Building a future in manufacturing

The nature of the manufacturing industry is changing. UL Links explores how University of Limerick is meeting those challenges.

It is no secret that the manufacturing industry took a serious hit in the aftermath of the economic collapse. With the worst of the recession now over and a lesson learned that building, buying and selling property is not a sustainable ground for any economic policy, Ireland is beginning to focus on industries with output.

Currently, the manufacturing sector employs 205,700 people directly and up to 400,000 indirectly. With the focus on employment, innovation and industry, the resurgence in manufacturing is taking a different path to previous generations.

Technologies such as automation, autonomous robots, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing are transforming the way manufacturing facilities are designed and supported. This innovation, known as the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), requires different skillsets than before. With the demand in place, the emergence of Industry 4.0 has led to a skills shortage for companies like SL Controls.

Established in 2002, SL Controls has evolved into an internationally-recognised industry leader in Equipment Systems Integration and support. The organisation works with companies in the pharma, medical device, healthcare, food and beverage sectors, which require high-level expertise in industrial IT integration and regulatory compliance.

Industry 4.0 requires the creation of ‘hybrid products’, which consist of both products and services. By leveraging IoT and cloud technologies, along with key equipment partners, SL Controls is at the forefront of creating these hybrid products for the manufacturing sector. It is also developing the industry’s understanding of Industry 4.0 and ensuring that engineering graduates have the necessary skills.

The University of Limerick recently worked with SL Controls to develop a Masters of Engineering in Mechatronics to meet market needs. The first of its kind in Europe, graduates get to work with the latest in robot and information technology at the cutting-edge of manufacturing.

“Because of the recession, there is now a scarcity of experienced manufacturing engineers, particularly in mechatronics/automation. These technologies are the heart of Industry 4.0,” says Dr Seamus Gordon, Mechatronics course director and a key player, along with Dr Huw Lewis of the Graduate School, in a collaborative effort with Shane Loughlin, CTO of SL Controls, in the development of the programme.

Mr Loughlin says it is hugely important that third-level institutions can stay on the pulse of this industry.

“We have increasingly found that graduates are not properly prepared to enter the workplace, as education trends have fallen behind real-world advances in a rapidly evolving manufacturing industry. The demand created by the increase in multinationals, coupled with the fact we are now entering the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), means we need to act now to safeguard the future of engineering in Ireland. At SL Controls this is our priority and we want to ensure we are doing all we can to uphold Ireland’s reputation of educating top quality engineers.

“It is vital that all third level institutions are moving at the same pace as industry and properly responding to the changes. There is no room for complacency, as we will only get left behind,” he adds.

Aimed at engineering students and those already working in automation and manufacturing who want to upskill, students have the opportunity to work on a replica manufacturing line, to integrate complex data and run tangible work scenarios in the automation lab, under expert tuition. This hands-on type of learning is the ideal environment for creating more skilled and proficient graduates, who are capable and experienced enough to go straight into industry.

Industry 4.0 is set to create exciting career opportunities for graduates in Ireland and across the globe, with job prospects in everything from engineering, project management and system architecture. By strategically investing in education, in particular in programmes like the M.Eng in Mechatronics, Ireland is poised to capitalise on this unique opportunity.   

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