t the only trades student involved in the applied research project. Before Dorsey came onboard another student – Nicole Thompson – was also involved. She is an apprentice electrician who also has two Bachelor’s degrees. She helped Skulmoski research whether there were existing plug-in systems that might make the grade. They looked at modular housing systems from around the world, looked to the cruise-ship industry where cabins are put together in modules, but to no avail. The systems weren’t appropriate, would not meet Canadian Code requirements, or would require electrical professionals to connect.

Skulmoski’s research eventually led him full circle to a system used in Canadian heavy industry that meets the parameters for Gaucher’s ideas: safe, simple, usable by a homeowner, Code compliant, able to be connected and disconnected while the system is live, and weather resistant. It is a system used in some industrial systems, shorepower connections for large vessels and emergency equipment.

The team’s innovation solution has important features that prevent an arc flash that could prove fatal in instances where voltage and amperage are high enough. Now, with the electrical problems addressed, Gaucher is figuring out other construction and development issues.

“I really appreciate and value the support of the College, Luke, and Noah, and the federal government,” says Gaucher. “The opportunity to innovate and create or refine different approaches to housing needs is clearly here and it’s tremendous to have this kind of resource at our fingertips in the Okanagan.”

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