Business Grapevine: Kostal robots project a feather in the cap of Irish manufacturing

Kieran O’Donoghue, assembly and test manager, Kostal Ireland, and Joseph Walsh, head of the School of STEM and Lero researcher at IT Tralee. Photo: Domnick Walsh

By Joe Dermody

Flexible, modular robotic assembly lines that can quickly adjust to meet production demands could soon give Ireland an edge in manufacturing.

Work has already begun on an €800,000 R&D programme to develop autonomous robots for “the assembly line of the future”.

This innovative project brings together researchers at software research institute Lero, IT Tralee and UL — working with automotive electrical systems manufacturer Kostal.

Funding for the research is being backed by Science Foundation Ireland.

The partners will develop autonomous systems for Kostal’s power electronic products for electric vehicles at its plant in Abbeyfeale. Kostal employs 900 people in Ireland at its two plants in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, and Mallow, Co Cork.

Central to the project will be the development of KostalRovers, smart autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIVs) — or robots — that will operate independently on the manufacturing floor. The broader impact for the reputation of Irish manufacturing could be significant.

“There is a common misconception that Ireland, due to its high cost base, cannot be a manufacturing centre. The reality is that the development of increased automation technologies such as this Kostal programme can drive the creation of more profitable and efficient manufacturing in Ireland,” said Joseph Walsh, head of the School of STEM and Lero researcher at IT Tralee, head of the programme.

This point is echoed by Daniel Riordan, manager of ImaR Technology Gateway, IT Tralee. While the project is built around Kostal’s goals, the intellectual property from the research will remain with the colleges and could see the knowledge adapted for other manufacturing operations.

“Traditionally, a production line is one long line,” said Mr Riordan. “You have various processes linked together and something comes out the other end. What we’re working on for Kostal is a huge modular manufacturing system which will allow them to monitor autonomous vehicles as they ferry products between production systems, rather than all of the systems being linked.

“That way you can bring in extra production systems, or drop out production systems. For instance, when demand goes up, you can bring in extra production systems. Or you can drop production systems out when demand goes down, or if a production line is stopped.

This will be invaluable to Kostal, who will be commercialising the project. It will also put Ireland to the forefront in this area. It will be of great benefit to Irish manufacturing.

The researchers will look at the challenges associated with the safe navigation and control of 20-plus AIVs as they operate on a single manufacturing floor.

“This will require adoption of the latest automation technologies such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT),” said Thomas Newe, Lero researcher at UL.

In order to achieve this, the research will include the sourcing and development of cost-effective mobile autonomous adaptive systems that are capable of robotic, autonomous operations.

The second research strand will include advanced data analytics, machine learning and scheduling using data from an array of sensors, created with a view to performing multi-modal predictions for the AIVs.

Kieran O’Donoghue, assembly and test manager, Kostal Ireland, added: “While automated assembly and robotics already exist, our goal is to develop a more flexible spoke system implementing AIVs, to be known as KostalRovers. These will provide the flexibility to independently distribute work across lines to better manage volume fluctuations and multiple products compared to the traditional fixed linear production line.”

President of IT Tralee, Dr Oliver Murphy, said: “For the past century, employment opportunities created by this progressive, family-owned business have been a great boost for Kerry and the south west region. For IT Tralee, this means facilitating work placement students seeking hands-on industry experience and permanent employment for IT Tralee graduates.

We’re thrilled to further this relationship with Kostal via this R&D programme and look forward to collaborating on innovative industry solutions.

Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government, added: “Programmes such as this will boost the knowledge base in Ireland in the important area of flexible autonomous systems, which will ultimately bring economic benefit. Lero, the Irish Software SFI Research Centre combines the expertise in sensor research in IT Tralee and machine learning from the University of Limerick to address the requirements of the autonomous systems community in Ireland.”

This Kostal project is the third major announcement this year by Lero on research into autonomous systems.

