£7m centre of engineering 'to keep Northern Ireland at cutting edge'
Complex will focus on renewable energy and aerospace, says Foster
A new £7m engineering centre in Belfast is set to help Northern Ireland compete with global leaders in aerospace and renewable energy.
The advanced engineering competence centre was announced by Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster at the Farnborough International Airshow.
The centre will be based at the existing Northern Ireland advanced composites and engineering centre (NIACE).
NIACE has already brought together firms like Bombardier, Wrightbus and Thales with academics from the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast to investigate innovations and turn prototypes into commercial products.
A spokeswoman for planemaker Bombardier, which has a huge base beside NIACE, welcomed the new centre: "It is vital that local companies in the engineering sector continue to advance their capabilities and develop new, innovative engineering solutions that will enable them to grow their business in high-value products and services."
Bombardier has already pioneered the manufacture of composite wings for aircraft. It helps employ thousands of people in the supply chain, making components for their jets and turbo-props from alternative materials.
John Toner, group chairman and chief executive of Williams Industrial Services in Mallusk, welcomed the opportunity for sharing knowledge at the centre.
His company makes machines for Bombardier and is a participating company in NIACE.
"We have developed a range of aerospace manufacturing machinery for Bombardier, which is a world leader," he said.
"Our products are million pound machines. We have four of them at Bombardier facilities in Belfast with another four planned to go in and thanks to the collaborative environment at NIACE, we are now able to offer that same technology globally."
He added: "Innovation is key to our business and while we are a decent size, being in Northern Ireland it is hard for us to compete with the likes of Boeing and Airbus. This clustering of knowledge helps push forward new processes and to build a strong knowledge-based economy, of which aerospace is a vital part, we need to work together."
Belfast firm LPE is a 3D printing company, which helps make prototypes for the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors, and will use the new centre.
Tom Walls, managing director, said the company now wanted to move from product development into making parts.
"We are a company that has been established for 20 years, but 90% of our business comes from outside of Northern Ireland.
"We have been at the leading edge of 3D printing for many decades and now we are trying to find new applications for our work and the opportunity to benefit from new development work that we previously couldn't access.
"With our technology, once people become familiar with what we do, they can develop it it in ways that were previously not thought of."
The advanced engineering competence centre at Titanic Quarter is being funded by £5m of research and development assistance from Invest NI and a £1.8m investment from industry. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said it would maximise engineering knowledge and skills in Northern Ireland and help keep it at the forefront of the sector.