Meet the Team … Finola Howe – PEM Technology Gateway

In our ‘Meet the Team’ series, we bring you a range of interviews from across the Technology Gateway Network.

Next up is Finola Howe – PEM Technology Gateway Manager, one of 15 Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateways.

Finola Howe – PEM Technology Gateway Manager

 

  • Tell us a bit about the PEM Technology Gateway and describe your role within it?

The PEM Technology Gateway was established in 2015 and was initiated from the Precision Engineering, Manufacturing and Materials Strategic Research Centre in IT Sligo. We work primarily with manufacturing companies to provide engineering and process optimisation solutions across their product lifecycle – in product development and design, manufacturing and materials. We deliver this through building on our deep technical expertise and history in Advanced Material Synthesis & characterisation, Precision Engineering & Design, Manufacturing Process Modelling & Simulation and Advanced Process Monitoring & Control.

 

  • Describe your role:

My role in managing the PEM Technology Gateway is developing and implementing a strategy that drives engagement with industry. Working with companies to identify projects that can add value to them e.g. Product R&D, improving processes, reducing waste/cost, solving technical problems. Primarily I’m involved in setting the strategic business direction, business development, day to day management of the centre resources and financials. I spend a lot of time meeting companies and understanding what their pain points are so we can determine the best way to help them.

 

  • What’s unique about Gateway and its presence in the North-West? 

IT Sligo is the National Training Centre for Toolmakers in Ireland and as a result has a rich history and expertise in Precision Engineering which we have built on in the PEM Research Centre and Technology Gateway. We primarily work with manufacturing companies, and we are a focal point for anyone who designs and/or makes products as we help them design and improve their processes throughout their product lifecycle.

 

  • What are the main benefits for a company collaborating with PEM?

We also look at innovation across the product lifecycle and value chain, we work with companies at all stages of innovation, from early startup stage to established product/process optimisation stages. We know that companies, especially SME’s are focussed by necessity on what is right in front of them. We help them to prepare for the future by optimising and bringing technological advancement to engineering, manufacturing and materials processes. We see ourselves as long term partners with companies to help them always stay ahead of their competition.

An obvious benefit is our technical expertise in engineering and manufacturing and more specifically in the areas of Advanced Material Synthesis & characterisation, Precision Engineering & Design, Manufacturing Process Modelling & Simulation and Advanced Process Monitoring & Control.

 

  • How can you help a company prepare for an innovation project

Initially we would sit down with a company and try to understand their ‘Why’ their ‘What’ and their ‘How’ – why do they do what they do and surfacing their pain points in how they do it. That helps us to focus in on the key problems we can help them to solve. We work with them to identify projects that are aligned with our technical expertise, and we help them navigate funding opportunities to help finance the projects. There are so many funding mechanisms out there, it can be a bit daunting for companies to figure out where to start.

 

  • What can they expect working with the Gateway? 

Sometimes innovation ideas are at a really early stage and people are a little afraid of discussing an idea that isn’t fully developed. I think that the PEM Gateway operates firstly on a very human level, we provide a safe sounding board environment to companies and individuals and we are always happy to discuss innovation ideas no matter what stage they are at, we are here to provide help and guidance and we have a great network of sister Gateways that we can connect with depending on the type of expertise needed. As ideas progress into projects, we scope out the deliverables of the project and provide both the technical expertise and project management oversight to ensure the project delivers as per the agreed plan.

 

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a company considering an innovation project?

Don’t let it go to the bottom of the list of things to do because you are busy with what is important today. Innovation is a ‘Must Do’ but often gets neglected until it is too late. I’d advise companies to look at all available resources, not just in-house resources, because resources are often a reason companies don’t innovate. Connect with the Technology Gateway early in your innovation journey, we can partner with you to extend your ability to innovate!

 

  • What do you love most about your job?

I really enjoy getting out and meeting companies, understanding what they do, identifying issues they are having and developing projects to solve those issues. I facilitate Innovation Workshops with some companies where I get them to think about potential business scenarios – that always surfaces things that they need to work on across a range of strategic, business model and technical areas. I meet lots of companies and I enjoy sharing the networks and connecting people from the different companies, you never know what new ideas may spark or new partnerships develop from those connections that are of benefit to the companies.

 

More information

 

Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Clusters: How we can help your company

September 2016 saw the formation of the first Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway cluster Applied IoT. Established in the area of Internet of Things, the cluster sought to bring together unique skills and expertise throughout the network directly to Irish Business. Since then another two clusters have joined the Technology Gateway family, in the areas of Engineering, Materials and Design (EMD Ireland) and Food and Beverage Technologies (Irish Food Tech).

 

All three clusters work to consolidate the considerable amount of expertise and technologies available throughout the network and deliver market lead innovation solutions in a collaborative and responsive fashion. Providing many benefits for the business community such as;

  • a ready-made R&D infrastructure applied to industry problems of all sizes,
  • access to 300+ researchers and engineers
  • an opportunity to capitalise on the research and engineering expertise of multiple centres and Institutes of Technologies
  • access to R&D advice, supports and funding from Enterprise Ireland.