In February of this year, Lero researchers based at NUI Galway announced a driverless cars’ programme with Valeo to help AIVs to better navigate in complex, real world conditions using sensor signal processing technology.

Back in January, the Lero research team at IT Tralee announced a new €2m R&D project with Dairymaster. This project aims to develop autonomous systems to ease workload on the dairy farm.

Gender diversity key to business success

The critical role of gender diversity in the workplace is the topic of a conference to be hosted by the Human Resources Research Centre (HRRC) at UCC on Monday, September 3.

Professor Carol Kulik, University of South Australia.

Carol Kulik, research professor of human resource management, University of South Australia Business School, will be the keynote speaker. Prof Kulik’s published articles

include one study which contradicts an old belief that high gender diversity leads

to high turnover of staff.

“As turnover is costly, we tested the following: a main effect prediction derived from demography theory, and a moderating effect prediction derived from the relational framework,” wrote Prof Kulik.

“Data on 198 publicly listed organisations were collected in a HR decision maker survey and archival databases. The results indicate higher gender diversity leads to lower turnover in organisations with many gender-focused policies and practices.

Findings suggest organisations can lower their turnover rates by increasing their gender diversity and by implementing gender-focused policies and practices.

Discussions at the UCC event will address fundamental questions about gender diversity, such as what value can organisations realistically expect from higher levels of gender diversity, particularly in management roles.

The event will also discuss which management practices are most likely to increase gender diversity and how can organisations leverage career pipelines to deliver gender diversity across all organisational levels.

The HRRC was launched earlier this year by Cork University Business School, as a bridge between academia and industry.

The centre’s researchers have committed to making their work accessible and relevant to industry and are seeking to form dynamic partnerships with groups to foster a two-way learning process through collaboration.

Ronan Carbery said: “A great deal of discussion now surrounds how effective human resource management can contribute to a successful, sustainable organisation — where strategic objectives are realised.”

Killarney Racecourse plans bright future

Killarney Race Company has appointed a new team of executives to implement new developments as well as to maximise the potential of the scenic Killarney Racecourse.

Killarney Racecourse executive team: Megan Daly-Tyrrell, Padraig Bruton, Philip O’Brien and Jennifer Pyne. Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

“Our new team will bring real focus going forward and we have very high expectations. It is a very exciting time for all involved,” said Gerard Coughlan, chair of Killarney Race Company.

The appointments include a new racing manager, a new financial controller and a new conference and events manager.

The new racing manager, Philip O’Brien, was a successful amateur and professional jockey.

The new financial controller, Jennifer Pyne, spent four years with Curran and Moore Accountants in Killarney and the past nine years with Monex Financial Services in Killarney.

Megan Daly Tyrell, the new conference and events manager, spent the past seven years managing key accounts for the INEC and Killarney Convention Centre. She has also worked in the former Malton Hotel (now the Great Southern Killarney) and The Brehon Hotel.

Law firm's two new partners

JRAP O’Meara Solicitors in Cork has appointed Mairead Ni Laoire as commercial property partner, and Cormac O’Regan as litigation partner.

Cormac O’Regan, litigation partner, and Mairead Ni Laoire, commercial property partner, JRAP O’Meara Solicitors in Cork.

Mairead Ni Laoire deals with a very comprehensive range of property legal transactions — including the acquisition, the structuring, financing and disposal of mixed commercial and residential developments and specialises in advising receivers from appointment through to the sale of assets.

Cormac O’Regan deals with all areas of litigation, with a special focus on commercial, banking, and insolvency disputes.

He also provides general advices to banking clients and insolvency practitioners across a very wide variety of contentious matters.

John McLaughlin, the managing partner of JRAP O’ Meara, said: “Mairead and Cormac are two highly experienced and respected lawyers and are valuable members of the team here at JRAP O’Meara. Their promotion will further strengthen our commercial and dispute resolution offering to clients and our plans for continued growth.”

JRAP O’Meara is a commercial law firm created by the recent merger of two well established Cork firms — namely Barry M O’Meara & Son and James Riordan and Partners. The founders saw room for synergy between the two already successful Cork law firms.

