Katrina ManzoccoKatrina Manzocco, an MBA student in the Odette School of Business, is part of a Mitacs Business Strategy Internship with Acrolab Ltd.

Grad student helps local company join missions to space

A local company is working with UWindsor’s Odette School of Business to expand its foothold in the aerospace industry.

Acrolab Ltd., a Windsor-based company that specializes in thermal engineering and related products, is hoping to become a parts supplier for satellites and missions to space. The company has attained that lofty goal once in the past, supplying its trademarked custom Isobar heat pipe for the space shuttle Columbia in 1993.

“We’ve done a lot of work on the aero side, but not on the space side,” said John Hodgins, Acrolab CEO. “Because we are a small business, it takes a lot of focused work to formulate a deliberate approach to such a high-tech sector.” 

Acrolab is participating in a Business Strategy Internship through Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by bringing together industry and academic institutions to solve research challenges. Mitacs received an additional $40 million in funding this year from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to help companies pivot during the pandemic to new business opportunities.

Hodgins is working with graduate student Katrina Manzocco to come up with a plan to ramp up Acrolab’s engineering, design, and manufacturing capabilities and devise a strategy to market the company’s products to the space sector. Manzocco’s 16-week internship earns her $10,000, half coming from Mitacs and the remainder split between with Acrolab and the business school.

Manzocco, a full-time student in Odette’s MBA program, said it’s the first time she has worked in the manufacturing industry. She holds a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Calgary and worked in marketing for a few years before returning to her hometown to pursue a graduate degree at UWindsor.

“It’s been challenging because it’s an area where I’m not familiar with the product or the sector,” she said of the internship.

She likened the first few weeks to “drinking from a firehose,” learning as quickly as possible all she could about the company, its products, and the sector it wants to enter.

“This involves a lot of application of the skills from my program.”

It will open new opportunities upon graduation by proving she has versatile skills applicable to a variety of industries, she said.

Acrolab has done work for Lockheed Missile and Aerospace, the company responsible for providing a spectrometric examination of the spacecraft’s surfaces to evaluate spacecraft glow during the shuttle’s re-entry into the atmosphere. Acrolab’s custom-designed Isobars allowed the spectrometers monitoring the two test areas to be kept uniformly cool on re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Hodgins said Acrolab was contacted recently by the European contractor in the space sector about providing Isobar heat pipes assemblies for satellites.

The contract would involve a “substantial build” of up to 400 units a month, Hodgins said.

Developing that manufacturing capacity requires planning, so Hodgins reached out to Fazle Baki, associate dean, programs, in the Odette School of Business, to see if there might be an opportunity to collaborate. Dr. Baki learned about the Business Strategy Internship and offered to supervise it together with his wife Fouzia Baki, an engineering professor who specializes in manufacturing processes and business integration.

“I believe that this is a very good opportunity to connect with industry,” Fazle Baki said. “This just shows once again that we have a good program, attract good students, connect our students with industry, and that we are capable of venturing into unfamiliar territory and do well.”

While business students have participated and continue to participate in other internships with local partners, this one with Acrolab is particularly relevant, said Mitch Fields, dean of the Odette School of Business.

“This Mitacs Business Strategy Internship is a result of a long and fruitful relationship with the senior team at Acrolab,” said Dr. Fields. “It’s a win for all partners involved. Our student obtains invaluable real-world experience, Acrolab benefits from our expertise, and the university benefits from solidifying an important partnership in the community.”

—Sarah Sacheli