 

For Irish companies of all sizes, that may currently lack the required resources, funding and/or expertise to explore an innovation problem or project, the clusters are often their first port of call.

What funding options are available?

There are a variety of different types of funding available, to suit all types and sizes of project. We offer Industry support in the form of various Enterprise Ireland funding initiatives such as Innovation Vouchers, Feasibility Studies, Innovation Partnerships and the Agile innovation Fund. You can also access any gateway cluster by direct consultancy. You can access more information on funding options here.

How do I get in contact with the clusters?

The clusters have a dedicated support office and team based in Dublin to help with your companies’ individual needs. If you have an idea for a new product, service or process or are experiencing difficulties with an existing process, get in touch with us to see how we can assist you in developing an innovative solution.

But don’t just take our word for it, check out below how these Irish companies benefited from cluster collaboration.

The Applied IoT Cluster and GrazeBot Ltd.

Grazebot Ltd. in collaboration with IMaR and COMAND Technology Gateways have developed ‘Freshgraze’, an automated moving fence system which allocates fresh grass to grazing animals on a continual basis at a rate that ensures the entire sward is consumed before the fence moves again. COMAND have assisted GrazeBot in the development of a software platform to provide grassland mapping which controls feed rate and provides overall motion directives to the moving fence, while IMaR worked with GrazeBot Ltd. on the development of the moving fence electronic hardware and remote communications. GrazeBot intend to continue working with both Gateways through Enterprise Ireland funding mechanisms to bring this AgriTech solution to market within 12 months.

The EMD Ireland cluster and Accucolour Ltd.

Accucolour Ltd. in association with both the Applied Polymer Technologies (APT) and CREST Technology Gateway’s developed liquid additives for a PET injection moulding process. The CREST Gateway was engaged with the formulations development where colourants were successfully suspended into a liquid carrier which allowed the APT Gateway to carry out processing trials to validate the new technology. Accucolour Ltd. were seeking to influence the melting/processing of P.E.T in such a manner as to reduce energy input/increase output standardisation and reduce carbon footprint. As a consequence, follow on projects with both gateways will look at the emerging area of homogenisation of recycled PET for the efficient production of consumer-ready PET bottle products. This work will ultimately enable Closed Loop Recycling.

For more information about the clusters, check out www.technologygateway.ie. If you have any further questions, are unsure about eligibility or require further advice you can simply get in touch with us. You can also follow us on Twitter @EITechGateway @aiotgroup, @emdcluster and @irishfoodtech and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest industry and cluster news.

Technology Gateways: innovative support throughout the country

Companies across Ireland are currently engaging in innovative projects which aid with their development, growth, and success at home and abroad. To enable the development of these projects, Enterprise Ireland provides advice, support, and funding through their regional office network and with programmes such as the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network.

The Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway programme is a network of 15 gateways situated within nine Institutes of Technology and one Technological University spread across the country. Our unique geographic approach is a key aspect of the network, with 13 of our 15 Gateways located in the regions. Each Gateway provides an important service to Irish industry, not only within its own region but nationwide, by providing key assistance and expertise to companies with research, development, or innovation problems or projects across a broad range of sectors. Access can be funded by various Enterprise Ireland Innovation supports or directly funded by the company.

To find out more about the ongoing development and importance of innovation in regional areas, we talked to Dr Stephen Seawright, WiSAR Technology Gateway Manager, about the centre, its services, and the growth of innovation in the North-West.

Explain a bit about WiSAR and your role within it?

The Wireless Sensor Applied Research Technology Gateway (WiSAR) is located in Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) and provides solutions to Irish industry for the Internet of Things (IoT) using its expertise in wireless, embedded electronics and related software. WiSAR has been providing support to Irish industry for 15 years and, while our foundation is in electronics, today we have expertise in all levels of the IoT stack from the physical layer through to software and data analytics.

Home to an extensive team of researchers and engineers, we work on a wide range of collaborative R&D projects for industry. The range of facilities available at WiSAR allows for a very high standard of research and development to be conducted. My role, as Technology Gateway Manager, is to engage with industry, not only in the North-West but nationwide. I have a broad remit, which ranges from helping clients define projects or ideas, assisting with project funding applications, and driving the projects forward to ensure key deliverables are met on time and on budget. Throughout the process, I’ll also liaise with the company to keep them informed of progress.

What services can WiSAR provide?

WiSAR has a range of technologies and services available. Our facilities provide companies with a flexible and expert R&D resource, allowing them to examine the potential for existing and emerging wireless and sensor technology within their businesses. Our lab includes electronic prototyping facilities, 3D printing and RF test equipment operational to 40GHz. Companies engage with WiSAR to conduct technology research, to develop and build prototypes, to undertake feasibility studies, and to collaborate on new product development. We have a dedicated ready-made R&D infrastructure which can be applied to industry problems of all sizes and in several instances, we become an external R&D source for companies that come through our doors.

