Belfast will never need to manufacture its contribution to engineering.
A few months ago, I returned to Australia after many years in Belfast as Head of the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. I was glad one of my parting gifts to Northern Ireland was to have played a role in bringing the International Conference on Composite Materials 2023 (ICCM23) to Belfast in partnership with Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast, Queen’s University Belfast and ICC Belfast.
It was a huge privilege to Chair the conference and welcome so many of the industry’s leading figures to the city. This was the 23rd ICCM conference but the first time it was held on the island of Ireland. Since 1975, this conference, which focuses on the science and engineering of composite materials and structures, has been hosted in North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa. This year a five-day programme of more than 800 presentations attracted over 1,100 global delegates from academia, research institutes and industry from over 57 countries.
Our conference benefited from conference financial support which is available to not-for profit organisations at £50 per delegate – an incentive that was certainly part of our decision making, as was the fact Queen’s University Belfast supported in underwriting the event.
But Northern Ireland’s undeniably rich heritage in engineering was our main attraction to Belfast, and I’m glad this was widely recognised by peers and event sponsors alike.
The city’s engineering pedigree is exceptional. Belfast was the birthplace of Lord Kelvin, the inventor of the Kelvin Scale, and home to John Boyd Dunlop, the man behind the pneumatic tyre. Belfast was a global powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution becoming Ireland’s pre-eminent industrial city where the RMS Titanic was built in what was then the world’s largest shipyard.
It’s also home to the oldest production aircraft manufacturer in the world, Short Brothers, which was founded in 1908, purchased by Bombardier in 1989, and acquired by Spirit AeroSystems in 2020.
Today, Belfast is a vibrant, modern city with a solid high-value manufacturing base and an enhanced entrepreneurial spirit. The goal of ICCM is to provide a platform for industry to exchange knowledge and information on the latest developments in the field. It also serves as a forum where early career researchers have the opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leading academic and personnel in the field – crucial interactions that may even define the future of the industry.
Advanced (man-made) composite materials have been around for several decades and are increasingly utilised in various industries notably aerospace, elite motorsports, luxury automobiles, wind energy, marine, and sporting equipment. There’s been astounding headway in the scientific and engineering facets of these composites, but one issue we determined to address in Belfast was how we strike a balance between continued advancements and environmental stewardship. I’m pleased, with this being such a pertinent and immediate challenge that we chose ICC Belfast – a host that takes its own environmental credentials so seriously. Belfast’s only purpose-built conference centre, it is a Green Meeting accredited venue – an accreditation that wasn’t lost on our delegates and I’m hopeful the progress we made together in Belfast results in more consistent and positive action across our industry.
Now as I settle back to life in Australia, it’s wonderful to reflect on such a successful instalment of our conference and wonder in the years to come how often Belfast will be referenced as the birthplace of a new discovery which helped promote a sustainable future for us all. I’m proud that as an ambassador of the city I’ve had the opportunity to highlight Belfast as a conferencing city, and in doing so not only bring people together for better, and also generate £1.7million for the Belfast economy in doing so.