Engineers Ireland's Thomond Region developed a series of events known as 'Industry in our Region' in 2017 in response to a desire among engineers working in industry to share knowledge and experience across industry.
The events bring together engineers from different industries to give presentations on their businesses and with companies hosting the event and offering tours of their facility to attendees.
The presentations by each company include information on their main products and markets, technologies and process deployed, technical and business challenges, areas of best practice and topics of interest for knowledge sharing.
Since January 2018, more than 15 different companies in Thomond region, from a wide variety of industries, have participated in the 'Industry in our Region' series.
Building on this success and with a desire to collaborate with other regions, the Thomond region decided to reach out to other regions to host an event outside of Thomond.
Our first collaborative event took place on 10th December 2019 with An Riocht region who helped to organise visits to Dairymaster and Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd.
The regional committees sponsored buses from Limerick and Tralee to transport participants to the companies. There was strong interest in the event with more than 40 participants taking part.
The event began at 9.45am in Dairymaster and following lunch in Tralee, the group travelled to Liebherr Container Cranes in Killarney.
Our host at Dairymaster was Dr John Daly, research and innovation manager, who kindly laid on a breakfast reception for the visitors.
Professor Edmond Harty, CEO at Dairymaster, then gave a very informative overview of its products, markets and their business philosophy. This was followed by a very enlightening and engaging facility tour led by Dr Daly and a number of engineers.
Dairymaster is a multi-award-winning Irish company that has become a world leader in the development and manufacture of dairy technology.
It was founded in 1968 by Ned Harty in Causeway, Co Kerry, and now has operations in the UK, German, the Netherlands and the USA.
It exports products such as milking equipment, automatic scrapers, automatic feeders, milk cooling tanks and animal health and fertility monitoring systems to customers in 40 countries.
Dairymaster has been identified as one of the key players in Ireland’s IoT ecosystem and has won numerous innovation awards for the new developments it has introduced to the dairy industry.
Dairymaster has a strong history of collaborative research with partners such as Teagasc, UCD, IT Tralee as well as LERO and the University of Limerick.
From design to manufacture and from marketing to commissioning, the headquarters in Causeway is home to a broad range of disciplines, with a philosophy of continuous development of internal manufacturing capability.
Dairymaster employs 350 people in its facility in Co Kerry working on a range of activities including:
• Mechanical, electrical and civil engineering design | AR and VR modelling | 3D printing
• Software development: embedded | mobile | cloud | web | ERP
• Data analytics
• Electronic design
• Tool design | tool making
• Injection moulding
• Electrical and electronic production | SMT
• 2D and 3D laser cutting
• Robotic forming
• Robotic MiG/TiG & Laser welding
• Milking parlour and climatic test facilities
• Digital marketing | digital media production
• Installation and service
Dairymaster has always had a strong commitment to R&D, and the engineers benefit from the diverse range of disciplines in the team.
Meanwhile the installation and aftersales services provide the opportunity for ongoing interactions with customers which, coupled with customer support and constant monitoring of product performance in the marketplace, give the company an up-to-the-minute understanding of all aspects of the industry as it evolves.
Increased demand for Dairymaster’s products is largely due to its development teams’ problem-solving techniques and methodologies, which have been honed over almost five decades of R&D intensive activity in all aspects of dairy farming and dairy herd management.
Farmers value the high-performance capabilities of Dairymaster equipment and the technologically advanced solutions that make dairy farming more profitable by reducing long-term costs and labour inputs.
Farmers also appreciate that better products can improve animal welfare. For example, Dairymaster’s milking systems milk cows and goats in a more natural way – and faster – and thus ensure better udder health.
Dairymaster are looking to the farm of the future where digitisation takes dairying to a whole new level through individualised monitoring and management of each animal and piece of equipment.
The expertise in technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT and digital twins will enable Dairymaster to provide the farmer with automated decision making, recommendations and insights for optimising their operation, and ultimately making the dairy farm more profitable, enjoyable and sustainable.
It was a challenge to finish up in Dairymaster before lunch time as there was so much of interest to see. Back on the buses it was off to Tralee for a delightful lunch.
Following lunch, we continued on to Liebherr which is just outside Killarney. Jeremiah Flynn, formerly chief mechanical engineer and senior training consultant at Liebherr hosted our visit at Liebherr.