The firm offers services in commercial law and litigation matters, notably commercial agreements, employment law, dispute resolution, banking, insolvency and property transactions.

The firm’s offices are based at South Mall, Cork.


Olga Barry

  • Olga Barry has been appointed as festival director of Kilkenny Arts Festival; from September, once Eugene Downes has concluded his five-year tenure leading the 45th annual festival this August.

    She is currently the festival’s producer; she has previously held senior roles with Crash Ensemble, the Festival of World Cultures and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra as well as being in demand as an independent producer, serving as the overall project manager for the Ireland 2016/RTÉ Reflecting the Rising event during the country’s centenary celebrations, as well as being producer for New Music Dublin and project manager for RTÉ for the inaugural Cruinniú na Cásca in 2017.

    Eugene Downes said: “Olga has been central to the Festival’s success over the past five years. I’m thrilled to be handing over to such a gifted and respected arts leader.”

  • Dorothy Halligan

  • Dorothy Halligan has been appointed senior manager on Bank of Ireland’s Corporate Banking new business origination team.

    She began her career when she joined BoI as a graduate in 2008, with a BComm from UCD.

    She joined the bank’s corporate team six years ago and has managed a diverse client portfolio, created strong relationships with key domestic and US customers.

    She qualified as a chartered certified accountant this year.

    Nikki Canavan, senior director, BoI Corporate Banking, said Dorothy’s extensive experience with domestic and US-based clients, supporting their lending and operational requirements, will prove invaluable in her new role.

  • Sinéad Kilkelly

  • Sinéad Kilkelly is to join Bus Éireann at the end of August as chief people officer, reporting directly to the chief executive.

    She joins Bus Éireann after nine years as VP for people services with Etihad Aviation Group in Abu Dhabi, a key role in the HR strategy for the Etihad group of 25,000 employees.

    She also brings considerable HR experience with RBS (as EMEA HR integration prog-ramme manager), with Ulster Bank Group and with Intel Ireland.

    She previously lived in Australia where she worked for the CFA emergency services in Victoria.

    She holds an MBA from TCD and is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

  • Frank O'Donoghue

  • Frank O’Donogue has been named as district governor of Lions Clubs International in Ireland.

    Installed at the Lions Clubs International Convention in Las Vegas, USA, he was presented with his insignia by outgoing District Governor Teresa Dineen in Clontarf Castle Hotel, Dublin.

    He has given 40 years of service to Lions Clubs in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and Dublin.

    He headed a Lions District Alcohol Awareness programme and most recently served as Vice District Governor.

    During his career in the UK and Ireland, he has been a town planner and management consultant.

    He will now act as leader of more than 2,500 members of 108 Lions Clubs in Ireland.

  • Katie Molony

  • Katie Molony has been appointed as chief digital officer, global, with cross-platform digital media company Irish Studio, whose brands include Irish Tatler, U Magazine, food&, Ireland of the Welcomes, Irish Tatler Man, Irish Central, FarePlate, the Genealogy Event, Qinetic, British Heritage Travel and Auto Ireland.

    She has previously held senior roles in Irish and UK media companies, including group CEO of Maximum Media / Joe Media UK and marketing manager of The Irish Times.

    Backed by Studio Venture Capital, Irish Studio has ambitious plans for future growth in Ireland and across the United States.

  • Donal Lowry

  • Donal Lowry has been named as head of asset management with Acumen, the full-service aircraft asset manager with a global platform.

    He brings 40 years’ experience in aviation, primarily in airline and leasing. He has held senior roles with leasing companies including ELIX Aviation Capital as head of technical, DAE Capital as senior technical advisor and ORIX Aviation in director roles in Singapore.

    His spent 27 years with Aer Lingus in senior airworthiness and technical roles.

    He has also trained as an aircraft engineer and has held licences and approvals on both Boeing and Airbus aircraft as well as serving as chairman of the Dublin Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

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