What type of company do you normally engage with?

We work with a wide variety of sectors such as healthcare, sports & tourism, renewable energy, marine, transport, and the environment to name but a few. Our team provides assistance and support to all types of companies from start-ups and SMEs right through to large multinationals. Companies can access our services through a range of Enterprise Ireland supports such as the Innovation Voucher Programme, Innovation Partnerships, Feasibility Study or the Agile Innovation fund. Companies also have the option to fund projects directly themselves.

What are the main benefits for a company engaging in an innovation project?

Rapid advancement in technology is constantly disrupting existing products and even entire business models offering both challenges and opportunities for new product development and process improvement. Innovation has become essential for Irish industry to remain competitive and relevant to a global audience and by engaging with the innovation process companies have taken the first step to ensure continued development and growth.

Innovation can open many doors and provide new opportunities such as market diversification, increased client base and product line extension. For similar reasons, the Gateway network attracts start-ups and entrepreneurs with disruptive concepts but insufficient technical capability to realise their idea. Large or small, established or new, it is important that companies realise that they are not alone; by engaging with Gateways like WiSAR, they can expect expert advice and support from specialised research centres around the country.

How important is the WiSAR Gateway for the North-West and beyond?

The North-West has a wide and diverse range of companies operating throughout the region. As with any Irish company, the importance of establishing a presence, developing growth, and maintaining a sustainable business is critically important. Often, the key to all three elements can be working within an innovation ecosystem. The WiSAR Gateway not only provides a centre of excellence in embedded electronics and software but a valuable resource for advice and support in innovation funding. The centre is a one-stop shop for all types of companies, be it their first engagement with innovation or indeed a company who has been through the process before.

It’s important to remember that companies can engage with us whatever their innovation problems may be. We work closely with our sister gateways throughout the Technology Gateway network, ensuring access to a level of expertise in a wide range of specialities. We are also a member of Applied IoT, a specialised Technology Gateway cluster operating in the area of Internet of Things. This level of collaboration and co-operation provides industry with access to over 250 researchers and engineers, ensuring they receive relevant and dedicated help and support every step of the way.

What’s your advice for a company thinking about starting their innovation journey?

Innovation can be daunting, but knowing your audience, researching the supports available and considering the positives gained, rather than the negatives, is a step in the right direction. Remember that help, support, advice, and expertise are available every step of the way.

For more information on WiSAR Technology Gateway, get in touch with us, follow us on Twitter, or check out our website for further information.

Technology Gateways in the South East. What’s available in your region?

The success of new and established Irish industry is essential for the growth and economic development of any region. For industry, in particular, trading in an island with a forward-thinking and outward looking economy, sustained development throughout the entire island is necessary. One of the many contributors to this is a vibrant innovation ecosystem. In other words, the continuous experimentation or development of a new or improved product, process or service. By embracing this process, companies not only enhance their own development but also that of their collective region. Innovation should, therefore, become an essential part of a company’s growth strategy.

But don’t despair, you don’t need to navigate this on your own. Specialised assistance in this area is available for companies that may not have a dedicated R&D team, suitable facilities, technologies, or indeed the time or resources to allocate to such a task.

Reaching out to those who can help is often the first step, but knowing what’s available can sometimes be a bit of a minefield. Distilling information in terms of what’s suitable and appropriate for your company can take time and effort, a luxury some simply do not have. This blog aims to ease that process and outline what’s available in terms of innovation supports, funding, expertise and advice in the South East. This is by no means an exhaustive list but aims to brings together some information regarding the innovation funding space such as those available through the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network.

Funding, supports, and expertise

Often essential to a business in the start-up or SME phase is a strong support network, an abundance of knowledge and expertise, as well as funding and supports that encapsulate forward movement. A wide range of innovation funding is currently available for the majority of Irish companies – from start-ups, HPSUs, SMEs, and indigenous companies right through to multinationals. In particular, those available through the Technology Gateway Network are the Innovation Voucher, Innovation Feasibility Study, Innovation Partnership and Agile Innovation fund.

For most Irish companies thinking about availing of innovation funding, the first port of call is often the Local Enterprise Office, Enterprise Ireland regional office, or equivalent. With a wide array of advice to offer as well as funding and supports, the mix of experience and expertise is second to none. Agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices, and Intertrade Ireland work with companies to develop, enhance, and maintain collaborative partnerships with established knowledge providers such as universities, Institutes of Technologies, or third level colleges in the region and beyond.

Technology Gateway Knowledge Providers in your area

The Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway programme provides four such knowledge providers in the South East, each operating within its own unique speciality, providing expertise and advice to companies and aiding them in developing new or enhanced products, processes or services. The network as a whole provides access to over 300 industry focused researchers and engineers, specialist equipment, and facilities.

