My answer is complementary to the answers given by others, so please take them into account too.
You mentioned that your colleagues work in different fields. Did you ever compare your research output to others within your own specialization?
- In what journals do other scientists in your field publish? Is it common for your field to get into high impact journals? Or an exception?
Sadly, whether it is easy or common to get into high impact journals depends a lot on the field of research and whether your article produces enough hype. For example, I believe that many of the most impressive intellectual achievements are generated within mathematical physics. But long documents full of complicated equations for abstract problems are simply not interesting for most researchers.
This may or may not affect the fields you mentioned. Nanomaterials is a word I heard a lot over the years, while coating is not. But this may be just because of my own background.
- Read papers from your field!
If you have no expert in your field to discuss with, then it is even more important to read lots of papers in your field and learn from them. What do people in your field care about? How do they organize the content of the paper, the introduction? What are their scientific methods? How elaborate do they explain the results and their methods?
- How many papers do other graduate students of your field publish?
Again, the output frequency of papers can depend a lot on your field. For example, I know of experimentalists who spend their entire PhD studies just setting up and performing one really difficult experiment, and then only publish one or two papers about that experiment. However, it is common that these papers go straight to Nature or Science.
- What methods and workflows are you using? Can they be adapted to different problems without restarting from scratch?
Here, I am not sure with what methods you are working. You mentioned labmates, but then you say you work in simulation of coating processes.
In case you work in simulation, you probably spent a lot of time learning a particular programming language or simulation framework. And in particular developing workflows and concepts for how to input a physical scenario and produce predictions. Can you adapt your knowledge to other but related problems?
My impression about computational/numerical fields is that it is quite difficult to get started. Because computers, in particular programming languages, can be very specific and yet cryptic about how they want their inputs and about what their outputs means. However, once people have figured out the framework or programming language and have written enough code they know how to reuse, the field turns into a paper machine for them. Just change the differential equations, the initial conditions, and you have something new to publish.
Do your labmates also work in something related to simulation? Did they begin their studies earlier than you? If so, it might be possible that they are already in the "paper machine"-phase, while you are not.
- Try to get in touch with other groups in your field.
This is in general a good idea and referred to as networking. But in your case, since you doubt the expertise of your advisor, it might be even more important. Under normal circumstances, conferences would be a great opportunity for this. But with the pandemic, emails will have to suffice for a while. In general, group leaders are extremely busy, but graduate students or postdocs are usually happy if anyone shows interest in their work at all. So this might be a good conversation starter. And in the process, you might reflect in more detail about their work and might learn from it. You might also ask your advisor to write the first emails. A group leader is less likely to get ignored. Perhaps you could invite these other experts in your field to give a presentation to your group or institute?
Important goals of this "networking" would be to find opportunities for collaborations within your field, and learn the way of thinking, tricks, shortcuts and methods that are typical within your field. And learn what topics other groups care about. If you try to become an expert in a field on your own without speaking to other experts, you end up losing a lot of time. And despite this, you might remain insecure because you never get feedback from someone who knows whether your things are right or wrong. Guidance by experts is extremely important. You need to understand the intuitions, interests, methods and workflows of others in your field. And often times, papers do not convey such things in a way that is elaborate enough for you to actually apply them.
From my own experience, my guess is that you invest a lot of your 80+ hours per week into proof-reading and checking your work. I expect this because you have nobody to evaluate the details and correctness of your work. This costs a lot of time, often more than doing the work itself. And even then you may remain insecure and full of doubt. It is extremely important to have other experts you trust who can judge the correctness of your work. But for that, you first have to get in contact with such experts.
- How much time do you have left? How can you make the most of your time?
You mentioned that you live in Canada. As far as I know, a typical PhD in Canada takes 4 years, of which the first is a year completely dedicated to mandatory courses/lectures.
It is quite common that graduate students output half of their papers or more within the last year of their PhD. That is because before they spend a lot of time learning the methods and actually producing results. And then they have to think about how to split them up into papers and actually publish them.
A general rule of thumb is that it is better to have several papers, each of them with a clear message and one focus result, instead of trying to squeeze everything you did in years into one paper. Many people only read abstracts or skim through papers in a minute or two. So if a paper contains too many different results or concepts, they might end up not knowing what the paper is about. And in particular editors of high impact journals want that the achievements of your paper can be summarized with one clear, short statement.
- Present your research at conferences in your field and in seminars of other groups of your field!
While high impact journals are important for getting positions and grants, usually this is not how people get to know your name and your research. With the inflation of papers in academia, you might need additional ways to get attention. Apply to give presentations at conferences! In particular now that traveling is impossible for most people anyway, you might be able to give presentations from the comfort of your home without having to worry about travel arrangements and funds. When contacting other groups, you might also offer to give a presentation. Often, groups have group seminars, but people are too busy to ask for presentations. So if you contact them and remain flexible with respect to their schedule, they just have to write an announcement email to their group internal mailing list.
- Don't worry too much about awards.
You can only do your best. And awards usually involve a lot of politics and personal opinions. There is no objective measure of what makes a paper the best, or a research result the most important. If people don't know you, they won't consider you for awards. So also here the contact to other experts in your field can help. Also you should be aware that you have to apply for many awards, while for many other awards your department or advisor has to do the application for you. If you want awards, you should look for awards, apply to them, or tell your advisor/department that you would be interested in trying to get this award. Unless you explicitly contact people, people just try to avoid bureaucracy as much as possible.
- Is it an option to switch to your advisor's field of expertise
How much time do you have left? How different is your advisor's field from your own? Are the methods you learned and workflows you implemented useful to work in your advisor's field? For this it is important to discuss with your advisor.