Building technological capability by clustering
Technology gateway network gives industry access to key researchers and equipment
GrazeBot worked with technology gateways to develop Fresh Graze, an automated moving fence system which allocates fresh grass to grazing animals.
The Enterprise Ireland technology gateway network has completed more than 3,200 industrial research projects worth more than €30 million on behalf of almost 2,000 companies over the past six years.
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. Together, 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. Technology areas range from polymers to pharmaceuticals, photonics to mobile services and mechatronics, through to biotechnology and industrial design. Projects typically focus on the development of a new product or service or the optimisation of a process.
However, it is frequently the case that a project will involve more than one technology area. This has led to the creation of three gateway clusters within the network which connect industry with researchers in a wide selection of areas within a broad overall theme.
“A manager in each gateway co-ordinates the projects while the research work is carried out by teams of scientists and engineers in the research centre,” says Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway’s network marketing manager, Gráinne Foley. “To enhance the capability of the network we developed three sectoral clusters. These clusters consolidate the skills and capability already in the network and help companies which need several centres or technologies in one project. The first of clusters was for the internet of things (IoT) and was set up in 2016. That was followed by engineering and materials design and last year we established the Irish food technology cluster.”
The A-IoT cluster is a consortium of five of gateways, providing a single point of contact for companies looking to access technical capabilities for IoT research and development. Using the cluster, industry can access 300 research professionals in software, hardware, communications, networks, data analytics, control, user experience and trialling.
The engineering, materials and design (EMD) cluster comprises six gateways and offers research expertise in areas such as precision engineering, biotechnology, polymers, protective coatings, prototype design, medical imaging technologies and 3D medal additive manufacturing.
Seven gateways are involved in the Irish food tech cluster which connects industry with researchers in a wide selection of areas including bioprocessing, food for health, process control and packaging.
“The clusters and the gateways network deliver market-led solutions to companies of all sizes from SMEs right up to multinationals,” says Foley. “They build relationships with companies and effectively become an extension of their in-house R&D functions. We aim to offer a one-stop shop for Irish businesses on an innovation journey.”
One company which has benefited from working with the applied IoT cluster is GrazeBot. The company worked in collaboration with the IMaR and Comand technology gateways to develop Fresh Graze, 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.
The Comand gateway assisted GrazeBot in the development of a software platform to provide grassland mapping which controls the feed rate and provides overall motion directives to the moving fence. The IMaR gateway worked with the company on the development of the moving fence electronic hardware and remote communications. GrazeBot intends to continue working with both gateways through Enterprise Ireland funding mechanisms to bring this agritech solution to market within the next 12 months.
Founded in 2014, Accuculour works on the melting and processing of PET plastics in order to reduce energy input, increase output standardisation and reduce carbon footprint. The company has worked with both the applied polymer technologies (APT) and Crest technology gateways within the EMD Ireland cluster to develop liquid additives for a PET injection moulding process.
The Crest gateway was engaged on 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.
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 ultimate aim of this work will be to enable closed-loop recycling of PET products.
Companies interested in working with an Enterprise Ireland technology gateway or cluster should approach the technology gateway support office in Dublin. “They will direct the company to the right cluster and gateway manager,” says Foley. “They will also explain the different funding options. Most projects are funded using innovation vouchers while other are supported through innovation partnerships or the Agile Innovation Fund or other mechanisms. In other cases the projects are paid for directly by the companies themselves.”