An Event Review: SMART Construct 2018


Construction, manufacturing and engineering are key employment industries in Northern Ireland with digital technology and Brexit readiness both essential to their continued competitiveness. 


This was the key message from SMART Construct 2018, which was hosted by SMART Global, in association with Mid-Ulster Council, in the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown.

The day’s proceedings were opened by Councillor Sean McPeake, Chair of Mid-Ulster District Council, who stated that construction, manufacturing and engineering are the most significant employment sectors in Mid-Ulster responsible for the vast proportion of wages and economic prosperity of the area.


Councillor Sean McPeake, Chair, Mid-Ulster District Council, pictured alongside speakers and organisers at SMART Construct 2018.



Roger Pollen, Head of External Affairs NI, FSB NI took to the stage to discuss the uncertainties surrounding Brexit.  He said that the best outcome for Northern Ireland was for the creation of an ‘Enhanced Economic Zone” which would permit;

  • Zero tariffs on goods coming through Northern Ireland’s ports and airports.
  • Unfettered access to the UK market for Ireland and the rest of the EU, and vice versa – provided it goes through NI.

Roger added: “Once the EU and UK agree on a Withdrawal Treaty and an outline of the future relations, the deal will be put to the UK Parliament for a “meaningful vote.”


Roger Pollen, Head of External Affairs NI, FSB NI.


The topic of Brexit was also discussed by Stephen Kelly, CEO, Manufacturing NI, who stated: “Northern Ireland is leaving the EU in 5 months time” adding that businesses need to take proactive steps to ‘de-risk.’

Stephen, who also sits on the Brexit and EU Committee at Westminster, added: “Manufacturing in Northern Ireland is responsible for 85k jobs, contributing £4.2bn annually in wages.  This represents one in four families who depend on manufacturing in Northern Ireland for a wage.”

With Brexit looming, he added that businesses are concerned about how new customs and controls, not currently in place, will impact how they do business.  He recommended that businesses seek support now from Intertrade Ireland.



A ‘Skills and Workforce’ panel discussion between Mary Meehan, Manufacturing NI, Dave Thompson, NIACE, John Moss, South West College and David Clark, McAvoy Group highlighted the current ‘huge skills crisis’ across these key industries.  It was recommended that companies seek the support of the Digital Catapult Northern Ireland to enable them to exploit technology in a sector which faces an ageing workforce population.  “Our expert staff could be directing live across multiple sites using augmented reality, meaning the younger, less experienced staff are being guided by the skilled people,” stated Dave Thompson.


Skills and Workforce panel discussion with David Clark, McAvoy Group, Mary Meehan, Manufacturing NI, John Moss, South West College and Dave Thompson, NIACE.


Enhancing security and protection against phishing attacks was discussed by Sam Kincaid, Cyber Crime Centre, PSNI.  He added that companies should assume that these attacks are going to happen and take the necessary measures to protect themselves against breaches.

Seamus Cushley, Director, Blockchain, PwC, stated that change presents a challenge to our industries.  He stated that blockchain technology facilitated a “better, more secure way, of sharing data” and thus smarter contracts and traceability.



Stephen Kennedy, Technical Specialist, Topcon, stated that technology and automation within the construction industries are growing and it can be difficult for businesses to navigate what is available for them when there is so much.  Stephen provided valuable knowledge on how innovation and automation are on the rise and can help businesses to grow.

This was further explored by Stephen within a panel of experts including Jim Gillan, Director, Park Electrical Services, Susan Fitzsimmons, CEO, Audit Comply and Andrew Hodgson, Siemens.  Jim Gillan stated that “only 8 per cent of companies in Northern Ireland comprehend digitalisation.”  Andrew Hodgson added that: “Rather than taking jobs, robots will save jobs as they can do the menial, repetitive and mundane jobs that humans don’t want to do.”

David Clark, Head of Manufacturing and Innovation, McAvoy Group provided a case study insight into the combined implementation of BIM, AR and VR to bring a construction project at Dublin Airport together.  He stated that the way forward is to align technology and process to be more like those adopted across the automotive and aerospace industries – with the subtle difference being ‘pipeline.’

Following this, a marketing panel discussion took place lead by Elaine Donaghy, Terex, Paula McCloskey, Specialist Joinery Group and Nial Toner, CDE Global.  Paula stated that video campaigns are being used with great success across Specialist Joinery Group and that brand awareness has increased the talent pool from which they are now recruiting.  Nial highlighted the role of both an internal marketing team plus the use of external agencies who specialise in certain areas and can help grow your business.  Elaine stated that Terex used GDPR to really ‘cleanse’ their data so that their marketing was much more targeted and specific to customers.

Neal Taylor, Partner, Grant Thornton addressed the area of funding and finance and advised that before any funding application, a business should know precisely: How much funding they require,  the scope of their business plan and their markets.  Moreover, the added that behind every finding application is humans and thus you must have a viable track record.


The afternoon session heard from Fiacre O’Donnell, Strategic Development Director, Encirc and Steven Wood, Digital Catapult who jointly discussed how the business concept at Encirc was being revolutionised by the adoption of digital technology with a vision towards deep learning – a branch of AI whereby data is structured.


It was heard how Encirc produces a staggering 900m glass bottle per year at its production facility in Derrylin, County Fermanagh.  Steven Wood commented that the manufacturing sector is famously using “less than 1 per cent of the data that it generates” and that the Digital Catapult existed to advise businesses on how to gain more from data.

SMART Construct 2018 conference at Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown.


BIM Specialist Ralph Montague, Managing Partner, ArcDox, discussed how digitilisation can lead to cost savings of 13-21 per cent in the design, engineering and construction phase and 10-17 per cent in the operation phase.  From ‘paper to data’ involves a series of highly trained experts and a collaboration in terms of a defined process and technology, he said.


SMART Global CEO Naomh McElhatton.



Dr Scott King, Director, Pinnacle Professional provided a task to close the day’s events – a Lego workshop whereby each table was supplied a series of instructions and appointed a Quality Inspector.  Through this practical session, it was highlighted that with proper instructions, correct materials, adequate time and support of a QI – tasks will be completed to a much higher standard and with improved efficiency.

Naomh McElhatton, CEO, SMART Global thanked everyone involved in the conference: “It is with thanks to all our speakers and SMART Construct 2018 partners including Mid-Ulster Council, Schneider Electric, Scaffold Digital, CIS Northern Ireland, 3M, JP Corry, Build Aviator, Corvus Recruitment, Park Electrical Services, Invest Northern Ireland, South West College, Specialist Joinery Group, Shanweb and FSB NI,” she said.


By Gemma McLaughlin, Group Marketing Manager, SMART Global.










October 26, 2018 2:23 pm