Mecademic, a Small Business Playing in the Big Leagues - By : Substance,

Mecademic, a Small Business Playing in the Big Leagues

Jonathan Coulombe has always dreamed of making industrial robots. ÉTS was his springboard.

Mecademic’s Meca500

Le Meca500 @Mecademic

A Passion for Robots

As a young man, Jonathan Coulombe had little interest in school. So he turned toward precision machining, a field he explored for ten years. But he wanted more. During his free time, he taught himself by tinkering with robots and experimenting with different designs. This passion brought him back to school—to study electrical engineering at ÉTS.

Because he financed part of his studies by working in the machine shop of the ÉTS, he was referred to Ilian Bonev, a professor specializing in industrial robotics in the Department of Systems Engineering. Professor Bonev gave him mandates related to his own research—new robot designs requiring specialized equipment and precision. Jonathan found an environment where he could experiment with industrial-grade materials and technologies. He had the opportunity to work with robots designed and built specifically to meet industry needs.

The Birth of Mecademic

The first robot designed and built by Jonathan for commercial purposes was an academic robot inspired by a model developed by Professor Bonev. Unfortunately, this robot did not generate the expected excitement. It became clear that market demand was elsewhere. Jonathan then redirected his efforts to design a six-axis industrial robot, the Meca500—a small, compact, precise robotic arm with an integrated controller in its base.

Mecademic became known through a Meca500 video on YouTube, which quickly went viral. Representatives from large American and European companies came to visit Mecademic’s first members at Centech, even though the start-up had not yet begun selling its new product.

Mecademic’s current customers often have space restrictions and precision needs, hence the interest in this much more compact robot compared to its competitors. Once the robot is installed, customers have a device that is very easy to use. The Meca500 is used in countless applications, such as the inspection and assembly of small components—as found in the watchmaking or electronics industries—automated laboratory testing, diamond polishing, extraterrestrial dust handling, and microsurgery.

Mecademic’s robots are manufactured entirely on-site in their Montreal plant near ÉTS. This enables proper quality control at all stages of manufacturing—machining, electronic manufacturing and assembly.

When David Meets Goliath

The field of industrial robotics is dominated by very large players, primarily European and Japanese. Not everyone in this industry can be considered a specialist. The only two Canadian companies that manufacture robotic arms (Kinova and Mecademic) are part of the ÉTS ecosystem, which also includes Centech, an incubator specialized in technological innovation.

Mecademic and Fanuc

The four owners of Mecademic (Ilian Bonev, Philippe Jacome, Jonathan Coulombe, Éric Boutet) proudly pose with their Meca500 alongside Michael Cicco (CEO of Fanuc America), manufacturer of the world’s largest industrial robot


“ÉTS has a very practical approach, focused on industry needs, both in its teaching and in its research orientation,” explains Professor Ilian Bonev. “The environment is therefore conducive to the creation of new companies. In addition, we have had well-equipped laboratories for over a decade, allowing students to handle various industrial robots during their undergraduate studies. Also, I often use specific examples from Mecademic customers in my course to explain the usefulness of certain theoretical concepts.”

“At ÉTS, student clubs like Capra—which designs and manufactures search and rescue robots—can put the theoretical concepts seen in the morning classes into practice by afternoon.”

Since its inception, Mecademic has sold more than 1,700 robots and employs 35 people.

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