Athlone IT and Confirm centre to host €4.5m polymer test bed for industry

12 Jul 2019

Dr Declan Devine, director of the Materials Research Institute at Athlone IT. Image: Nathan Cafolla

Athlone IT, in partnership with the SFI Confirm centre, is to open the first polymer test bed for industry in Ireland.

Ireland’s engineering industries are set to be boosted with the opening of a new facility for them to develop as part of a wider industry 4.0 remit. The Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) smart manufacturing research centre, Confirm, announced that it has partnered with the Athlone Institute of Technology (Athlone IT) to develop a polymer test bed that is the first to be made open to industry.

Athlone IT has been allocated €4.5m to build the site including an advanced smart manufacturing cell complete with pilot lines for industry to use. All types of industry – from SMEs to multinational companies – will be able to use the test bed once operational.

Confirm said it has also developed special training software to work in tandem with the smart manufacturing cell to show users how to set up and operate the smart manufacturing machines.

Such technology will help take people out of the process of smart manufacturing and instead use robots, intelligent sensors and complex algorithms to improve the accuracy, reliability and speed of production lines.

Perceptions of industry 4.0 still ‘very vague’

“While there’s a lot of talk about smart manufacturing and industry 4.0, from a practical industry perspective, people’s perceptions of it are still very vague; it feels intangible,” said Dr Declan Devine, director of the Materials Research Institute at Athlone IT.

“For Ireland to move forward as a centre of smart manufacturing, it’s crucial that industry gets behind it. We’re trying to facilitate this by upskilling people in emerging technologies and giving industry a testing ground to try out these new smart manufacturing capabilities.”

Companies interested in utilising the pilot line can work collaboratively with the Confirm team either through equipment licensed out to companies based on site or equipment they bring to the facility. For example, a robot can be installed into the cell to learn how it works in tandem with other technology before taking it back and implementing it in a company’s own facility.

The development of polymer technologies, Devine added, was important to many industries established in Ireland.

“The majority of medical devices require at least one polymer component making it a core technology in the medtech sector which itself is 400 companies strong and employs over 12,000 people nationally,” he said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic