Midlands cluster bolsters industry 4.0 opportunities for SMEs

20 Jun 2022

From left: Caitríona Mordan, ATIM, and Andrew Lynch, Irish Manufacturing Research. Image: Athlone IT

ATIM cluster manager Caitríona Mordan talks about the strength of the midlands when it comes to manufacturing and industry 4.0.

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Three years after it was launched by Enterprise Ireland, the Regional Technology Clustering Fund (RTCF) now supports 14 clusters around the country.

They cover a range of areas, including cybersecurity, connected health, agritech and the circular bioeconomy.

As part of our Automation Week, SiliconRepublic.com took a closer look at the Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing (ATIM) cluster.

This particular cluster was first announced in July 2021 at Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), which is now part of the Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands and Midwest (TUS).

At the helm is Offaly native Caitríona Mordan. Prior to taking up the role as cluster manager and education and outreach officer, Mordan led European research projects in the field of responsible research and innovation for the Science Foundation Ireland Adapt research centre and Dublin City University.

Similar to the other regional clusters, the ATIM is designed to support SMEs in capitalising on new opportunities. In this case, it aims to help companies increase their productivity and efficiency by taking advantage of smart technologies such as machine learning and automation.

“The goal for ATIM is to not only support SMEs to become more productive and competitive, but to put the midlands on the map as a centre of excellence in advanced manufacturing, recognised at an international level,” said Mordan.

“In this digital age, what happens inside companies is important, but immediate business environment outside companies plays a vital role as well. Industry-led clusters such as ATIM play a critical role in enabling a robust ecosystem where companies can be supported with their digitalisation journey.”

What does the ATIM cluster do?

Every cluster has a steering group and a membership model. Mordan said the ATIM cluster organises fortnightly innovation circles for its members. “These lunchtime webinars focus on bringing members together to learn, discuss and solve shared business challenges related to digitalisation,” she said.

“The ATIM cluster supported eight member companies to undertake a digital maturity assessment, using the Enterprise Ireland Digitalisation Voucher. This exercise supports the member companies to identify where strategic opportunities are within their business to increase digital maturity.”

The ATIM cluster also recently launched a working group dedicated to supporting companies with the implementation of their digital strategies. This group focuses on identifying high-value, low-cost digital solutions SMEs can adopt to deliver immediate business benefits.

Meanwhile, Mordan said the cluster is working with a French cluster initiative, Polymeris, to create strategic business-to-business networking opportunities for Irish polymer manufacturers.

“This partnership sees ATIM working to support Irish companies with peer learning, business-to-business matchmaking and collaborative projects in the areas industry 4.0 and on circular economy,” she said.

Why the midlands is a key location for industry 4.0

Enterprise Ireland’s Jerry Moloney previously told SiliconRepublic.com that clustering is a well-established practice that has been in many EU countries for more than 20 years.

So, what was it about the midlands that made it so attractive to set up a cluster focused on advanced technologies in manufacturing?

“Manufacturing represents a proportionately larger share of total regional employment (18pc) compared to nationally (12.5pc),” said Mordan. “Irish-owned manufacturing companies based in the region span a range of sectors including food, engineering, life sciences, clean-tech, electronic, and paper, print and packaging.”

As well as the industry players in the region, the ATIM cluster works with TUS and other strategic partners such as Irish Manufacturing Research to bolster its connections and create more opportunities for companies to stay in the region.

“While multinational manufacturing companies in Ireland tend to be highly productive and competitive and are likely evolving towards industry 4.0 models, the ATIM cluster aims to ensure that indigenous manufacturing SMEs and companies along their value chain are also able to fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by industry 4.0 – increasing their productivity, competitiveness, technology intensity, internationalisation, scale and high-value regional employment,” said Mordan.

“The ATIM cluster plays a critical role in fostering and promoting a collaborative ethos within the region. Among the wider manufacturing community, knowledge providers and stakeholders are critical in not only fostering the growth of the companies engaged in the cluster but to deliver long-term sustainable growth for the region.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic