Lighter, faster, longer may well be the battery industry’s version of the Olympic motto, and Irish company PPI Adhesive Products Limited is helping manufacturers to achieve the gold medal standard. The company’s range of novel adhesive products, with properties uniquely suited to the needs of the industry, is helping to achieve the goals of faster charging, higher capacity, longer life, and lighter weight.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are playing a central role in the global push for decarbonisation but the limitations of battery technology have been among the key reasons for relatively poor consumer uptake.

So-called range anxiety and cost have been identified as the main issues for the majority of consumers. Fear of being left stranded far from home with a dead battery has dampened demand, while unease in relation to the expected life of the battery itself has added to cost concerns.

Challenges of improving battery performance

This, in turn, has led the industry to deliver quite dramatic improvements in battery performance in recent years. The latest generation of EV batteries now boasts a range of 450 km, up from 300 km just a few years ago, and automakers are already scheduling models with 600 km ranges and longer. Battery life is also being extended considerably.

But these advances come in the face of significant challenges, not least of them weight. Simply making a battery bigger and heavier will not solve the problem. Increased range must be achieved while actually reducing the weight of the unit.

Another issue is heat. Higher-capacity batteries must be capable of charging quicker, and that generates heat, which must be channelled away from the battery.

PPI Adhesive Products is supplying materials which address these issues to a number of battery manufacturers in Poland. The company was established in Ireland in 1970 and has developed a global presence in 52 countries, with manufacturing and research and development activities based in Waterford.

The company produces a very extensive and sophisticated range of technical adhesive tapes, laminates and die-cuts for a wide range of applications, most notably in the electrical, electronic, aerospace, automotive and medical sectors. PPI Adhesive Products also produces a wide range of tapes for specialised industrial and high-tech applications. Among its main strengths is its ability to produce customised tapes and die-cut pieces to individual customer specifications, including small quantities for short runs.

The company’s research arm is engaged in the continuous development of new self-adhesive products and production techniques both for PPI and specific customers.

PPI Adhesive Products finds solutions for customers in the battery industry

The thermal management and electrical insulation challenges faced by the battery industry were not new to PPI Adhesive Products. “We had been dealing with these issues for a number of years in the floodlighting area,” explains PPI’s Polish representative Andrzej Palúch. “We started targeting thermally conductive materials about ten years ago and developed an adhesive with a very good thermal performance. That enabled us to develop the knowhow to find new solutions for customers in the battery industry.”

That in turn led to contact with Enterprise Ireland. “We knew that the battery industry had problems with heat, and we spoke to Enterprise Ireland about that. They put us in touch with a Polish battery manufacturer about three years ago. We started out by sitting down together and discussing the problems they had and how PPI Adhesive Products could help.

We started using the same materials as we used for floodlights. They have very good thermal conductivity and electrical insulation properties.”

That marked the beginning of a close relationship between the two firms. “We soon started developing other materials for them,” says Palúch. “They told us they were building a new faster-charging battery but had yet to solve the heating problem. Nobody wants to use resin, as it is very heavy. Everybody wants to cut the weight of the battery. The want a material that is not heavy but has very good characteristics. We were able to give them that. Many companies offer thermal conductivity but not electrical resistance. We offer both.”

PPI Adhesive Products is now working with three other customers that have battery manufacturing plants in Poland. And these will soon be joined by a number of other companies with plans to establish facilities in Poland.

Palúch says, “It’s very interesting how many new companies want to open plants in Poland to manufacture batteries. It’s amazing, but very good for us.”

PPI Adhesive Products is already developing its next product for the battery industry. “It’s a special membrane that allows the pressure inside the battery to go down and up during charging and discharging. It allows heat and pressure through, while also being waterproof. Our focus this year is on the new plants in Poland. We are also working on batteries for white goods. That is a very interesting area as they face different technical challenges, which we are solving for customers.”

Engineering firm 4site utilises a combination of fibre and wireless technologies to provide solutions for major infrastructural developments in the domestic and global telecommunications industry.

Headquartered in Limerick in Ireland, and with offices in Dublin and the UK, 4site is focusing on expansion and, given the company’s unique capabilities and impressive track record, it’s no surprise that it is generating international interest.

4site’s CEO Ian Duggan says, “The UK is a significantly larger market than Ireland. We see a lot of our future growth and expansion in the UK through our fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) offering.”

