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Alumni Engagement

RRC grad leads the charge on battery-electric bus project

September 15, 2016

Paul Cantin, New Flyer Industries

Paul Cantin doesn’t want to set the world on fire — quite the opposite, in fact. His work on New Flyer Industries’ battery-electric buses could help put the brakes on global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout North America.

A 2004 graduate of RRC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, Cantin is a project leader in the New Product Development department at New Flyer, the continent’s leading manufacturer of transit buses, including increasingly lean-and-clean natural gas, hybrid and electric options.

The 35-year-old father of two says with 70,000 transit buses currently in operation in North America, converting the majority to more sustainable propulsion systems would have significant environmental implications for future generations.

“From our little corner of Winnipeg, we can make a fairly large impact on North American air quality,” says Cantin, whose team has collaborated on electric bus and charging systems with RRC’s Electric Vehicle and Technology Education Centre since 2011. More recently, his department began a new project with the College’s Transportation and Heavy Apprenticeship Trades program.

In April, Cantin was named to CBC Manitoba’s 2016 Future 40 list of “leaders and change-makers,” an honour that drew welcome attention to the home-grown expertise and ingenuity that’s driving the projects.

“Having these incubators of innovation being highlighted and shown to the general public is really valuable because it helps to inspire and show some of our youth … you don’t have to leave Winnipeg to make an impact,” he says.

“It’s really cool that we are able to acquire the knowledge [through] a post-secondary education here in Winnipeg — and to gain the experience, and be able to have a real tangible impact in North America.”

In partnership with RRC, Manitoba Hydro, the province, Winnipeg Transit and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Cantin’s group developed a prototype battery-electric bus in 2011, essentially to prove it could be done.

Mission accomplished. In 2014, the bus was used to shuttle employees from Hydro’s former head office on Taylor Avenue to Manitoba Hydro Place on Portage Avenue. And Winnipeg Transit has been running four electric buses on its Route 20 Academy-Watt loop for almost two years. The two-hour route ends at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, where the buses spend 13 minutes connected to an overhead charging station before repeating the cycle. The charge strategy allows the buses to run for up to 20 hours per day.

Following its recent acquisition of Motor Coach Industries, New Flyer is now North America’s leading manufacturer of coach buses, which typically travel much longer distances, and at higher speeds than transit buses.

Cantin says a current project with RRC is in an early stage, and involves the heavy duty mechanic training portion of the Transportation and Heavy Apprenticeship Trades program.

“We’re leveraging them to do some engine-related development,” he says.

“We’re looking at taking the normal bus design for those extreme cases where they’re running very long days and distances and leveraging battery-electric bus technology we’ve developed… We’re coming up with a whole new twist on powering buses with an engine and electric powertrain that will substantially improve fuel economy and further reduce emissions.”

While his job requires considerable brainpower, Cantin also enjoys the hands-on aspects of mechanical engineering technology — that was one factor that attracted him to the RRC program.

“I’m from a farming background. I like working with my hands, tangible things that I can actually see and visualize,” he says.

Still, he took a circuitous route to the College. The summer he graduated from St. Claude School Complex, Cantin was accepted into RRC, a Royal Canadian Air Force Regular Officer Training Program and a six-week cultural and gliding exchange for Air Cadet glider pilots in the French Alps. Initially, he chose the Air Force and completed basic officer training and a year of college in Quebec, but it turned out to be a false start. He didn’t meet the vision requirements to fly military aircraft, and he realized the RRC option was more closely aligned with his interests.

“It’s allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do,” he says. “The things I’m working on now are equally as interesting and cool as what I would have been able to do in the Air Force.”

Cantin is still a glider pilot today, as well as a soccer coach and outdoor enthusiast. He and his wife Christelle — who took their sons, Noah, 7, and Colin, 9, on a back-country canoe and camping trip this summer — want the kids to appreciate nature, and understand it’s important to protect the natural world. And Cantin is proud to be doing his part.

His time as a student at RRC prepared him well for his career. Along with classroom theory, his experience welding, making components and operating Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines gave him a practical understanding of production parameters — applied knowledge that makes for more efficient design work.

“That makes designing something much more effective,” he says. “If you know how it can be done by experience, you don’t get stuck with a design that’s not possible or very expensive to build.”

After graduation, Cantin spent a year with Loewen Windows, where he found his RRC training accelerated the on-the-job learning process. From there, he moved to Princess Auto for five years before landing at New Flyer almost 10 years ago.

He and his team have a complicated job. Air conditioning, power steering and other bus subsystems have to be specially designed to be electric-driven, and the team must work with a variety of bus configurations to meet customer expectations. The end goal is to provide a quiet, zero-emissions bus that can be integrated seamlessly into the operations of transit authorities across Canada and the U.S.

“All from a locally sourced education,” he says. “I’m from Manitoba and I grew up in Manitoba. I got my education in Manitoba. I’m working in Manitoba and I’m making an impact through my work on the North American market. I think that’s really special.”

“We don’t have to outsource expertise from Ontario or from the U.S., for example, to be able to do what we do. We can home-grow our own experts and I think that’s worth a lot.”

— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)