Design+

The Design+ Technology Gateway, based at Institute of Technology Carlow, is a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in design, engineering, ICT and bioscience. The centre champions the application of the design thinking process within the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network, with a focus on the engineering, ICT, and bioscience sectors. Design+ was established in 2016 to support innovation for industry utilising a design approach. The technology offerings to industry include:

  • Design: design strategy, visual communication and product design capabilities
  • Prototyping: 3D printing, machining and modelling
  • Engineering: smart energy systems, embedded circuits and systems technologies, and surface and coating engineering

PMBRC

The Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre (PMBRC) is an applied research centre which aims to support the sustainable growth of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry in the south-east of Ireland. Situated in the heart of the region on the Waterford Institute of Technology campus, the centre seeks to stimulate research and innovation, allowing companies to embed R&D into their activities. PMBRC delivers industry solutions for the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors in areas such as drug delivery, process technology, biotechnology, biomedical, and separation science. It offers expertise in:

  • Physico-chemical characterisation of materials
  • Advanced analytical capability
  • Formulation, process development and drug delivery

SEAM

SEAM Technology Gateway, based in Waterford Institute of Technology, is an industry focused applied research centre, providing materials engineering solutions to companies from wide-ranging sectors such as medical devices, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, precision engineering, and energy sectors. SEAM supports research activities for industries throughout Ireland.

SEAM provides engineering material solutions for industry in sectors such as biomedical devices, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, precision engineering, and construction with expertise in:

  • X-Ray Micro-tomography (XMT): 3D non-destructive characterisation
  • Finite Element Analysis and Computational Fluid Dynamics: 3D software modelling
  • 3D metal Additive Manufacturing (AM)
  • Materials and precision engineering: engineering design and characterisation
  • Biomedical engineering: medical device design optimisation and new material assessment

TSSG

The TSSG Technology Gateway based in Waterford Institute of Technology collaborates with companies involved in delivering mobile services primarily for smartphones and tablets. TSSG is an advanced software R&D centre with particular expertise in all aspects of mobile networks and communications platforms and services.

TSSG’s technology offer is based upon expertise in:

  • Distributed and cloud-based mobile services
  • Next-generation IP based voice and video
  • Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) services
  • Location, context, smart space, and social service enablers
  • Data science and mining
  • UI/UX
  • Data analytics
  • Communications/networks
  • Machine learning and trialling

For more information on any of the above funding supports or Technology Gateways contact the support office, download our Gateway booklet, sign up for our quarterly Technology Gateways newsletter and follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest network and cluster news!

MET Gateway offers Medicinal Nutrition Technologies at their GMIT Galway centre

The Medical and Engineering Technologies (MET) Centre is an interdisciplinary technology centre providing world-class solutions for the Medtech and general manufacturing sectors. Based at GMIT’s Galway campus, the centre develops novel technologies relevant to both clinical research and Medtech companies operating in the design application phase. By actively engaging with clinical and industry partners, the MET Centre produces both scientific knowledge and technology outputs across a range of streams.

In recent months, MET has extended their technology offering to industry with the addition of medicinal nutrition. Medicinal nutrition at MET is dedicated to advancing the science of nutrition in collaboration with industry and to maximising healthy outcomes in the Irish population.  The concept of medicinal nutrition encompasses functional foods and foods for health. The research team at MET can help the food industry in all aspects of novel food development with particular expertise on testing the effects of food on human health. Additional expertise lies in the development of foods specific to those involved in sport and recreational activity.

MET is a leader in nutritional science for health and wellbeing purposes and its unique skills offer Irish industry the ability to test and modify the impact of foods on physiological and metabolic parameters enabling food companies to develop niche foods that can target particular groups in the population.  Their know-how enables companies to analyse the health effects of existing products and provides a means to develop new products to target specific health goals in individuals.

What is medicinal nutrition?

At its core, medicinal nutrition means:

‘keeping healthy people healthy’

How?

  • by examining/testing the physiological impact of food
  • developing Foods for Health, Foods for Life, Foods for Sport and Wellness

How MET can help your company

MET can assist companies in product design and innovation in areas such as food analysis and testing, human interventional trials and product development and optimisation. Additionally, MET has the capabilities to provide full wellbeing training and solutions in the workplace.

The centre is focused on applied research with translation into industry and practice to encapsulate research, education and training in the areas of:

  • Nutrition
  • Metabolic health & testing
  • Wellbeing
  • Functional food testing/development
  • Sport & exercise science

What facilities are available for Irish Industry

Met Gateway offers a range of facilities in areas such as:

Food Analysis and Testing

  • Metabolic testing: Metabolic rate analysis (basal metabolic rate) using ECAL technologies – how does a food product affect metabolism, what substrate i.e. fat/glucose are people burning at rest and what foods can affect human metabolic rate, Glycaemic Index (GI): (GI assessment and certification, identification and development of low GI foods) glycaemic response; energy and glucose metabolism – designed to ensure that foods are not giving rise to large increases in blood glucose which is associated with weight gain etc weight loss and body weight regulation; cholesterol and triglyceride measurements.
  • Cognitive testing: effects on mood and cognitive function (eg reaction time, concentration, memory, stress tolerance) – can your food enhance concentration, what foods are most compatible with work, etc.
  • Antioxidant assays: bioaccessibility and bioavailability; antioxidant profiles, stability and antioxidant capacity.
  • Other food assays: quantification and isolation of individual food components; plant-based bioactives (e.g. seaweed extracts, β-glucans and other prebiotics).
  • Food intake studies: effects of food components on food intake, appetite and satiety – how bioactives added to your food can make people feel ‘fuller for longer’ and therefore potential assist with weight loss and weight management.