According to the 2018 Ericsson Mobility Report, the popularity of streaming video, social networking and the Internet of Things is driving demand for connectivity. Fibre optic cables enable 5G and provide vastly improved mobile voice and data coverage.

In 2018, 4site secured a contract with UK blue chip firm CityFibre to survey and design the rollout of their fibre networks across a number of cities in the UK. CityFibre has ambitious plans to provide FTTH to five million homes across 12 UK cities, and 4site is a key supplier for the activity.

Last year, 4site provided survey, design and build services to develop a 5G-ready network for the Scottish city of Aberdeen. 4site also fitted a network of ‘small cell’ sites connected to existing fibre and power services. Small cells are unobtrusive and cost-effective installations, ensuring excellent wireless and mobile phone coverage particularly suited to densely populated urban environments.

Innovation is key for 4site

In a business in which technology is constantly changing, innovation is key to success. Duggan says, “It is a unique selling point for us. We bring innovation to every project we do.”

4site has developed innovative design technologies to achieve fast, accurate and cost-effective network rollout. Delays or mistakes at any point can prove costly.

With this in mind, 4site has pioneered the ‘4Survey’ app developed in partnership with Esri, the international supplier of geographic information software. No more marking maps by hand, taking photos on a handheld device and filling in spreadsheets, which are then taken separately to a central office. The app does it all, transferring complex survey data straight to the design team via the internet. The survey process is now 50% faster, as well as more accurate and cost-effective.

4site also makes use of drone and BIM technology in-site surveys to highlight solutions not readily available from ground level – for example, carrying out an asset inventory check on a 40 meter tower, gauging the safety of a rooftop before accessing it, or eliminating the need for permits and mobile platforms at the roadside. Cost and disruption are kept to a minimum, while health and safety risks are minimised by reducing the need for working at height.

With over a decade’s experience of major network infrastructure projects, 4site has acquired a reputation for excellence. This year, they were only the second Irish company accepted to the FTTH Council of Europe. They have also achieved ISO certification in environmental management, quality management, and health and safety, as well as acquiring a list of major clients including Vodafone, Cignal, Huawei, Three, Nokia, Ericsson, O2, Eir and Siro.

Future expansion

The advice and support of Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government’s trade and innovation agency, has been key to 4site’s growth. Europe is only just beginning to promote fibre networks with countries such as the UK, Ireland, Italy and Germany trailing behind. According to the 2017 FTTH Ultrafast Broadband Country Ranking the UK has approximately 3% coverage. The market potential therefore is vast.

Innovation built in

Recruiting the best fibre planners of the future is crucial to 4site’s success. Responding to this challenge, 4site invested over €250,000 in establishing a Fibre Centre of Excellence at their Limerick HQ in 2018, creating 20 new engineering posts. The business now employs 80+ highly skilled professionals, the majority of which are qualified engineers and technicians.

Enterprise Ireland’s support helped expand the number of employees and establish an in-house Fibre Planning Programme tailored to the skills 4site requires. Employees are mentored, attend weekly training sessions and are encouraged to contribute new ideas through an Innovation Forum. In 2018, Engineers Ireland acknowledged 4site’s excellence in CPD through its Accredited Employer Scheme.

Duggan comments, “One of the most successful parts of our business is getting young, enthusiastic graduates who contribute a wealth of new ideas. They always have a faster, better way of doing things and within six months, they are really fantastic additions to the organisation.”

With innovative technology, the brightest engineering graduates and a track record of successful projects delivered on time and on budget, 4site are going global.

Irish companies already export almost €1 billion to China.

A growing economy has positioned China as an attractive market for foreign companies from across the world. Rapid growth also presents challenges, which Irish companies active in a number of sectors are particularly well positioned to overcome.

Today, 300 companies supported by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, are conducting business in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and locations across the country, with that number expected to increase over the coming years.

With offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong (serving Shenzhen), Enterprise Ireland is well placed, both geographically and in terms of subject expertise, to support Irish companies to assist Chinese customers and partners.

Mary Kinnane of Enterprise Ireland says that the market is growing in size and importance for Irish companies.

“We currently have over 300 Irish companies engaged with China. Of those, over 150 have some form of physical presence here. Exports from those companies to China were worth €1.03 billion in 2017, accounting for 54% of all Enterprise Ireland client exports to the Asia-Pacific region.”

