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AIT Researchers Awarded €2 Million for Advanced R&D Equipment

Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) researchers have received €2 million from Enterprise Ireland’s Capital Fund for highly specialist equipment this past year.

Building on the phenomenal success of last year’s application, researchers recently secured an additional €830,000 for cutting-edge research and development equipment for the institute’s two Enterprise Ireland technology gateways – APT and COMAND.

APT, which provides polymer technology solutions for companies in the medical, composite, recycling and pharmaceutical sectors and is housed within AIT’s Materials Research Institute, was awarded the bulk of the funding, €600,000.

The equipment, which has applications in the pharmaceutical and packaging industries, consists of a planetary roller extruder, a 3D solid imaging system and a scanning thermal microscope with nano thermal analysis capabilities.

The funding will further enable Athlone Institute of Technology to address the needs of Ireland’s €2 billion plastics industry through world-class consultancy, upskilling, and new research and development techniques.

“This funding will help us to support companies interested in trying out cutting-edge technologies and novel polymer techniques – all of which advances our industrial partners’ own innovation agendas,” Dr Noel Gately, APT gateway manager, explained.

“On top of that, these state-of-the-art technologies will also be used to upskill companies – whether that be through short term training courses, master’s degrees or PhDs – where they feel there is a need or a gap in their knowledge.”

Welcoming the funding, Dr Ian Major, a principle investigator within the Materials Research Institute, said: “Planetary extrusion compounding is a new addition to our services and will enable us to produce new compounds from heat-sensitive polymers – such as bio-sourced bioplastics.

“These new compounds can then be used in the production of biodegradable packaging and other green products. The technology can be also be utilised in other sectors, including medical and pharma, where heat-sensitive polymers are important materials.”

Gavin Keane, a research design engineer with CISD – the design arm of the Materials Research Institute, was also successful in the funding application for state-of-the-art R&D equipment.

“The new 3D solid imaging system, funded by Enterprise Ireland, will play a vital role in design, prototyping, and manufacturing services within AIT,” he explained. “Our design team is delighted with this opportunity to continue to grow at pace and offer our customers faster turnaround times in the newest materials 3D printing has to offer.”

“The significant funding received from Enterprise Ireland this past year is a huge endorsement of the work that our researchers are carrying out in support of local and national industry,” added Dr Declan Devine, director of the Materials Research Institute.

COMAND, which is an open access point for industry and is located within AIT’s Software Research Institute, has also been awarded €240,000 in capital funding to facilitate the purchase of an immersive extended reality (XR) suite with user experience sensing capabilities.

According to Dr Niall Murray, a leading researcher in the field of immersive technologies and a lecturer at AIT, the XR suite will allow for “understanding” via sensing in health, education, tourism, and manufacturing.

APT Athlone

Dr Murray, who is also a Science Foundation Ireland-funded investigator in the ADAPT and CONFIRM national research centres, says the cutting-edge technology will be of huge benefit to both industry and postgraduate students studying at the college.

AIT is one of ten higher education institutes to have secured funding under the €6 million Enterprise Ireland Capital Fund which aims to increase the levels of interactions between the technological higher education sector and industry.

The goal of the programme is to encourage more companies to engage in R&D, pilot manufacturing capability for new product/process development, enhanced technology validation and testing capabilities, test bed generation and enhanced training potential for key industry staff on emerging technologies.

Access to critical, leading-edge equipment and infrastructure is considered instrumental in helping industry build resilience and remain globally competitive – particularly in the face of challenges such as those posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The awardees of the Enterprise Ireland capital funding were selected through a rigorous evaluation process, based on eligibility criteria for the call which included a strong track record of industry engagement, a significant industrial need for the new equipment, and space to service and maintain the equipment according to international standards.

About Athlone Institute of Technology

Athlone Institute of Technology is a vibrant, contemporary third level institute with an applied, industry-focussed offering, world-class research and development capabilities, and state-of-the-art facilities. Winner of The Sunday Times Institute of the Year 2020 and 2018, AIT is Ireland’s top-ranked institute and is on track to become the country’s next technological university. AIT also tops Ireland’s official league table for research and was listed in U-Multirank’s Top 25 Performing Universities in the World for Interdisciplinary Research in 2018 and 2019. For information relating to the institute’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, visit www.ait.ie.

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