Human Interventional Trials

  • Strictly controlled experiments on human volunteers for one day to several weeks to longer-term studies, with measures taken either in-house or amongst free-living populations.
  • Randomised controlled trials – bespoke studies designed to fit the needs of the client.

Product development and optimisation

  • Provide leadership to the food industry to encourage innovation and the promotion of health and wealth creation.
  • Consultancy on nutritional labelling, formulation, replacing synthetic additives, shelf life, evaluating functional properties.
  • Compliance assessment with compositional, labelling, packaging and advertising regulations in the EU.

What steps should a company take to start their innovation journey?

Often the first step to take is to implement the Design Thinking process to define the problem your product/service will solve and to determine if there is a market for your product/service, as well as engagement in research to develop and validate your product. Don’t worry if you’re unsure of the process, the team at MET Gateway is available for help and advice from the start. All you need to do is contact them for an initial discussion.

How to get in contact with MET Gateway

If you have an idea for a new product, service or process, or are experiencing difficulties with an existing process, get in touch with the Gateway, follow them on Twitter or check out their website for further information.

Profile: MiCRA Biodiagnostics Technology Gateway

MiCRA Biodiagnostics Technology Gateway, one of 15 Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateways situated around the country, is an industry-led research and development facility located in the CASH-Synergy Centre at TU Dublin – Tallaght Campus.

The facility has a strong and growing portfolio of applied research, making knowledge and expertise accessible to local and national industry. To enhance this knowledge further, they are also an active member of Irish Food Tech, a consortium of seven of Enterprise Ireland’s Technology Gateways operating within the food and beverage technology sector. The cluster provides a range of expertise and support for companies looking to access research and development within these areas.

What is the MiCRA Biodiagnostics Technology Gateway?

The MiCRA Biodiagnostics Gateway delivers solutions across the agri-food, in-vitro diagnostics (animal and human), environmental, and biopharmaceutical industries with expertise in:

  • Rapid and portable electrochemical sensor design, development and prototyping.
  • Specific expertise in bio-, immuno- and chemical sensors for the detection of microbes, biomarkers, chemicals and food allergens.
  • Application in areas of quality, toxicity, viability and chemical and biological contamination analysis.
  • Advanced analytical services and materials development.
MiCRA Strategic Themes

Click to enlarge

 

What facilities and technologies are available at MiCRA Biodiagnostics?

MiCRA Biodiagnostics is an industry-led research and development facility that focuses on the advancement of biosensor technologies, using materials such as enzymes and advanced polymers. MiCRA delivers solutions to companies in many sectors including in vitro diagnostics, environmental, food, and pharmaceuticals. The facility consists of state of the art advanced analytical, surface science and PAT instrumentation, Bio/Pharmaceutical Pilot Plant, cell culture and microbiology labs, and sensor prototype fabrication facilities. It is staffed by microbiologists, chemists, biologists, physical scientists, and engineers.

MiCRA - advancement of biosensor technologies, using materials such as enzymes and advanced polymers

MiCRA helps companies in many areas, including sensor prototyping and manufacturing, materials development and characterisation, immunoassay platform development, enzyme biosensors for human and animal health care, and biosensors for the rapid and sensitive detection of bacteria. With cutting-edge analytical instrumentation and expertise, MiCRA also has dedicated staff focused solely on the provision of analytical services research to industry partners.

What types of companies does MiCRA work with?

MiCRA partners with a wide range of academic research, entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs, and large industrial companies to deliver solutions in analytical chemistry, biosensors, and diagnostic products for Irish industry.

What supports and funding does MiCRA have available to help your company?

We work with industrial clients and partners through a range of funding mechanisms from the smallest feasibility studies up to 2+ year commercialisation projects. These funding mechanisms include:

  • Vouchers: Innovation Voucher and co-funded
  • Innovation Partnerships
  • H2020, Comm fund, etc.
  • Contract research and analysis
  • Consultancy

What are your next steps?

To find out more about the MiCRA Technology Gateway check out their website and follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest news and events! You can also contact them directly for helpful advice on funding criteria and process.

Banking on bottles: AIT debuts PET Recycling Scheme

Did you know? One million plastic bottles are produced every 60 seconds.

