CIC - Spring 2020

Graduate’s Story: Heidi Mayer

Heidi Mayer worked in the advanced manufacturing sector for five years at the Red Deer College’s Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing. Photo Credit: Heidi Mayer

Heidi Mayer’s background in Fine Arts has taken her career in some interesting directions. While she is currently taking some time off from her career to raise her family, Mayer’s most recent position as a Design and Fabrication Lab Technician allowed her to blend her love of art with the advanced manufacturing sector.

“It was a fast paced environment that was exciting to work in because projects came from diverse sectors. It was rewarding working with inventors on proof of concept and prototypes,” Mayer enthuses.

In the advanced manufacturing field, a Proof of Concept is a small experiment designed to test a design idea or invention concept to prove it can be built to function as the inventor has imagined. A prototype is a working model of the end design and shows how the inventor’s idea will come to life. Working with colleges gives industries the opportunity to test a concept in a financially feasible way, using the latest in equipment and systems, with knowledgeable and experienced instructors to lead their students. Students benefit by obtaining experience before they even graduate, giving them an advantage in obtaining employment.

Mayer graduated from Red Deer College with a Visual Arts diploma and followed up with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Alberta College of Art and Design (now Alberta University of the Arts). Following that, Mayer became employed at her alma mater, Red Deer College, in their Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing (CIM).

The CIM was built collaboratively with Red Deer College, the Province of Alberta and Western Economic Diversification. The Centre contains $4.2 million in leading-edge manufacturing technology and has assisted a wide range of industries to develop new products or enhance existing products by providing design, 3D CAD modelling, design engineering as well as proof-of-concept and prototype fabrication services.

It was at CIM that Mayer became involved in the Moppitt project, a pioneering, and environmentally-friendly cleaning option for the transportation industry.

Mayer explains, “Moppitt came to RDC to help build their proof of concept prototype because of our reputation in 3D printing and innovation in manufacturing. It was an exciting project and rewarding because they have gone on to introduce their product into the marketplace.”

“The prototypes were made by 3D printing a master and then making a rubber mould of it that could be used to cast multiple urethane parts. This was a process that I used in my Fine Art degree,” says Mayer. “It gave me a strong foundation in 2D and 3D design, the creative problem solving process and making things in a variety of materials with a variety of different tools and processes. During this project I consulted with the Fine Art Technicians at Red Deer College as well as a former sculpture instructor that gave me some guidance on material and the best mould design.”

While the exact product Mayer and her team worked on is no longer being sold, the company learned a lot through the product trials with the original prototypes and was able to redesign the product to make it even more effective.

Mayer tremendously valued her learning experience at Red Deer College.

“My degree was incredibly hands on. I got to spend countless hours in the studio exploring and making things. It taught me the value of hard work and tenacity. It demanded creativity and cultivated the ability to learn from failure and not get discouraged.”

The college/advanced manufacturing sector relationship is important to ensure that instructors are armed with industry knowledge and experience with the most cutting-edge equipment and processes. It’s this kind of real-world learning experience that makes colleges such unique educational environments.

To prepare for her college education, Mayer says, “I took most of my classes through the International Baccalaureate Program in high school which gave me a strong and diverse education that prepared me for the academic demands of a post secondary education. I learned how to think critically and how to write, which have proven to be invaluable skills.”

While at Red Deer College, Mayer was involved in working with a team that built the expanded Makerspace, a place to access equipment and share ideas. Makerspace contains areas for 3-D printing, robotics, multimedia, as well as video and audio recording.

“I enjoyed working with students and introducing them to some of the advanced manufacturing equipment available at RDC. This Makerspace is available for students, faculty, staff and members of our surrounding communities to use.” This is another example of colleges’ commitments to community-based learning which benefits both students and industry.

So what words of wisdom does Mayer have for students who are interested in following a career in the advanced manufacturing sector? She says, “The main advice that I would give would be to pursue a degree that you are passionate about. If you are curious and take on an attitude of being a lifelong learner your future will take you exciting places.”

By Jackie Fritz