Major conference on future of Irish manufacturing

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) hosted the inaugural All Ireland New Technology Forum & Society of Plastics Engineers Annual Conference on Thursday, 6th March. The 400 delegate conference was officially opened by Dr. Ruaidhrí Neavyn, President of WIT and was co-hosted with Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT).

The conference, titled “From Convergence, via Translation, to the Bottom Line – Building Plastics into the Future”, offered a unique networking opportunity to regional Irish industry to meet with global industry leaders in order to explore new routes to higher profit margins through niche technological advances and new, sustainable, higher value market opportunities. Applied research active institutes, such as WIT, will act as the conduit for these new technology challenges to be realised.

Dr. Austin Coffey, Lecturer and Principal Investigator at WIT said, “The overall goal of the conference was to facilitate significant industrial interaction through networking, in order to identify real opportunities for partnering and collaboration. The challenges facing companies in core and new technology markets and the benefits of innovation clustering were explored throughout the day.”

More than 400 political leaders, state agencies, business people and industry experts were in attendance; including Mr. Bob Carmichael, former VP of Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson (Corp); Dr. Finbar Dolan, Technical Director of Lake Region Medical; Mr. Gerry McNally, Research Director of Northern Ireland Plastics Association; and Mr. Jon Ratzlaff, President of the International Society of Plastics Engineers, who said “This All-Ireland effort has the potential to open-up new opportunities and markets for Irish SMEs by partnering with global leaders, through networking with industry experts and using their guidance, leverage and advice.”

Paudie Coffey, T.D., commented “It is through industry led meetings like this, facilitated by knowledge providers such as WIT, that new and sustainable opportunities for jobs can be created which will drive our competitiveness to higher value and niche markets.”

The Conference took place at AIT on 4 March and at WIT on 6 March 2014.

Background Information
Over the last decade, plastics have become one of the most universally-used and multipurpose materials in the global economy. Today, plastics are utilised in more and more applications, allowing breakthroughs in diverse applications; from unblocking arteries, creating artificial corneas to harnessing the power of the wind. Plastics have enabled companies to produce better products faster and cheaper than ever before.

But where is the industry going next? The Economic crisis has demonstrated the importance of a vibrant export based industry for economic stability, employment, innovation and the international performance of not just the Irish economy but the economies of all developed nations. Recovery in in sight, with the emergence of high technology with a transdisciplinary new product focus in convergent technologies.

This conference was hosted by the International Society of Plastics Engineers, a professional global network of over 30,000 members. The purpose was to liaise and inform industry of the specific technical supports available to the greater plastics processing / manufacturing / design industry of Ireland through knowledge providers such as Waterford Institute of Technology. Master classes to industry in the field of plastics processing and testing, high end scientific analytical skills and specialised processing methods for the applied composites, medical devices and pharmaceutical sectors were held.

The Applied Polymer Technology (APT) Gateway, a national technology centre focused on all aspects of polymer research funded by Enterprise Ireland and located within Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), was also launched on the first day of the conference. The APT Gateway Centre will act as a central resource supporting SME and MNC companies in the Medical Device, Composites, Moulding, Pharmaceutical and Technology sectors.

Dr Austin Coffey, Lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology and President of the European Medical Polymers Division of the SPE and Dr Seán Lyons, Manager of the Applied Polymer Technologies Gateway in Athlone Institute of Technology were the conference organisers.