From ideation to commercialization: the NRC and E2IP collaborate to innovate

- Ottawa, Ontario

Close-up of a multi-function armrest console of a high-end aircraft seat.
(Photo credit: e2ip technologies) Multi-function armrest console for high-end aircraft made from Smart Structural Surfaces™. The armrest can be used in a variety of applications and industries, such as medical, home appliance, automotive and consumer electronics.

For the past decade, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Montréal-based printed electronics company, e2ip technologies, have been working together and making everyday objects smarter, to improve our daily lives. Using our co-patented molecular inks, we were able to print electronic circuits and sensors onto 2D sheets of thin plastic, that are then formed and overmoulded to integrate the functional electronics within the structural material of the object, creating Smart Structural Surfaces™. We also used a unique co-patented manufacturing technology to create SmartParts™ using reaction injection moulding

These Smart Structural Surfaces™ can be used for a variety of applications, and are anticipated to disrupt the design and manufacturing of human-machine interfaces for consumer electronics, home appliances, medical, automotive and aerospace applications. The first prototype for this technology was the Avatar, an armrest console for high-end passenger aircraft which allows its passengers to control stereo, video, Bluetooth and other functions with the touch of a finger directly on the seat's structural armrest.

Similar to this, the current upgraded version of the prototype is an armrest component that has been given upgraded functions, including radiant heating, light channelling and increased use of LEDs, as well as a new look and improved ergonomics and intuitive functions. The armrest can be used in a variety of applications and industries, such as medical, home appliance, automotive and consumer electronics.

Upping the stakes

Since its creation, this SmartPart™ technology has won several awards, including:

  • the AIX Crystal Cabin Award in the "Material and Components" category in 2020
  • the CPES IntelliFLEX Research Innovation Award in 2021
  • the NRC Outstanding Achievement Award in 2021
  • the NRC IP Achievement Award in 2021
  • le Prix d'innovation de l'ADRIQ – Partnership category in 2021

This new technology has the potential to completely transform the surfaces we touch in everyday life and simplify the way we interact with the physical environments around us. With help from NRC's Security and Disruptive Technologies and Automotive and Surface Transportation research centres, and our intellectual property team, e2ip has recently reached a funding milestone of $120 million dollars to help this notable project transition to its production phase.

This funding, which will support the accelerated growth of the company and the transition of this technology from small-scale to commercial production, was due, in part, to the unique intellectual property co-ownership model the NRC and e2ip introduced together. To obtain the intellectual property for this project, over 11 patent families were used to cover the different technologies, materials and processes involved. This number translates to over 80 patent applications.

Strong intellectual property protection helps Canadian companies grow and succeed by remaining competitive with larger players in the industry. A solid patent portfolio helps to attract and secure support and funding, as seen through our success with e2ip.

Planning for the future

The expertise in R&D and IP provided by the NRC over the years, in addition to the support from other collaborators, has allowed e2ip to invest in their own facility and production line, helping them transition to an in-house model. With plans to develop the facility, test the equipment and launch the production line, e2ip aims to have this ambitious new model up and running by December 2024. In the meantime, the NRC's main goal of the next phase is to help bring the technology up to pre-commercial level. This includes:

  • developing an improved advanced manufacturing process
  • increasing the level of automation
  • perfecting a more accurate quality control tool
  • inventing a new demonstrator for the technology

"Our partnership with the NRC provides us with unique access to the world's leading scientists and facilities. The NRC teams are at the very core of our innovation roadmap. It is a privilege and a source of great pride to be working in partnership with the passionate people at the NRC," said Eric Saint-Jacques, Chief Executive Officer of e2ip technologies. "Together, we are creating transformative opportunities to reduce the eco footprint of the global market leaders in the automotive, aerospace, medical, consumer appliance and industrial sectors. Our Smart Structural Surfaces™ and SmartPart™ technologies are now being integrated into their product lines to create simpler, lower cost and more durable user interfaces that differentiate their products and reduce their eco footprint."

"We are delighted to be working with the team to help e2ip achieve their goals," adds Paul Trudeau, Lead Researcher at the NRC's Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre. "We're looking forward to the next phase of technology transfer, including introducing new automation methods and increasing the robustness of this new technology."

R&D will continue at e2ip and the NRC who will also lead in improving and advancing the chemistry development of the molecular ink and the industrialization of the Smart Part™ manufacturing process. Meanwhile, e2ip will begin their plans to install a complete manufacturing line in one of their Montréal facilities. Once completed, this e2ip facility will become the main production centre for driving commercialization, positioning the technology towards external audiences and, ultimately, creating job opportunities for Canadians.

From start to finish, the NRC's research, business and intellectual property teams helped e2ip build this technology and their intellectual property portfolio from the ground up to create, manufacture and commercialize products that can change the future of how we interact with the environment around us. This innovative work would not have been possible without the financial support of the Advanced Materials Research and Innovation Hub in the Province of Quebec (PRIMA Québec) during both the development and application, as well as the prototyping of the smart overmoulded components. "Supporting collaborative innovation where companies can increase their capacity for innovation through research is part of PRIMA Québec's DNA. The relationship developed between e2ip and the NRC is a perfect illustration of the success sought and achieved," says Marie-Pierre Ippersiel, Chief Executive Officer and President of PRIMA Québec.

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