Dr. Hoda ElMaraghy and Dr. Waguih ElMaraghy highlighted in the Windsor Star

Craig Pearson, Windsor Star
More from Craig Pearson, Windsor Star

Imagine a semi-autonomous manufacturing line where machines click in and out as easily as building blocks.

University of Windsor engineering professor Hoda ElMaraghy already has.

“We could design a system so that we can easily take a machine out, put a new machine in, expand or shrink the line, because the interfaces are standard.” ElMaraghy said Monday. “It’s like Lego: plug and produce.

“The system would be designed so that it recognizes the changes automatically. The computer thinks, ‘Oh, now I have three new machines. So I’ll change my schedule and my system.'”

ElMaraghy will discuss her futuristic flexible assembly-line concepts next week with global industry leaders at what she says is the most prestigious manufacturing conference ever held in Canada.

More than 300 industrialists, researchers, academics and government representatives will converge on the University of Windsor for two back-to-back conferences at the schools’ new Centre for Engineering Innovation.

“It’s a coup for us,” she said. “We’re really happy to attract this crowd of top-notch experts in manufacturing, research and industry.”

Though the conference names may sound dry, ElMaraghy — the university’s Canada Research Chair in Manufacturing Systems — considers the research fascinating.

And it could even be political.

Minister of state Gary Goodyear will be a keynote speaker, launching the conferences.

Meanwhile, ElMaraghy — who is organizing the conferences along with her husband and fellow engineering professor Waguih ElMaraghy — said Canada should invest more money in manufacturing research.

She noted that U.S. President Barack Obama last year announced government support for 10 manufacturing-research centres across the United States.

“In Canada, we don’t have such a national initiative that we can all be excited about,” ElMaraghy said. “But it would help.”

ElMaraghy noted that manufacturing represents about 16 per cent of GDP worldwide, and that it boosts local economies and provides much-needed, well-paying jobs.

“How many people are losing jobs in manufacturing in Canada? In Windsor?” she asked. “A lot. We are actually hearing the swishing sound of jobs moving out of Canada and going somewhere else in the manufacturing sector.

“At the same time. Manufacturing is a really important sector. It’s responsible for a lot of wealth creation. So we have to maintain it.”

Conference Glance

The 47th annual Manufacturing Systems Conference, being held in Canada for the first time, and the sixth annual Conference on Industrial Product-Service Systems, run April 28 through May 2 at the University of Windsor. They are hosted by the school’s Intelligent Manufacturing Systems Centre.