Irish Engineering Graduates Advancing Global Manufacturing Competitiveness: Design Simulation for the Process Industries

Partner Institutions

Project Lead: University College Dublin

Project Partners: Cork Institute of Technology, Dublin City University, Dublin Institute of Technology, University College Cork, University of Limerick.

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Primary Contact(s)

t4_1285094298Dr Eoin Casey

University College Dublin

Tel: +353 1 716 1877


Detailed Proposal

rish Chemical Engineering graduates have played a pivotal role in the development of the pharma/biopharma/chemical sectors in Ireland. These sectors account for more than half of total annual exports [CSO: 58%, €51.7bn, 2014], proving to be robust under difficult economic conditions. To support existing jobs and growth, foster new initiatives, and address socio/environmental and other challenges, it is vital that investment be made to continually ally teaching with best pedagogical practice. Increasingly, particularly within the field of Chemical Engineering, there is a realisation that process and other simulation tools provide the key to help meet these challenges by enabling rigorous interrogation of proposed engineering designs, along with the development of subsequent optimisation strategies.

Simulation tools show great promise in education (Balamuralithara & Woods, 2009). However, their true potential is hampered by the fear of an imbalance in the emphasis on theory, experiment and simulation in curricula, exacerbated by the knowledge that such an imbalance may have severe ethical implications. For Chemical Engineering, one of the cornerstones of the curriculum is the ‘Design Project’, which encompasses ab initio process development, design, scale-up and optimization. This proposal is focused on the development of novel, shared, vertically-structured sets of tools, integrating theory, experiment and simulation, across different core modules of the undergraduate Chemical Engineering curriculum, culminating in deployment within the capstone Design Project. Building from stakeholder expertise and national economic relevance, all resources are developed in the context of pharma/biopharma-related applications.

All of the stakeholders in the Chemical/Process Engineering education space in Ireland are involved, along with related Biosciences disciplines/programmes, major simulation tool developers, providers and end-users. Support from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), the international, discipline-specific accrediting body, provides for international dissemination, as well as the potential for project outcomes to contribute to evolving accreditation criteria

All players in the Irish Chemical/Process Engineering education space are directly involved in this project: CIT, UCC, UCD, UL. The proposal deliverables are designed primarily for Chemical/Process Engineering students, but there is real potential for their adoption, in whole or in part, by cognate disciplines. The proposal team includes – and, crucially, depends upon – active involvement from experts in these areas (i.e. UCD: Biotechnology, Biosciences; DCU: Biotechnology; DIT: Pharmaceutical Process Control). Thus, while the project team represents full coverage of the core area of Chemical/Process Engineering undergraduate education in Ireland, there is obvious and immediate scope for adoption of deliverables within Biotechnology/Biosciences in universities and institutes of technology beyond the partirelandner institutions; project partners from these disciplines are ideally to act as flag-bearers within these communities. The additional National Impact of this project lies in its contribution to the growth and sustainability of the pharma/biopharma sector

Ireland has now become an internationally successful location for pharma/biopharma investment: 9 of the world’s top 10 pharma/biopharma companies have manufacturing facilities in Ireland; significantly, most now also maintain higher value process development and technology transfer operations here. The value of the biopharma sector, in particular, is reflected in the IDA-supported National Institution for Bioprocessing Research & Training (NIBRT), which plays a significant role in both attracting investment to Ireland and in supporting local and international companies in advancing biopharmaceutical innovation, research and training. NIBRT already works with Universities and Institutes of Technology across the Irish higher education sector, to ensure a strong supply of graduates in Ireland, with the key skills required for the biopharma and related sectors. NIBRT’s partnership in this project reflects NIBRT commitment to its core mission of training; the NIBRT-associated project deliverables will provide meaningful, industry-relevant exposure to NIBRT resources, to a far wider cohort of students than be physically accommodated at NIBRT. Additionally, the platform developed for full-time academic programmes will provide a framework that can be subsequently adapted to address specific pharma/biopharma training needs.

Implementation of this project will support the enhanced development of Chemical/Process Engineering graduates, with the skills required to meet the high-level design and processing needs of the pharma/biopharma sector and establish a community of practice to sustain, iteratively develop and locally champion the approach. It is not sufficient that we attract investment to Ireland: it is essential that we maintain it, particularly in the face of growing competition from manufacturing sites within emerging market nations. Ireland has advantages of stability, language, location and tax. We also have the advantage of a highly developed and internationally respected education system, providing high quality Chemical/Process Engineering graduates essential for the sector. This proposal will contribute to the preparedness of those graduates, emerging from Chemical/Process Engineering programmes in Ireland.

Although the platform and learning suites will be developed for full-time academic programmes, it will provide a framework than can be adapted to address specific needs of the pharma/biopharma sector in terms of technology transfer and training.

The project will yield a strategy and supporting resources for sustainably embedding the effective use of discipline-specific simulation tools in Chemical Engineering degree programmes (and cognate Sciences) in Irish HEIs, for the achievement of professionally-relevant graduate skills. The project will be implemented by a multi-institutional partnership, representing total core discipline coverage, within the framework of professional (IChemE) accreditation guidelines for simulation skills and practices. Practicing engineers* and graduate employers* from the process* and consultancy* sectors, will provide input on current and anticipated graduate simulation skills needs. The emphasis will be on building the digital capacity to support students in forging deep-seated connections between Chemical Engineering theory, experimental work and intelligent use of simulation tools.

Activity will be designed to facilitate:

Outcome 1: In-depth, critical evaluation of current practices in the use of simulation tools in academic and industrial Chemical Engineering environments, to inform the identification, achievement and assessment of simulation-related, discipline-/curriculum-specific learning outcomes.

Outcome 2: Suite of shared academic ‘toolkits’, encompassing theory, simulation and experimental elements (hands-on and virtual), tailored to the achievement of specific learning outcomes, with horizontal and vertical integration of simulation tools into Chemical Engineering curricula, at increasing levels of complexity (e.g. vertical integration: distillation or bioreaction systems) and from different perspectives (e.g. horizontal integration: analysis of distillation or bioreaction systems from thermodynamic, mass transfer, heat transfer and/or reaction engineering perspectives).

Outcome 3: Validation of ‘toolkit’ implementation, including sustainable training packages for students, technical staff and academic staff. Academic and T&L staff in partner institutions will provide expert content and pedagogical oversight. A partner institution with expertise in technology-enhanced learning will lead multi-media development. Students are engaged at all project stages.

*External partners, from whom financial and/or in-kind support for the project has been guaranteed, pending fundind