New U of T PhD sets his sights high

November 23, 2012

Walmsley Winner Michael Montgomery introduces damping technology which enables even taller high-rises

Michael Montgomery’s PhD studies in Structural Engineering  at the University of Toronto taught him that the sky’s the limit – literally. But even he didn’t think he’d be a CEO at the age of 31.

However, after numerous years during his PhD of intense study, testing and validation of the new damping technology for high-rise buildings that is now the initial product offering of start-up Kinetica Dynamics, he was certainly the best person for the job.

Kinetica’s technology, the Coupling Damper, enables high-rise buildings to be built even taller – while keeping them safe for tenants and eliminating the swaying of the building that tenants on the upper floors often complain causes motion sickness during wind storms. It works in a similar fashion to a car damper, absorbing the vibrations caused by the wind.

Because the Coupling Damper absorbs vibrations, it also reduces damage in earthquakes. It is used in place of concrete beams when constructing high-rise buildings, allowing any damage caused in the damper to be repaired more easily and at a significantly lower cost. 

“Our technology is essentially a plug and play device – you can remove it, inspect it and put it back in place,” says Montgomery. “If there ever is an extreme earthquake, and there is some level of damage in the steel elements of the damper, it can be either repaired quickly or replaced, whereas concrete elements are very difficult to repair or replace. In some cases, owners end up decommissioning their building rather than repairing it because it's just too costly. That was one of the problems we set out to solve.”

The damper has great potential for Ontario both in increasing habitability and resiliency of high-rise buildings and creating a significant number of engineering jobs. But the impact doesn’t stop there. “It’s a made in Ontario, invented in Ontario technology that has the potential of being a globally significant technology, and influencing construction of buildings throughout the world,” says Montgomery.

Though he is now giving talks to other enterprising students on engineering entrepreneurship, and in fact, was selected as a one-year recipient of Ontario Centres of Excellence’s (OCE’s) Martin Walmsley Fellowship for Technical Entrepreneurship, Montgomery recognizes that the transition from engineer to entrepreneur isn’t an easy one.

“It's hard to scale up and take something that exists only as research and actually bring it into practice - that's a huge challenge. OCE has been critical to us in that stage for us – we’re really grateful to them for that support.”