Bus group and university team up for new technology centre
An expanded engineering innovation centre is to be established at Queen's University in partnership with Wrights Group bus manufacturers.
The facility will be named after one of the company's founders, Dr William Wright.
Wrights Group has invested £300,000 in the centre - a figure matched by the Belfast university. Queen's said £6 million could be invested in the centre in the future.
The key aim of the facility within Queen's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering is to promote research and advanced engineering to facilitate the creation and development of technologies suitable for today's bus industry.
This year marks the Wrights Group's 70th birthday.
The university said the name of the centre recognised Dr Wright's contribution to industry in Northern Ireland and his "relentless drive" in the promotion and development of innovation and new technology to reduce fossil fuel use and environmentally harmful emissions.
Currently housed in temporary accommodation, a new permanent premises for the centre has been identified within Queen's campus and is scheduled to open in the summer of next year.
Seven staff are already working on a range of research projects linked to the bus industry, including drive cycle modelling, thermal modelling, vibration-related fatigue and life-cycle analysis, with focus on issues such as cost of manufacturing, maintenance and operation.
Steering- and suspension-based research and development are also to be undertaken .
Dr Wright CBE founded the original company with his father in 1946 and next year he will celebrate his 90th birthday.
"We have a long established relationship with Queen's University and are pleased to be involved in the further expansion of the technology centre," he said.
"This is a new and exciting facility that will continue to stimulate fresh thinking and encourage innovation.
"At Wrightbus we believe our 'special relationship' with Queen's University sets us apart from many other manufacturers within our industry. This is important work that helps us to not only attract and nurture the best engineering talent, it will also lead to the identification of cutting edge projects that will ultimately become viable commercial developments. This applies not only for the bus sector but also for the wider transport industry.
"Over the years we have demonstrated our commitment to the design and build of cleaner and greener buses and are increasingly at the forefront of electric technology in today's bus industry and as such, we are very well placed to work with the team on this important initiative."
Queen's vice-chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston, said: "We are delighted and honoured to name our technology centre after Dr Wright, a well-respected figure in the Northern Ireland business community and the global bus industry.
"Queen's partnership with Wrightbus is one of our longest standing industry collaborations.
"Together we are leading the way in the development of some of the world's most advanced hybrid engines.
"The new William Wright Technology Centre will ensure continued development of even better and cleaner environmental technology for advanced passenger transport in the UK and around the world.
"It will also give our students the opportunity to work closely with Wrightbus to develop their technical, research and employability skills.
"Queen's is the UK's leading institution for research commercialisation. Our people work with businesses and industry groups around the world on the research, development and commercialisation of new technologies in areas as diverse as healthcare, food and cyber security.
"Like our partnership with Wrightbus, these collaborations deliver world-class research that brings commercial, economic and societal benefits to Northern Ireland and further afield."
Stormont economy minister Simon Hamilton welcomed the announcement.
"This executive's ambition is to transform the Northern Ireland economy into one underpinned by innovation and creativity," he said.
"The evidence shows that businesses are more productive when they innovate and collaborate. Those businesses are more inclined to export and employ more highly qualified people.
"Wrightbus has a proven track record in innovation and creativity and is a familiar sight on the streets across the world. Queen's University has a commitment to excellence in research and innovation and making a positive global impact.
"I commend this venture, which will build on and further promote our history of innovation and entrepreneurship and assist in transforming our economy."