A new plastic bottle collection and recycling scheme has debuted at Athlone Institute of Technology under a green campus pilot initiative intended to educate staff and students about the benefits of appropriately sorting and recycling Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), a clear, strong and lightweight plastic. Despite the fact that PET is one of the most commonly used materials for packaging food and beverages worldwide, consumer awareness remains low as to its value and how to dispose of it properly and sustainably.

“As a country, we import thousands of tonnes of post-consumer PET every year, but, conversely, we also throw away thousands of tonnes of PET because we don’t realise what it is or how valuable it is. The clear plastic soft drinks bottles used by brands like Coca Cola, Fanta or Pepsi – they are all highly recyclable and can be reprocessed into new products.”

Dr Luke Geever, Technology Innovation Manager at the APT centre in AIT

Per inhabitant, Ireland is one of the top producers of plastic waste in the EU with the majority being exported at a very low cost, landfilled or incinerated, as is the case in most European countries. “This is devastating for the environment and for the economy and by shipping this material out of the country or landfilling, the potential to upcycle the material is lost,” Dr Geever said. “It’s imperative that we start viewing plastic as a valuable natural resource, because when designed and collected properly it can be recycled again and again to make new products.”

To tackle this issue, Dr Geever and his colleagues in the Applied Polymer Technologies Centre (APT), an Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway dedicated to polymer processing and development, have established several waste repositories in the college canteen to collect the post-consumer PET, before moving it to a store facility to be sold to a processor.

Shabra Plastics, a company that has transformed the Irish recycling landscape through the reprocessing of plastic waste film and post-consumer bottles, has agreed to partner with the college on this innovative project. “We’ve been working with Shabra for the past 10 years, helping them develop standards and processes around their own recycling. They’re the byword for plastic recycling and reprocessing in Ireland and one of the finest recycling plants in Europe,” Dr Crevan O’Donnell, Postdoctoral researcher at APT, said. “We’re delighted to collaborate with them on this project, which we hope will help educate our staff and students – as a microcosm of Irish society – about sustainable plastic packaging solutions and being more responsible in our consumption of plastic.”

According to APT Centre Manager Dr Noel Gately, at the moment when PET is disposed of in a regular household recycling bin, it gets mixed in with other materials which reduces its value because it needs to be sorted and cleaned. “If other materials get in it can affect its quality – the goal is to provide Shabra with as pure a source of PET as possible. If we can control the source of PET – i.e. single use soft drinks bottles – it can be cut into little pieces, cleaned and transformed into little pellets that can be used to manufacture new products,” Dr Gately explained.

Shabra has generously agreed to pay the college per tonne of PET collected, the revenue from which will go back to the students as an added incentive to keep recycling. If the pilot scheme in the college canteen proves successful, the bins will be rolled out across the institute.

Welcoming the news, Dr Declan Devine, Director of the Materials Research Institute, said, “Initiatives such as this are incredibly important in helping educate the public around the plastic lifecycle and the importance of recycling. To put things in context, every year, Europe generates more than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste – less than 30% of that will be recycled. Globally, every 60 seconds – the length of time I’ve been speaking – 1 million more plastic bottles will be produced. We need to move toward a circular plastic economy where the design and production fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs and more sustainable materials are developed.”

*This article was first published on the AIT website

5 steps to coming up with that great idea

At times we all struggle to come up with that great idea, striving for that lightbulb moment when the fog clears and there is instant clarity. But sometimes the dots will just not connect no matter how hard we try! A frustrating but common problem in this busy and connected world. Life is hectic and taking or indeed finding the time is not always so easy. Keeping your business ideas and product lines fresh should and needs to be an essential part of your business strategy. Be that enhancing the development of new products, processes or simply engaging with a new target audience, the importance of sustained idea generation is paramount. So if you find yourself stuck in an idea rut, have a read of the 5 steps below to help unlock the idea process.

  1. Write everything down

It may seem like a simple idea, but keeping a record of your thoughts in a journal or notebook is an important way to jog the memory at a later stage. At the time, the idea may seem half thought out or nonsensical, but it could prove to be the start of a chain of thoughts which ignites a great idea. So, start to carry a small notebook around and jot down those thoughts that occur to you during the day or night… You never know, one of those may just be the spark you need!

  1. Research, Research, Research

The brain is like a sponge, it craves new information to soak up and evaluate. The importance of researching, reading and developing your inner thought process should not be underestimated. Get into the habit of reading books, industry blogs, white papers and newspaper articles. The more information you feed your brain, the more engaged and informed you will be on industry requirements. Taking 10 minutes a day to catch up on what’s happening in your industry or sector gives you that ‘insider’ knowledge on how to develop your own great idea.

  1. Talk to others outside your work/family circle

Getting opinions and talking to your closest family and friends is important, but it’s also essential to step out from that comfort zone and engage with those who you may have little/less contact with. Engaging in conversation with others such as suppliers, consumers and those within, and indeed outside, your industry can often focus the mind and allow you to form a different perspective.

