In an interview with Cameron Dallas, Chief Technology Officer at Mazlite, he discusses the deep-tech startup’s focus on improving industrial sprays and coatings, particularly in the automotive industry. Mazlite’s platform utilizes AI, computer vision, and other cutting-edge technologies to solve complex technical problems. Their advanced spray monitoring platform for the automotive industry detects potential defects before a part is coated, allowing plant operators to make adjustments and improve quality control. Despite challenges in implementing the technology, pilot projects with automotive manufacturers have been successful. Mazlite plans to expand its technology to various industries, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, agriculture, and aerospace. Dallas highlights the importance of automation, technology, and partnerships in driving innovation and reducing environmental impact in the automotive industry.
Cameron is Chief Technology Officer at Mazlite, an advanced manufacturing startup. With a degree in physics from the University of Victoria and a Master’s in aerodynamics and high-performance computing from the University of Toronto, he co-founded Mazlite from a research project he volunteered for while completing his Master’s degree.
Can you tell us a bit about Mazlite and your role as the Chief Technology Officer?
Mazlite is a deep-tech startup that focuses on improving industrial sprays and coatings across a wide variety of industries. Currently, our main focus is on automotive painting, but there are other opportunities in pharmaceutical production, agriculture, battery production, and many more sectors. I didn’t know anything about sprays before getting involved in this research, but now I see sprays all over the place. Almost everything gets coated, from cars to batteries to kitchen equipment – it’s everywhere!
The Mazlite platform we have built relies on innovation from multiple different fields including AI, computer vision, fluid mechanics, optics, and mechanical/software/electrical engineering. My role is to understand the complex technical problems our customers face, and then organize and guide our teams to create a product that solves these problems. For me, it’s a fun combination of learning about a variety of cool, cutting-edge technologies, and also working collaboratively with people to build new things.
What inspired Mazlite to develop an advanced spray monitoring platform for the automotive industry?
We were involved in spray-related research at the University of Toronto and we kept having large companies come to our lab looking for answers to their spray and coating problems. All the companies seemed to have the same type of problem, so we started working on a product that could address their issues. Then, we started going out to these companies, giving presentations, doing demos and getting their feedback. We gained great insight into the issues these companies experience, and we began to understand that there is a huge market here that no one really knows about.
Can you explain how your technology works and how it helps improve the automotive spraying process?
Sprays are extremely sensitive and many things can cause defects to occur. For example, a change in humidity or temperature throughout the day can cause a nozzle to produce a defective part. The only quality control manufacturers have currently is to inspect the part after it has been coated and scrap it or rework it if the part does not meet their standards. The Mazlite platform is an imaging system that takes high-resolution pictures of the spray before a part is coated. Then, we developed analytics using AI and our deep scientific understanding of sprays to determine if the spray will produce a defect or not. If our system identifies a possible defect, we let the plant operators know and they can make adjustments to the nozzle to ensure the part does not come out defective.
How has the automotive industry responded to Mazlite’s technology? Have you faced any challenges or resistance in implementing your solution?
There is a huge amount of excitement over this technology. Everyone in the paintshop knows they face significant challenges every day and new technology to help make their life easier is exciting. However, I cannot understate how technically challenging this problem is. The paintshop has the most strict safety requirements as it is an explosive environment, which is difficult to design for. We have to integrate our technology with advanced paint robots, IoT devices, and a variety of other standard processes. The automotive market is extremely competitive, which makes it more resistant to adopting new technology to an already complicated process if companies don’t absolutely know it’s going to work. Finally, the paintshop is usually understaffed, so finding people who have the time to consider new technology can be difficult.
To address these challenges, we have a variety of pilot projects with automotive manufacturers to prove our technology and those continue to be a great success.
Are there any plans to expand your technology to other industries or sectors beyond automotive manufacturing?
Definitely! As I said before, sprays are everywhere. There are big opportunities in pharmaceutical manufacturing with spray drying, thermal coatings on electric car batteries, agriculture for optimizing watering and fertilizer spraying, aerospace for painting and fuel injector quality control, food manufacturing for making powders like sugar, coffee, and milk, and many more.
Lastly, can you talk about the importance of automation and technology in driving innovation and progress in the automotive industry?
Automation and technology are hugely important for driving progress in many parts of the automotive industry. These are complex problems, and to innovate, we need to source ideas and talent from a variety of different places. We’ve been very lucky to partner with organizations like Mitacs and universities like UofT that make it possible for us to work with talented researchers who can really help us make progress on these challenges. With Mitacs’ support, for example, we brought on an intern – a UofT Post Doc with specialized knowledge of automotive paints – to work on innovation challenges related to commercialization. This internship has been extremely helpful in innovating and speeding up the commercialization process.
Another area that I’d like to highlight is making progress on climate change. There is a lot of waste and emissions that come from making cars, particularly from the paintshop. Painting uses the most energy of any step in making a car, and it produces the most greenhouse gasses of any step in the process. Automated sensors and IoT devices are critical for giving plant operators the tools and data they need to reduce waste and improve the plant’s environmental footprint.