We started with an H&S briefing and then proceeded on an extensive facility tour across the 50 acre site which has more than 16 acres of extensive buildings to house the large fabrication and production activities.
Liebherr (Ireland) Ltd was founded by Hans Liebherr in 1958. It was the first Liebherr factory set up outside of Germany. Initially Large tower cranes were manufactured in Killarney, and for many years, Liebherr built the world’s largest tower cranes in Killarney.
In 1967, manufacturing of container gantry cranes for the new container handling industry commenced, initially for the Irish and UK markets, but subsequently spreading worldwide.
To keep up with a continued demand for container cranes, a new company, Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd was set up in 1972.
This company is now responsible within the Liebherr group for worldwide marketing, design, manufacture, delivery, erection and servicing of ship to shore container cranes (STS), rail mounted gantry cranes (RMG), rubber tyre gantry cranes (RTG) and straddle carriers, with Liebherr container cranes in operation on every continent.
Today the company employs more than 800 staff, and is one of the largest employers in Kerry.
Increased consumer demand worldwide and a desire for cheaper goods has led to larger container vessels and a push for increased efficiencies.
This in turn has driven container crane development and in meeting this demand Liebherr has supplied some of the largest and most advanced container cranes in the world.
Liebherr ship to shore container cranes operate daily on the world’s largest container vessels. Various levels of automation and productivity aids are found on Liebherr container cranes depending on the customer’s requirements.
A demonstration of Liebherr’s expertise and efforts to move its into an autonomous and connected world,took place recently when a Liebherr rubber tyre gantry crane based at Liebherr’s test bed in Killarney was operated remotely and in real time by operators based in one of the Liebherr factories located in Rostock in north Germany.
The Liebherr Remote Operator Station (ROS) has been ergonomically designed by Liebherr Container Cranesand is fully configurable to provide operators with a comfortable and productive work environment whether sitting or standing.
The ROS features custom designed software and intuitive graphical interfaces to allow for ease of use and operation.
The ROS will be used in automated environments for exception handling and has been designed to provide full remote driving of all Liebherr container cranes, so drivers operate the crane from the office environment with all of the normal driving functions, driver aids and safety functions that would be in the cab.
The remote operators initiated automation procedures and watched as the RTG in Killarney carried a container from point A to point B, where the operator resumed manual control and placed or picked up the container.
In addition to the ROS station, a live video stream of the RTG was fed to a large multi-screen video wall where it was possible to watch the RTG in action in real-time.
Liebherr has demonstrated its readiness for the next steps as we move into a world where globally interconnected devices and systems become the norm.
Further work on automation continues, and some of Liebherr’s current customer projects involve the creation of completely new automation technologies.
This innovative development requires a multi-disciplinary team with input from all engineering departments, from structural through to mechanical, electrical and automation to create completely novel technologies and solutions from the ground up.
With the removal of the operator from the crane and the introduction of port wide automation, safety and productivity levels will increase worldwide, with containers moving autonomously from point to point.
Environmental concerns are at the forefront of all development activity and in recent years, the Liebherr RTG crane has been delivered with both electric power and hybrid drives, ensuring cleaner and quieter machines.
The hybrid machine features a single Liebherr designed super capacitor (LES) and tests at the end of 2019 demonstrated energy, emissions and fuel savings of between 30% and 40% when compared with traditional diesel powered machines.
Further hybrid power system tests with multiple LES units in one system will be performed on the automated RTG test bed facility in Killarney in 2020.
The energy saving test data and benefits will be benchmarked to enhance Liebherr’s marketing of this technology to the crane industry and other markets. Today, Liebherr can boast of being able to provide all of is container cranes with zero local emissions.
As the fourth industrial revolution takes hold, Liebherr Container Cranes is gearing up for a future state of globally interconnected smart machines running self-diagnostics and utilising machine learning to drive down maintenance and lifetime operational costs, while maximising productivity.
Collaborations with third level institutes and research centres for specialised skills have been developed further, allowing for cutting edge research on different systems, across automation, data analytics/predictive maintenance, digital twin, machine learning and wearable VR/AR tech.
Since Liebherr came to Kerry in 1958 the task of training experienced and talented staff to design, produce, install and service cranes on a worldwide basis has been a key to the long term success of the company.
