Co-op students help drive innovation at multinational automotive solutions organization

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

View of the exterior of Martinrea office with the company logo

By: Namish Modi (he/him)

Two weeks was all it took for students to complete several tasks for the CEO of Martinrea International (Martinrea) a multinational automotive solutions organization.

Stuart Fraser (he/him), vice-president of operations at Martinrea, says University of Waterloo co-op students solved several difficult manufacturing applications in a span of two weeks, thus saving money for the organization.

The students wrote complex vision processing algorithms and a robust scalable HMI interface and completed all the required testing for the applications. The speed and quality of work demonstrated their value and capabilities.

“We didn’t know the answer and we didn’t guide them. I said ‘let's see what happens’. Two weeks later, they presented to the chairman and our entire CEO staff,” says Fraser.

“I was blown away.”

Operating in 57 sites across 10 countries with more than 15,000 team members, Martinrea develops and produces lightweight structures for the automotive industry.

Encouraged to “disrupt”

Being a new employer of Waterloo students, Martinrea has hit the ground running, providing unique and outstanding opportunities to students. Martinrea encourages students to “disrupt” and “innovate” during their work terms.

Co-op students are working on a major project, the development of an autonomous intelligent vehicle (AIV).

Developments and discoveries from the projects have advanced a myriad of other applications in other departments’ technologies.

Martinrea provides students opportunities to lead teams and highlights their outstanding initiative in the process. Students, specifically those who return for multiple co-op terms, take on project management roles at Martinrea and play a role in recruiting new students for the organization.

Students are part of the interviewing process, which helps the organization learn what incoming and prospective students are looking for in co-op terms.

“It gives us a more direct link to what students are looking for,” says Fraser.

Along with helping recruit the next group of students, co-ops get an opportunity to be project managers during their work terms. What they bring in technological agility and innovative thinking bridges a gap for Martinrea.

“They are naturally more comfortable with technology, challenging innovation and so forth. By allowing them to be project managers, they give us the opportunity to gain experience,” Fraser says.

Martinrea Innovation Development, a newly formed group in the organization, ensures and promotes team members, including co-op students, are enabled to disrupt, innovate, and question why the company does things in a particular way.

“We’ve been working on automotive processes and refinement for 100 years,” says Fraser. “There comes a point where something new is better.”

To further promote innovation and creative thinking, Jeffrey J. Liaw, Martinrea’s general manager, regularly holds seminars with co-op students to talk about innovative problem solving and about Martinrea’s own manufacturing experiences.

Martinrea 2021 cee employer impact award

Martinrea logoMartinrea InternationalImpact in Innovation2021 CEE Employer Impact Awards

Martinrea has the ability to provide memorable and important opportunities for co-op students.


top quote

“Martinrea provides opportunities for students to gain confidence and think creatively, which enables them to grow as problem solvers. By giving them these tools and placing them in leadership positions, Martinrea is helping them to develop, innovate, and be further prepared for the future.”

- Norah McRae (she/her), associate provost of CEE

What do the students bring?

Hussein Hassanalli (he/him), a third-year Mechanical Engineering student in his third work term with Martinrea, leads technical projects and helps build ideas from scratch and implement them on production machines. He also presents to executives of customer companies.

“I had the chance to get very deeply involved in important and meaningful work,” says Hassanali.

Paige Kobzar (she/her), a Systems Design Engineering student at Martinrea, is in her third co-op term. In Kobzar’s experience, Martinrea gives students ample opportunities to gain experience, be creative, and come up with ways to make the organization a better place.

“When looking for a co-op, I always look for opportunities to work on interesting projects, and places where I can make an impact,” says Kobzar. “Here, students are encouraged to be creative and come up with ways to make Martinrea a better place, and because of this, they’re able to enact real change.”

As part of her work term, Kobzar is working as a UI/UX designer on a project to make a fully autonomous vehicle capable of delivering parts around the facility. She is creating an app to help integrate the vehicle with the rest of the factory so employees can interact with it.

Kobzar has developed skills in problem-solving through determining design solutions, user research, talking with people on the plant floor, and creating user journeys and design.

“I’ve gotten to learn so much more about the industry than I would have anywhere else,” says Kobzar.

David Petkovsek (he/him), who completed all six of his work terms at Martinrea, is primarily working on the AIV project and leads a group of eight people.

“I found at Martinrea, there’s a certain entrepreneurial spirit,” says Petkovsek. “When you go to develop some of these technologies, it is like you are starting your own mini business. As a leader, I have learned how to advocate for our team, how to support people when they are going through a rough time, and how to communicate and get what everyone needs and have everyone work together in a nice environment.”

top quote

“Through the lessons and skills I have learned, I am convinced that Martinrea has given me an unfair advantage to drive, grow and never stop learning.”

- David Petkovsek (he/him), AIV project member and group leader

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