As an open economy, Ireland is supportive of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which fosters connectivity and spurs mutual economic growth. Business partnerships between China and Ireland also benefit from the country’s committed membership of the EU. As bilateral trade continues to grow year on year, new direct flights routes between China and Ireland in 2018 has also improved ease of doing business between both countries.

Enterprise Ireland focuses on key sectors in the region, including agritech, pharma, engineering, cleantech, medtech, fintech, ICT, and education, with Irish companies offering solutions that can assist China’s continuing growth.

Agritech

Ireland is known across the world for its agricultural heritage. Its reputation has developed into the 21st century, as a new generation of farmers, manufacturers and agri-scientists have established a deserved reputation for innovation across the entire agricultural value chain.

Irish manufacturers are world leaders in the specialised production of machinery that can help to consolidate and modernise Chinese farms, such as mixer wagons for feeding cattle, high-quality baling and wrapping systems and slurry spreaders.

Irish agri-engineering exports are now worth a quarter of a billion euro annually to the Irish economy.

New technologies targeted at improving farm management practices, such as advances in sensors and electronic record keeping, have been developed with the modern farmer in mind. With government support of mechanisation, these technologies, built to a world-class specification, are gaining traction in China.

Ireland also competes with the very best globally in terms of food quality, with extremely low rates of antibiotic usage, no hormone usage, very high standards of animal welfare, and full traceability from fork to farm.

Companies such as Dairymaster have led the way with significant investments in in-house R&D and a strong customer focus. Dairymaster’s latest innovation is a smartphone app that allows farmers to remotely control their milk tank. MagGrow has developed a technology that magnetises the droplets from a sprayer, causing them to bind better with plants, thereby reducing the amount of liquid required.

Engineering and cleantech

The People’s Bank of China estimates that reaching the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s targets for air and water quality will cost the country €255 billion over the next five years, while clean-up of soil pollution will cost a further €855 billion. Addressing this legacy issue is firmly in the crosshairs of Chinese businesses, and firms will need to recruit partners from around the world to meet these ambitious targets.

Ireland is fast becoming an international clean technology hub and its water treatment sector is delivering innovative and proven solutions to customers worldwide. Companies from the country are known for the highest standards of reliability, quality and delivery – whether on-site at major construction projects or in off-site manufacturing contracts. And with a thriving innovation ecosystem, the industry is continuing to break ground with new approaches to tackling some of the world’s most important sustainability challenges.

Pharma and healthcare

An ageing population, rising disposable income, healthcare reform and increasing non-communicable health issues have made China the world’s second-largest pharma market.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s medtech sector has become recognised internationally as innovative, integrated and globalised. With a uniquely collaborative ecosystem that spans global multinationals, start-ups, university researchers and government-supported R&D centres, Irish exporters deliver an unparalleled innovation advantage to their customers. Continually looking to the future, a new generation of medical device, diagnostic and digital health companies are pioneering design-led biomedical thinking to meet their customers’ evolving needs. Underpinning the medical technology industry, an established and lean Irish sub-supply sector and supply chain is capably servicing the exacting requirements of market leaders globally.

As domestic demand continues to grow, new GMP regulation is enforced, and domestic pharmaceutical companies increasingly seek growth opportunities beyond China, the number and complexity of pharmaceutical engineering projects is likely to continue to increase. These are areas in which Ireland, with its thriving pharma industry, is knowledgeable and has a proven track record of delivery.

Financial services

China’s rapid growth is continuing to create a booming middle class, with increased demands for pensions, social security and financial services.

Irish financial service companies have been through this process before and have the experience and know-how to help Chinese companies overcome the challenges they will face in this environment.

Payment gateways, global tax reclaim, enterprise data management backend office services (in which Dublin is already a world leader) and cloud solutions are all areas in which Enterprise Ireland companies can serve Chinese customers.

ICT

In ICT, China is experiencing huge demand for mobile, cloud and travel tech industries.

But that’s not all: rapid urbanisation has driven a spike in demand for smart city and Internet of Things solutions.

As the Silicon Valley of Europe, Irish companies are harnessing their engineering and tech expertise to drive real innovation in this space – and an outward-looking business community is keen to take this experience and share it with the rest of the world.

Education

Education is one of the largest contributors to non-food client exports in China, and 21 Irish education institutions have a direct market presence in the country.

To date, 49 high-functioning joint programmes have been approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education, as well as one joint college.

