The Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest (TUS) will shortly commence work on a new polymer centre of excellence, valued at €10 million, on its Athlone campus.
The two-phase project, which is due to break ground early next year and conclude in March 2023, will comprise a 1,330 square metre extension and refurbishment of existing facilities, including R&D and office space.
The new polymer centre will form part of the university’s STEM Quadrangle, which links TUS’s existing €36 million state-of-the-art engineering facility, its forthcoming STEM building, and its Applied Polymer Technologies (APT) technology gateway.
APT, which is based in TUS’s Materials Research Institute, was recently awarded €4 million in HEA funding to renovate its existing polymer R&D facilities, which provides polymer technology solutions for companies in the medical, composite, sustainability, and pharmaceutical sectors.
A further €4 million in Enterprise Ireland capital equipment funding has been awarded to the technology gateway since 2019, with more than €1.8 million of that allocated in 2021 alone.
This coupled with donations of equipment from engineering and polymer suppliers, capital equipment investment by Enterprise Ireland into COMAND, TUS’s other technology gateway in Athlone, and the university’s own projected investment of €1.5 million brings the total value of the new polymer R&D centre to more than €10 million.
“We’re delighted to get this continued investment into our polymer research capabilities. Building on our strong heritage as a national polymer research centre of excellence, this new facility will further strengthen our offering to industry,” APT centre manager Dr Noel Gately explained.
“In addition to doubling our existing footprint, we are also enhancing our analytical capabilities in our contract services offering and enhancing our design and processing equipment right across the board.”
Among the leading-edge R&D equipment to be housed in the new facility is a crystallography suite, a scanning electron microscope with katana microtome, a circular plastics suite, an industry 4.0 lab and a suite of autonomous mobile robots.
According to Dr Declan Devine, director of the Materials Research Institute at TUS, the new facility will enable TUS to further unlock its latent research capacity and better reflect the world-class polymer research already underway at the technological university.
“Our mission is to train and produce highly skilled polymer and biomedical engineers and having the facilities and capabilities to do that through this new state-of-the-art facility and equipment will be a massive advantage.”
He continued, “It will also open up more industries to us – a wider client base, helping us attract more high calibre researchers and aiding us in developing strategic partnerships across the different sectors, ultimately leading to increased jobs and prosperity for the wider Midlands region.”
TUS President Professor Vincent Cunnane welcomed the continued investment and called polymer R&D an area of strategic importance to TUS.
“In our journey to becoming a technological university we doubled our number of research-active students, which is a fantastic achievement, and we want to continue increasing our numbers and our research output. This new state-of-the-art facility will allow us both the space for additional talent and for more R&D to be carried out,” he said.
“Polymer engineering is a key enabling technology – it’s hugely important in the MedTech, construction and clean energy sectors – and through the MRI and APT, TUS is providing research solutions to industrial-based problems, among them the development of recycling technologies and bio-based plastics. This additional investment into our capabilities will enable us to drive Ireland’s national polymer research agenda to the next level.”
APT has been at the forefront of delivering technology solutions to Irish industry since the inception of Enterprise Ireland’s technology gateway programme in 2013, helping companies develop new products and processes and assisting them in dealing with the dual impacts of Brexit and COVID-19.
“Since 2013, APT has completed over 825 projects with companies to a value of over €5.3 million. These levels of spending clearly demonstrate the value companies see from working with APT and gaining access to their vast knowledge base and state-of-the-art equipment suites,” explained Mark Whelan, manager of the Enterprise Ireland technology gateway network.
“The level of industry engagement was key in the awarding of significant capital equipment funding over the past three years to ensure both the APT and COMAND technology gateways in Athlone stay at the forefront of technology; TUS should be congratulated for its success in securing this €10 million, and I eagerly await my first visit to the centre of excellence.”
In addition to its research and development capabilities, TUS’s new polymer centre of excellence will act as a showcase facility for industry and will feature R&D equipment from leading injection moulding and polymer processing companies like Sumitomo Demag, TSM, Arburg, and Dynisco/EMC.
The construction works, which will commence on January 7, 2022, and span 14 months, will be undertaken by Bourke Builders Ltd of Ballina, Co. Mayo.