From cheese to cobots: opening new tech gateways to greatness
Enterprise Ireland’s funding programme aims to get companies engaging with R&D
The Dairy Processing Technology Centre at Teagasc will receive funding for a new cheese characterisation suite. ‘This will analyse cheese to see how well it slices, matures and so on,’ says programme manager Mark Whelan. Photograph: iStock
Technology to enable humans and robots to work together safely on production lines, a highly innovative brain imaging system, and tests for the slicing and other performance characteristics of cheese are among the 37 successful applications for a share of the €6 million Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway and Technology Centre capital funding programme 2020.
The purpose of the funding is to increase the levels of interaction between industry in Ireland and the institutes of technology, including the Technological University of Dublin, according to Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway programme manager Mark Whelan.
“In general, the approved projects include getting more companies engaging in R&D, the provision of pilot manufacturing capability for new product or process development, enhanced technology validation and testing capabilities or enhanced training potential for key industry staff on emerging technologies,” he explains.
The programme was originally set up last year to provide capital funding for the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network. Run by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with nine institutes of technology around the country as well as TU Dublin, the network consists of 15 individual gateways hosted by one of the institutions, spread across the country.
The gateways provide industry with access to hundreds of highly skilled and industrially focused researchers, together with specialist equipment and facilities. Each gateway has its own technology theme and Enterprise Ireland seeks to ensure there is no overlap between them and that they are working in areas of interest to industry.
The programme was created in response to a need for new capital investment in the gateways.
“They hadn’t really had any kind of funding for capital expenditure since 2007,” Whelan explains. “This was presenting a problem as the equipment they were using was getting quite old. They also needed new equipment for new technologies like augmented and virtual reality. The funding is a way to provide them with leading-edge equipment and infrastructure.”
The initial call for funding went out in February and 107 applications were received by March
Last year’s programme, also worth €6 million, proved highly successful, and it was decided to broaden it out this year to include the nationwide network of technology centres, a joint initiative between Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland which allows Irish companies and multinationals to work together on research projects in collaboration with research institutions.
The 10 technology centres span a range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, food, manufacturing, microelectronics and composite materials, and can tap into the expertise of highly qualified researchers based in universities and institutes of technology around the country.
The initial call for funding went out in February and 107 applications were received by the closing date in March. The applications were subject to a rigorous selection process, according to Whelan. “Each application was reviewed by an internal and external assessor who made recommendations for approval by the Enterprise Ireland Industrial Research and Commercialisation Committee, ” he says.
Applications were of such a high standard this year that 53 of them were deemed suitable for funding. “This exceeded the level of funding available,” Whelan adds. “The top 37 were selected to receive funding, with the other 16 kept on a reserve list should further funding become available.”
The successful applications span a broad range of industries including food, manufacturing and medical devices. The Dairy Processing Technology Centre (DPTC) at Teagasc will receive funding for a new cheese characterisation suite.
“This will analyse cheese to see how well it slices, matures and so on,” says Whelan. “Nothing like this exists in the world at the moment and it has the potential to add value to the Irish dairy sector.”
Also in the food area, Meat Technology Ireland (MTI) will look at automation in meat processing facilities. Another project related to automation will see Irish Manufacturing Research investigate cobotics and how humans and robots can interact safely on production lines.
A very interesting project in the medtech sphere will see the Medical & Engineering Technologies gateway at GMIT apply an ultrasound system and associated transducers to existing brain scanning technologies.
“When a stent is being inserted to treat an ischaemic stroke, a fluoroscope can be used to monitor the stent’s progress through the blood vessels in the brain,” Whelan explains. “They are going to put an ultrasound scanner on top of this to enhance the imaging.”
“This funding allows the technology gateways and technology centres the opportunity to purchase new technologies in a wide range of areas,” Whelan concludes. “Successful applicants have a proven track record in industry engagement, and the new equipment will assist in increasing their interaction with industry and add value to Irish-based industry.”