The Claddagh Scholarship Programme, the first and only national level scholarship programme designed exclusively for Chinese students includes in excess of 250 scholarships from 17 different education institutes at every level, across over a hundred different fields of study.

The Irish China Alumni Network (ICAN) with its own website platform and WeChat channel now has over 2,700 followers.

To date over 20 positions within Irish companies and organisations have been advertised to the alumni, so far nearly 60% of these positions have been successfully taken by ICAN members.

Consumer products

China is currently the world’s number one online shopping market, accounting for over 40% of the global ecommerce retail sales. It is currently dominated by third-party platforms – Alibaba, JD, QIY, Ctrip and Tencent, where consumers can purchase a wide range of products from many sellers.

In 2016, Alibaba and Tencent delivered record-breaking profits, signalling just how healthy China’s consumer market remains. The takeaways from Alibaba and Tencent’s results are not that they make a lot of money but how China’s most successful consumer-facing businesses have quite different business models to those in the West. Understanding what makes the models unique provides invaluable insights into what appeals to Chinese consumers and how successful brands are serving them, many of which can be replicated on smaller scales for foreign brands. Pyramid schemes are out, entertainment and mobile micro-payments are in.

Enterprise Ireland provides first-hand knowledge and experience of the consumer market and helps companies we support to validate their product in China, as well as with establishing an ecommerce presence where necessary.

Irish companies in China

David Byrne from Enterprise Ireland has said that the reasons for Ireland’s success can be attributed to relationships and product.

“Irish people are naturally very warm, friendly and open. We’re also very good at building relationships and that stands to us.

“But just because you’ve built that relationship doesn’t mean you can phone it in. Chinese business partners expect good quality and service – that is something they get with Irish companies.”

With high quality products and a gift for problem-solving, it’s time that Chinese businesses started the search for their Irish Advantage.

Airports and municipal authorities across Europe and North America are increasingly turning to Irish company Multihog for solutions to their ongoing maintenance needs. Multihog’s highly adaptable range of multi-purpose tractors is used for a variety of applications, from snow and ice clearance in winter, to grass and hedge trimming in summer.

Founded in Dundalk in Ireland in 2008 by Managing Director Jim McAdam, Multihog is built on a rich engineering and innovation heritage. McAdam had previously been Managing Director of Moffett Engineering, where he was pivotal in the development of the very successful Moffett Mounty truck-mounted forklift, which has sold over 55,000 units worldwide to date.

Multihog has its genesis in a personal need identified by its founder. “We started out small with just an idea,” McAdam recalls. “My home is on a sloping site in Carlingford, County Louth. It was very difficult to cut grass on the slope. I looked around and there was no machine out there designed to do it, so I decided to design and manufacture one myself.”

From Agritechnica to the world

The initial idea of a dedicated grass-cutting machine quickly gave way to more ambitious plans. “We turned from that to making a multi-purpose tractor. We started out looking at what I wanted but then we saw other markets where we could provide better solutions. I took on two engineers straight out of college and we built a prototype. I took the prototype home with me in December 2008 and tested it over Christmas. I decided that it wasn’t really what I wanted, so we started again. By the following November we had another prototype and launched that at Agritechnica in Germany.”

Very importantly, Multihog’s tractor had received European Type Approval for agricultural applications, which gave the new product credibility with potential customers across Europe and beyond.

Winter maintenance is the main airport application for Multihog’s tractors. “They are used for clearing snow around the apron where the aircraft come in to park,” McAdam explains. “If you have a covering of snow, you need to clear pathways for passengers to walk on. It’s mainly for the areas around the plane where bigger vehicles can’t get to.”

Multihog’s all-season machines

They are also used mainly for winter operations by municipal authorities, for snow clearing and path clearing and so on. They are all-season machines and can be used for grass cutting, hedge trimming and other applications in summer as well.

The market response to this small, highly manoeuvrable and adaptable machine was very positive. “We are now selling into 27 different countries and the US will be our biggest market this year. Benelux, Germany, Switzerland and Austria are also very important to us. Quite a few airports in Eastern Europe are customers as well. We have 14 machines in Dublin Airport, and Donegal Airport is also a customer. We had five employees in 2009 and we have grown to 70 today.”

The range has also grown. “We have a number of different-sized machines. We started with the MH model, which was great in terms of physical size. We now have three different models – the MH, CX, and MX, which offer different options in terms of size, physical power, range and so on. Research, development and innovation are very important to us. We have nine engineers working on it. You have to do that if you want to become the market leader. You have to listen to your customers and react to what their needs are. Where we are very competitive is in our speed of reaction. We are very quick to develop what our customers need.”

