Ulster University is partnering with Manufacturing & Engineering Growth & Advancement (MEGA) to provide Northern Ireland’s first degree-level apprenticeship in Manufacturing & Engineering.

This first-of-its-kind course, funded by the Department for the Economy, is now underway and represents a new chapter in higher education for the Magee campus.

This new offering aims to create a pipeline of skilled talent fit for industry’s needs now and into the future, ensuring Northern Ireland is in a position to maximise the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution.

An alternative to the traditional degree route, it will see apprentices employed from day one. This means participants incur no cost in their higher-level education; in fact, they earn a salary.

Robotics, artificial intelligence and digitalisation will be among the key themes studied within the new programme offered by the School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems at Magee.

Apprentices who train at Magee will also benefit from access to Centres of Excellence such as the Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA) and the Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL) that are being developed as part of the emerging Derry and Strabane City Deal, and which will become a destination for Research and Development for industry partners.

Derry-based FAST Technologies have embarked on a “very exciting chapter” after receiving a major investment from the Magherafelt-based Bloc Group.

The deal between Bloc and FAST (Factory Automation & Systems Technologies) brings together two export-focused manufacturing operations which excel in design and engineering.

Based in the Skeoge Industrial Estate, FAST provides bespoke technical solutions to a global client base including DuPont, Unilever, Caterpillar and Seagate.

Welcoming the deal with Bloc – who specialise in blinds and skylight systems, and recently moved into healthcare solutions – FAST co-founder Eamonn Lynch, said: “We believe this represents a new and very exciting chapter for both companies and our combined workforce.

“Bloc’s support and investment will enable us to consolidate and strengthen our offering and help FAST rise to the next level in terms of opportunity and growth.”

Magherafelt-based Bloc Group is further expanding its NI operation through a major investment in FAST Technologies in Londonderry. The deal is significant for both Bloc and FAST (Factory Automation & Systems Technologies) bringing together two highly innovative, export-focused manufacturing operations which excel in design and engineering.

Colin Spence, Technical sales director, FAST Technologies, Eamonn Lynch, co-founder FAST Technologies, Cormac Diamond, managing director, Bloc and Ciara McGonnell Cushnahan, financial director, Bloc

FAST provides bespoke technical solutions to its global client base which includes DuPont, Unilever, Caterpillar and Seagate.

Speaking about the new development and what it means for both businesses, Cormac Diamond, managing director of Bloc the deal will enable them to ‘helping organisations streamline and enhance their business processes and operations’.

He continued: “The level of expertise which FAST brings in terms of ‘best-in-class’ manufacturing and automation, complements and furthers Bloc’s long term growth strategy.

“Set against the current climate of supply chain challenges, labour and skills shortages, we view FAST as a solutions provider to the wider business market.

“It has a proven track record in the application of automation across all sectors and industries, and together we will take this expertise to the next level, ultimately helping organisations streamline and enhance their business processes and operations.”

In addition to its impact at a regional level, Cormac believes the synergies between Bloc and FAST will underpin the continued success of both brands and offer great economic potential globally.

He explained: “In bringing together two locally-owned organisations that share a common culture and philosophy we’re able to seize joint opportunities, bring new ideas to life and create solutions which deliver positive outcomes at both business and consumer levels.”

Welcoming the deal, Eamonn Lynch of FAST Technologies, added: “We believe this represents a new and very exciting chapter for both companies and our combined workforce.

“Bloc’s support and investment will enable us to consolidate and strengthen our offering and help FAST rise to the next level in terms of opportunity and growth.”

The FAST team will continue to operate as a stand-alone manufacturing operation at its existing site in Londonderry’s Skeoge Industrial Estate. Co-founder Eamonn Lynch and technical sales director Colin Spence will also continue to head up FAST’s management team.

Bloc are a global manufacturing and design company based in Magherafelt with divisions in Belfast and The Netherlands and is renowned as one of the UK’s leading designers and manufacturers of innovative blinds and skylight systems and recently pivoted into the healthcare solutions industry.

Employing over 250 staff, the company was established in 2009 and consists of Bloc Blinds, Bloc Healthcare Solutions and Bloc Labs.

Kieran Kennedy, former Managing Director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Company, is set to share his innovation insights in an upcoming webinar.

The October 14 ‘Playing the Innovation Game’ event is the second in the Innovation Stories webinar series, which follow the signing of the historic Derry & Strabane City Deal in February, and also come as Northern Ireland embarks on a Decade of Innovation, set out in the recent publication of the Department for the Economy’s 10X Economy paper.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Ulster University are collaborating on the series in which City Deal partners select case studies from the region, discuss what innovation means within a business, offer and general advice on embracing digital technologies.

Rosalind Young, Council’s investment manager, said: “Through the visionary Derry and Strabane City Deal, a whole new innovation eco-system will develop here in the region. The people behind the City Deal are inviting businesses to hear best practice and to leave with an idea of how they will play their part in the Decade of Innovation that is ahead.”

For further information and to book go to https://londonderrychamber.co.uk/events/innovation-for-growth-playing-the-innovation-game-14-october/

NI Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has announced the first two of four Assured Skills Collaborative Welding Academies at North West Regional College.

The first two Assured Skills Academies will see 24 successful applicants receive industry-standard welding training during a five-week course at the college’s Limavady and Springtown campuses, followed by two weeks of consolidation training at one of eight participating engineering companies.

Applicants who complete the Academy are guaranteed an interview for a welding position at one of the companies.

Sinead Hawkins, Business Skills Manager at NWRC, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for new fresh talent to progress in the industry by addressing the skills shortage. This will have a positive impact on the North West City Region’s local economy by feeding into local business anchors. We are committed to providing a skills guarantee for a post-Covid economy and future labour market.”

A nanotechnology consortium to develop new technology for medical devices, communication and data storage has been awarded £42.4m by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund.

Smart Nano NI is led by Seagate Technology in collaboration with North West Regional College, Analytics Engines, Causeway Sensors, Cirdan Imaging, Digital Catapult NI, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Yelo.

The funding award, which was made after a highly competitive, UK-wide process, will further consolidate the region’s position as a global leader for excellence in nanotechnologies, and provide a lasting economic impact.  

The UKRI investment will help the consortium scale up capacity in device manufacturing, and underpin and develop hundreds of jobs across the sector. The total project value, including leveraged funding from other sources, is £63.9m.

Smart Nano NI’s Dr Mark Gubbins said of the investment: “We can now advance Northern Ireland’s niche capability around smart nano manufacturing and world-leading knowledge in photonics to create a self-sustaining local industry. It allows us to capitalise on the combined expertise of our companies and the availability of trained researchers and resources across our academic institutions”.

Health Minister Robin Swann has officially opened a Campsie-based manufacturing facility supplying vital PPE to health workers.

NorthWest Medical has created 25 new jobs after being awarded a £6.5m contract to supply Type IIR face masks to the health service in Northern Ireland.

Minister Swann said: “Demand for PPE has soared during the pandemic with many health systems around the world facing challenges in securing stocks of protective equipment. In Northern Ireland, we saw local manufacturers and businesses quickly diversify, recognising that their skills, expertise and assembly lines could be repurposed and they too could join the fight against this virus.”

Director of NorthWest Medical, Gavin Killeen, added: “We are exploring how we can move into other areas so that we can continue to create employment locally and at the same time support our health service by providing a resilient supply line.”