  1. Change your routine

Do you engage in the same weekly routine? Don’t worry, we’re all guilty of it! Structure is good, but it can also be stifling to the creative process. Changing up your routine now and again can give you the freedom to clear your mind, develop a creative approach and spark that all important thought process. Changing your routine can be as simple as stepping away from your desk and getting 10 minutes of fresh air before lunch, working different hours than the normal nine to five (if your company permits) or even working remotely at times. Either way, change, no matter how small can often provide the clarity required.

  1. Look around you!

We are all to blame for getting too distracted by work, technology or life in general. Sometimes we just can’t see the wood for the trees. Taking the time to step back, put down the phone, laptop or tablet and enjoy life without the constant buzz of notifications, emails and phone calls can enhance our thought process, clear the mind and give our brain the space it needs to connect those dots.

Increase your R&D capacity in Applied IoT

Increase your R&D capacity with the Applied IoT Cluster and a €5,000 Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher

Are you a start-up in the process of developing a prototype (MVP) of your product, an SME that requires additional R&D supports for improvements to an existing process or simply have a problem that you would like a solution to? The Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network and its three clusters, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland’s €5,000 Innovation Voucher scheme, can help.

Innovation timeline

As Albert Einstein once said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

Indeed, our imaginations do drive innovation and given the rapid advancements in technology over recent years, it has never been so critical for companies to stay abreast, or more preferably ahead, of the innovation curve. Instrumental in staying ahead of the competition is applying your innovative ideas in a timely manner and getting them to the market place as quickly as possible. Not having an internal team that actively promotes and participates in R&D activities can slow down a company’s time to market with a new idea. The Technology Gateway Clusters are available to assist with greatly reducing this time to market by providing the necessary resources and equipment to develop new and innovative near-to market solutions in a timely manner.

What is the Innovation Voucher programme?

The Innovation Voucher scheme funded by Enterprise Ireland invites limited companies, registered in Ireland, to apply for a €5,000 voucher that can be utilised with a registered Knowledge Provider. Companies can engage with any of our 15 Gateways to gain academic support in research, development or innovation. Innovation Vouchers are valid for 12 months from the date of issue and can be used throughout the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway network. Staff at the Technology Gateways are available to assist you with the voucher application process if required. Recent reports show that every €1 of investment made by Enterprise Ireland has contributed to a €4.72 increase in Irish EVA (Economic Value Added), whilst each €1 of funding invested by Enterprise Ireland in Innovation Vouchers delivered €11.83 net additional sales at the company side.

Technology Gateway Clusters

To enhance the delivery of research and innovation for Irish SMEs, the Technology Gateways have developed three unique clusters in the areas of Applied Internet of Things (Applied IoT), Engineering, Materials and Design (EMD Ireland), and Food and Beverage Technologies (Irish Food Tech). Each cluster consists of relevant specialised gateways and a dedicated support office, which can assist you with any questions you may have about the Technology Gateway network or the next Innovation Voucher call.

Applied IoT Cluster

Tom Fitzmaurice is Business Development Manager with the Applied IoT Technology Gateway Cluster. This cluster is a consortium of five Technology Gateways, COMAND, IMaR, Nimbus, TSSG and WiSAR. It provides companies looking for specialist technical capabilities for Internet of Things (IoT) research and development with access to over 250 full-time engineers and researchers. The Applied IoT cluster engages with a wide variety of sectors from agriculture to retail, buildings to transportation and energy to security and can provide you with the appropriate R&D tools and resources you may require. The cluster works with companies of all sizes including, start-ups, HPSUs, SMEs and multinationals.

How can the Applied IoT cluster and an Innovation Voucher help your company?

We continue to nourish and strengthen our already close connections with industry and this is visible in our results. Since 2013, the network has provided support on over 966 Innovation Voucher projects. In 2018 alone, our three clusters supported 195 innovative industry projects through the Innovation Voucher programme.

As each IoT project is different, the assistance provided is tailored to meet its specific needs. On time and within budget, delivery of projects is ensured by dedicated cluster teams who provide a wide variety of support and assistance ranging from MVP development, business model development, process optimisation, customer interface, technical specification, new service development and technology audits.

Innovation Vouchers are often the initial step for engagement between a company and a Gateway, with many progressing onto larger Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership projects. Here are some case studies from Irish companies – Smart Factory, TownApps and Fusion Payments – who share their experience of collaborating with the Applied IoT cluster Gateways.

Innovation Voucher case studies

The Smart Factory & Nimbus partnership

Smart Factory approached the Nimbus Technology Gateway to implement an IoT platform to collect, store and visualise data coming from a factory setting and control devices through the OPC-UA protocol. The platform needed to be flexible to accommodate future deployments, provision redundancy and high availability. An additional project provides for visual assistance by illuminating relevant inventory containers during component packaging procedures.