The next product in the range is already at an advanced stage of development. “This will have enhanced multi-function capabilities, which will take us into new market areas,” says McAdam. “We are working on our next product at the moment and we know what the next product after that will be and the next product after that again. Of course, the market could change next year, and we will change with that. We also have some pretty big challenges to face. We have to deal with emissions, just the same as cars and other vehicles. Our overall strategy is to continue to develop our product range as well as our sales channel. We have just put a team of people into the US to support our network of 13 dealers there.”

From its base in County Sligo in the west of Ireland, SF Engineering designs, manufactures and installs high-quality food production lines for customers around the world. The highly innovative company employs process design expertise that enables it to specify highly efficient food production lines that reduce costs, increase capacity and require less maintenance than competitor systems.

Since 1983, the company has installed €250 million worth of projects in 63 countries across Europe, North and South America, Russia, the Middle East, and Australia. Today, SF Engineering employs 110 high-skilled staff in Ireland, the UK, and the Czech Republic, and is projecting €20 million in sales for the coming year.

Food sector engineering experts

“We are experts in design and engineering of complex systems for the food sector,” says founder and CEO Seamus Farrell. “We have more than 450 man years’ experience in this highly specialised area. We provide a trustworthy support service to our clients who operate around the clock throughout the year and we deliver prompt, reliable support services to ensure that their time-critical production lines are not held up by maintenance issues.”

Sf Engineering food sector engineering experts

Key to the company’s global success has been its ability to add value to processes and form strong partnerships with other world leaders. “Our core values are to be as professional and competitive as possible,” says Farrell. “We are never going to be the cheapest, but we will add most value and deliver the best return on investment. We are large enough to compete around the world but small enough to be flexible when it comes to delivering solutions for customers.”

New business comes from a combination of continuing relationships with existing customers, sales and marketing efforts around the world through direct contact with potential customers, presence at trade fairs, and through referrals from partners.

“We form great partnerships with companies like Ishida, Eagle, CEIA, and Marelec,” he points out.

Ishida is a leading supplier of automated weighing and packaging equipment and solutions for the food industry with multiple capabilities to ensure the safety and integrity of a wide variety of food applications. Eagle specialises in fat analysing equipment. Marelec Food Technologies has been active in the fishing world since 1983, while CEIA is a world-leading manufacturer of electronic screening equipment, with SF Engineering supplying its range of metal detection systems, which are designed to detect contaminants in the food production chain.

“We started forming these partnerships back in the early 2000s and they have been very important to us. They allow us to combine complementary strengths in different areas to supply turnkey solutions to the global food industry,” Farrell adds.

SF Engineering has its roots in the engineering sector, to provide high-quality stainless steel fabrication services to US multinational firms which were setting up in Ireland. Seamus Farrell, who grew up in the Sligo area, founded the business in 1983, initially to service the fish sector but subsequently expanded into the red meat and broader food industry, with the focus firmly on protein.

‘Futuristic’ innovations for the fish industry

Innovation has been at the heart of its growth and success since. “What we did for the fish industry back then was futuristic,” Farrell explains. “At the time it cost around €25 per tonne to process and pack fish. We reduced that to €4 per tonne by automating the process. That was our first big kill. After that, we moved into the Scottish and Scandinavian fish sectors.”

'Futuristic' innovations for the fish industry

Since then, SF Engineering has consistently invested in both new products and processes and today offers a wide range of conveyors, packing solutions, platforms, weighing equipment, fat analysis, quality control, hygiene equipment, lifting and tipping equipment. In addition, the company has invested in world-class manufacturing and lean manufacturing programmes as well as the very latest in laser technologies.

SF Engineering’s Irish Advantage

“We have grown to sell to 63 countries around the world,” Farrell concludes. “Our continued export success is partly due to the confidence we get from supplying leading international companies as well as our focus on adding value for the customer. That’s where our real strength lies. We are fortunate to come from a country with a very strong food industry which has travelled well globally. That means we understand the continued drive for cheaper food on supermarket shelves. The retail multiples and the consumer want food of very good quality, but they want it at low cost and they want it to be convenient and presented well. We provide the production lines and technologies which enable our customers to meet that demand.”