In 1958 facilities for such specialised training were not locally available. This culminated in setting up training facilities in house for the training of new and upskilling of existing staff.
With the establishment of colleges of technology in Kerry, Cork and Limerick this has now been fostered to a much higher level. As well as in house training, collaboration with the colleges has led to full education programmes in all disciplines required being provided.
A number of routes to becoming a recognised engineer exist at Liebherr. Along with the scholarship programme, which allows successful candidates to get their tuition fees paid during the course of their college programme, Liebherr offers its crafts persons the option to attend third level colleges during their training.
Last year saw the first group of individuals qualify through this route with the IT Tralee, whereby they achieved a level 6 qualification in their fourth year. This gives the opportunity to go on and complete further studies to level 8 and beyond.
This combination of practical and theoretical training has long been a cornerstone of Liebherr’s approach to training and with the requirements for highly skilled engineers increasing, it is an approach that looks set to continue into the future.
Charlie McCarthy, managing director, engineering, at Liebherr Container Cranes said: “It is an exciting time to be involved in container handing industry. Whilst we have been building container handling machines for almost 50 years, the rate of change we are now experiencing is unprecedented.
"Automation and the introduction of disruptive new technologies to our industry ensure that there is never a dull moment. As an engineer with Liebherr, you work on the cutting edge of this movement, designing, building and developing the technologies that will shape our world for the years to come.”
Dairymaster captured some of the highlights of our visit on video which they kindly with us to help promote future events. The video contains interviews with a number of the participants including their comments and feedback on their visits.
Seamus Breathnach, engineering manager at Kostal, said: “I always find it fascinating to visit neighbouring production facilities, irrespective as to whether or not the facility is within my own industrial sector.
"The majority of the manufacturing industry in Ireland face similar challenges to sustain competitiveness and market relevance, and sometimes I find that the key to unlock current challenges or the ideas for potential future opportunities, within our own facilities, can often be seen in how other engineers have face and overcome their production challenges.
"The ‘Industry in our Region’ programme has been a fantastic initiative to enable these opportunities from the Engineers Ireland team.
"The combined visit to Dairymaster and Liebherr, both very different industries, diverse production methods and alternative way of technology deployment was a continuation of the quality program delivered by the Shannon Region team.”
David Purcell, tooling & CAD/CAM leader at Lufthansa Technik Turbine Shannon, said: “It was fascinating to see the full range of engineering capabilities at both Dairymaster and Liebherr Cranes.
"I particularly enjoyed the Dairymaster visit as it is a very innovative company which designs and manufactures its full product range at its facility in Tralee, which was great to see.”
Pat Donnellan, engineering manager at J&J Vision, said: “Having had some prior knowledge of what Dairymaster does and how it operates, I was very much looking forward to seeing its facility in Causeway, Co Kerry.
"However, I was taken aback by not just the level of innovation it engages in but it was also evident that Dairymaster has been innovating its product range and manufacturing process improvements for many years. It’s clear that it encourages and facilitates true innovation at all levels of the organisation.”
Alan Spillane, studying for an electrical engineering degree at Limerick IT, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Liebherr Container Cranes and learned an incredible amount about a completely different field of engineering to what I’m studying.
"I was really impressed with the level of innovation happening at Liebherr in Kerry, especially the company’s ability to manufacture and export such quality crane equipment from a rural locations to countries all over the world.
"Overall the visit was a great experience providing me with a much broader insight into the world of engineering.”
Dr John Cosgrove, section head, electrical engineering at LIT, said: "The visit to the two sites showcased the best in innovation in Irish manufacturing.
"Dairymaster has clearly shown how it engages with and responds to its customers, using that relationship to drive new product and processes.
"Liebherr demonstrated excellent craftwork in the construction of very large complex cranes, showing how an Irish factory can successfully compete in a global market.”
In conclusion, our first collaborative industry event between Thomond and An Riocht was very successful with a high level of interest and engagement among the diverse group of attendees.
As we can see from the comments of some of the participants; it was an excellent opportunity for engineers to look inside other very successful high-tech companies and share in their vast knowledge and experience.
Events like these inspire further collaboration between engineers across industry and we look forward to arranging more events with other regions and societies within Engineers Ireland.
Finally we would like to express our sincere thanks to Dairymaster and Liebherr for hosting our visits and for their openness and willingness to share their knowledge and experience with us.