“The work being delivered by the Nimbus Technology Gateway is pivotal to Smart Factory’s Industry 4.0 services offering. The team have been very innovative and the whole experience to date has certainly been worthwhile, amazing value and rewarding. We are currently planning further projects with the Nimbus Technology Gateway for 2019 and beyond.”
Brendan Sheppard – CEO, Smart Factory Solutions

The TownApps & COMAND partnership

The final project resulted in a complete system for the configuration, build, and deployment of multiple mobile apps with an associated cloud-based website, database, and application functionality from a single template with minimal owner involvement. Online apps can now be produced from a single code-base in combination with a unique city configuration, reducing delivery time, maintenance time, and creating greater end-customer features.

“Townapps inherited an old platform to publish our original apps. This platform was built on unstable technology and wouldn’t allow us to scale our business internationally in a cost-effective, secure, flexible and future-proof way. Our clients wanted a host of new offerings including live trails and other critical user engagement techniques. We engaged the team at COMAND with the assistance of an Innovation Partnership to travel the journey with us and give us the necessary software development expertise and advice. The end result is a very balanced solution to roll out our much improved apps in faster time. There are now very few limitations on the many new commercial opportunities that we can bolt into our existing platform as and when these opportunities arise.”
Joe Connaughton – CEO, TownApps

The Fusion Payments & TSSG partnership

For the new wave of digital banking apps, the route to market has largely been to build a core, prepaid card-based account, integrating some budgeting and financial management – there has been little from an aggregation perspective. Fusion Payments wanted to be the only bank app that clients will ever need, with mobile features enabling customers to manage the breadth of their financial lives in the palm of their hand.

The company’s approach is to start with aggregation, which will provide genuine integrated analysis and insight. Fusion will be a virtual banking dashboard where customers can do all their day-to-day bank errands, across any account in any bank, with a layer of real insight to help them get more out of their money.

“We have been really impressed with the TSSG team and the level of research that they have put in and their obvious technical experience. Very professional, proactive and great to work with.”
Richard Hartnett – Director, Fusion Payments

Further information

For more information visit the Applied IoT page and follow them on Twitter for all the latest news and events.

Gateway Profile: APT Technology Gateway

The APT Technology Gateway is hosted within the Materials Research Institute (MRI) at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT). Over the past 50 years, AIT has grown the polymer research area into an interdisciplinary hub, interfacing with the plastics industry across multiple platforms on thousands of projects. In recent years, AIT has invested heavily in the infrastructure of the research facilities with the completion (in 2020) of a €2 million, HEA co-funded, purpose-built research hub; while large-scale processing equipment is housed in the new €36 million Engineering and Informatics Building and in a dedicated APT polymer processing facility.

AIT is home to the Applied Polymer Technology (APT) Gateway, a national Technology Gateway centre focused on all aspects of polymer research funded by Enterprise Ireland. CISD (Centre for industrial services and design) is the contract design and analytical services section within the Applied Polymer Technologies Gateway.

What is APT Technology Gateway?

APT acts as an industry-led research hub supporting Irish-based plastics and polymer companies in creating solutions to overcome current challenges faced by industry. Delivering technology solutions close to their market needs and acting as an open access point for industry of all sizes, APT is a dedicated resource for the Irish polymer manufacturing industry and regularly provides training and information dissemination as well as production demonstration days for companies with a proven track record of delivering results.

APT Technology Gateway - Materials Research Institute (MRI) at Athlone Institute of Technology

What facilities and technologies are available at APT?

APT plays a key role in supporting the Irish polymer and plastics industry by providing expertise and access to a variety of equipment and technologies, such as:

  • Design, DFM and rapid prototyping – a design engineering team offering full expertise to produce prototypes quickly and efficiently
  • Pilot and production-scale injection moulding, micro-moulding, blow moulding, thermoforming, extrusion and compounding lines and 3D additive printing
  • Advanced Analytical Facilities for materials research, testing and troubleshooting

APT scientists, engineers, chemists, and technologists are highly qualified professionals with years of industry experience who use state-of-the-art instrumentation to provide a full range of quality, product safety, materials and research analysis and testing services.

What types of companies does APT work with?

APT Technology Gateway provides world-class solutions for SMEs and multinational companies using polymer materials across the medical, composite, recycling and pharmaceutical sectors.

How can APT help your company?

Using its suite of characterisation equipment and pilot polymer processing facilities, APT can cover all areas of the design and production lifecycle. This capacity ranges from concept design and prototype development towards commercial launch of a development product, production optimisation and troubleshooting for existing processes and end of life recycling. Using 3D additive printing, APT can fabricate customised injection mould tooling which, married with its pilot production facilities, can produce a limited run of bespoke prototypes.

APT engages with industry partners via several platforms:

  • Contract Research & Development
  • Short-term projects to develop solutions to specific problems or develop clearly identified technologies
  • Commercialisation of APT-developed technology offerings
  • Long-term development projects with industry partners to investigate innovative technologies or materials with identified industrial application

To find out more about the APT Technology Gateway check out their page and follow them on Twitter for all the latest news and events!