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Plastics Centre Awarded $5 Million By Government

University Of Auckland Plastics Centre Awarded $5 Million By Government

The Government has awarded up to $5 million in funding to the Centre for Plastics Innovation and Technology, an initiative of The University of Auckland in collaboration with Plastics New Zealand.

The project, which aims to advance New Zealand's plastics industry, will provide a world-class innovation centre for developing advanced polymeric materials, industry specific research, graduate and industry training, and application of leading-edge technologies in plastics processing and manufacturing.

The funding will be provided under the Government's Partnerships for Excellence scheme, with the Government matching dollar-for-dollar up to $5 million in funds raised by the plastics industry.

University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon welcomed the Government's decision, saying the Centre will meet a national need.

"The combined turnover of the New Zealand plastics industry and the polymer composites sector exceeds $3 billion. While this is significant, the plastics business globally exceeded $800 billion at the end of 2002.

"Plastics New Zealand has developed a framework for advancing the sector over the next 8-15 years to make it more competitive internationally by growing turnover to $4 billion, increasing exports, initiating training and establishing a 'centre of excellence'. The Centre for Plastics Innovation and Technology will play a pivotal role as this 'centre of excellence' and the plastics industry has committed $5 million of funding to the centre."

Plastics New Zealand Chief Executive Robin Martin says the centre's formation is probably the biggest event in the plastics industry's recent history.

"We are really excited at the opportunities the centre will create for our industry, which supplies a range of finished products and components to agriculture, horticulture, fishing, IT, home appliances, food and beverage, and construction, just under half of which is exported, either directly or indirectly.

"The ability to direct and co-ordinate research into new products and processes is critical to our growth strategy. Our industry needs to assist in developing tertiary education opportunities in polymer science and process engineering to support the technical and managerial skills of graduates. The creation of a hub for this activity at the Tamaki Campus will focus the resources we are now able to apply, not only for the benefit of our industry, but for the New Zealand economy as a whole."

Located at the University's Tamaki Campus and working in association with the Centre for Advanced Composite Materials, the Plastics Centre will feature close collaboration between academics and industry.

Professor Debes Bhattacharyya, Director of the Centre for Advanced Composite Materials and a principal applicant of this proposal, said the Plastics Centre would house not only University of Auckland researchers, but also involve collaboration with researchers from other tertiary institutions, Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) and industry, making it an invaluable national resource.

"Plastics training, research and development are currently uncoordinated activities in New Zealand, with a number of tertiary institutions providing education at various levels, a few universities and Crown Research Institutes involved in research, and commercial enterprises competing for business as individual companies.

"For the New Zealand economy to grow at a rate that the Government has publicly called for, the productivity of the manufacturing sector needs to progress significantly further than it has done in recent years. This can only be achieved through the development of a concerted approach from industry, government and university researchers."

Professor Bhattacharyya said that while the local plastics industry had shown considerable resilience and growth, there were significant gaps in areas including research and development, training, product development, performance evaluation and prototyping.

"These gaps are becoming more obvious as New Zealand moves to secure free trade relationships with Asian nations, such as China, which have advanced research capabilities in the polymers sector.

"Other issues such as higher customer expectations, short lead times and the need to meet environmental standards, call for the development of new raw materials and advanced processing technologies."

A dedicated centre of excellence for training, research and development will make it easier to build international relationships and help attract top international researchers and lecturers, as well as entice leading expatriate academics to return to New Zealand, Professor Bhattacharyya said.

"This will help reduce the catch-up phase required for New Zealand to become a competitive player on the global stage."

Professor Graham Bowmaker, Head of the Department of Chemistry, said the very welcome development recognised the strength and depth of polymer research capability in the university that has already resulted in strong collaborations between researchers in Chemistry and the Faculty of Engineering.

The centre's research will focus on development and application of leading-edge technologies (polymers and processes) to grow industry capability. It will draw strongly on University of Auckland researchers who are recognised as experts in polymer research.

Government and industry grants worth a total of more than $25 million have been awarded to the University over the past five years for research in the areas of advanced composites and conducting polymers.

The centre's education and training roles will focus on up-skilling technicians, chemists and engineers to support the changing requirements of the industry, and also provide a central place for the development of management and entrepreneurial expertise.

The Institute will be led by a Director, who is yet to be appointed, and overseen by an Industrial Advisory Board comprising representatives from partner organisations.


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