Midlands set to benefit from new manufacturing tech cluster

21 Jul 2021

Caitríona Mordan, education and outreach manager with the ATIM cluster. Image: Athlone IT

SMEs in the midlands can join a new advanced technologies in manufacturing cluster in Athlone to avail of shared knowledge and resources.

A new cluster aimed at accelerating the digital transformation and growth of Irish SMEs has launched at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT).

The Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing (ATIM) cluster aims to help companies increase their productivity and efficiency by taking advantage of smart technologies such as machine learning and automation.

The cluster will be part of the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands and Midwest, which is bringing together AIT and Limerick IT, when it opens later this year.

ATIM’s new education and outreach manager, Caitríona Mordan, spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about her plans for the cluster and for the region’s manufacturing industry.

‘The manufacturing space is going through a real overhaul and transformation due to some of the disruptive technologies’

According to the World Bank, 36.62pc of Ireland’s GDP could be attributed to manufacturing in 2020, which is significantly above the EU average of 13.92pc.

And around 80pc of operations are outside of Dublin, said Mordan. “If you look in the midlands, 18pc of people are employed in manufacturing as opposed to 15pc in other parts of the country.”

Mordan, who is from the midlands herself, said her work with the cluster will focus on harnessing the potential of the region through collaboration with industry partners such as Enterprise Ireland, as well as other similar clusters across Europe.

The cluster has received funding of nearly €380,000 from Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Technology Clustering Fund. It is part of a growing network of industry-led clusters around the country funded under the same initiative.

Mordan explained that the aim of the ATIM cluster is to provide a “safe and trusted platform in order for SMEs to engage in a very strategic, meaningful way”.

“They can share knowledge and grow, not only individually, but grow collectively, so that [the cluster] can deliver towards this vision of the midlands, and of Ireland, being a centre of excellence and advanced manufacturing.”

She added that, for lots of SMEs, digitalisation is often a secondary priority compared to the day-to-day running of their businesses, but the new cluster will provide supports to help access funding to adopt new digital technologies such as AI and machine learning.

Mordan said now is a good time for the midlands to take the initiative and adapt to new trends, particularly after the challenges businesses have faced thanks to the pandemic and Brexit, which saw a lot of SME supply chains disrupted.

“The manufacturing space is going through a real overhaul and transformation due to some of the disruptive technologies that are around,” she added.

“I suppose we can sit and wait and be behind that change, or Ireland can really build on the trend that we have in the midlands, in particular, and lead that change and be a global player in that space.”

Mordan is currently engaging in a number of kick-off events with other European clusters in a bid to boost the profile of the new ATIM cluster, and she is also appealing for companies that are interested in learning more about how they can use smart technologies to join as members.

Membership of the cluster is now open to companies and fees do not apply for 2021, according to ATIM’s website.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.