Malaysian student Daniel U Jing Ong’s first foray into postgraduate research led to the 3-D printing of a robotic arm and one of the very first publications from Confirm, Ireland’s €47 million smart manufacturing research centre…
At the age of 22, Malaysian student Daniel U Jing Ong travelled to Ireland to pursue a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Mechanical and Polymer Engineering at Athlone Institute of Technology. He had come to the end of his four-year Diploma in Advanced Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and wanted to supplement his education with an internationally recognised qualification from one of the world’s top polymer engineering colleges.
On the advice of a Malaysian Education Agent, Daniel toured three different Irish colleges: Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Dublin City University (DCU), to gain insight into the Irish education system, the courses on offer and the quality of the student experience. Ultimately, Daniel chose AIT for its quiet, idyllic location, globally recognised qualifications, strong industry links and reputation for producing talented, technically-minded polymer engineers.
Thanks to strong bilateral links between Daniel’s home university, Tunku Abdul Rahman University College and Athlone Institute of Technology, he was able to transfer into the final year of the institute’s BEng (Hons) in Mechanical and Polymer Engineering programme. Daniel excelled in his study, undertaking a complex Final Year Project (FYP) concerning thermoconnectivity of a heat pump. Daniel created a composite material from copper and HDPE and adjusted the ratio of the two to increase the efficacy of the heat pump. His research has real world applications, including greatly increasing the efficacy of underfloor heating systems. Impressed by Daniel’s work ethic and ingenuity, his lecturers encouraged him to consider postgraduate education.
Initially unsure as to whether he wanted to pursue a taught or research master’s, Daniel examined his options and spoke to his friends, family and lecturers. It was after a conversation with Dr Declan Devine, Director of the Materials Research Institute (MRI) at Athlone Institute of Technology, that he realised research was a best fit for him. Daniel’s FYP supervisor wrote him a letter of recommendation for a Master of Research and encouraged him to apply for an AIT research scholarship, financed by the President’s Seed Fund. Successful, Daniel began conducting his postgraduate research under the watchful supervision of Dr Sean Lyons, Dean of Faculty of Engineering and Informatics with Dr Devine performing the function as a secondary supervisor.
Daniel’s foray into postgraduate research led him to 3-D printing, more specifically, the 3-D printing of end-of-arm tooling for Robotic Automation. From the outset, Daniel was tasked with transforming the end-of-arm tooling to make it lighter. He began by investigating the use of polymers as a replacement for traditional metal tooling. By making the tooling lighter, Daniel was able to make the robotic arm faster, markedly more accurate and energy efficient. During this process, Daniel made use of the MRI’s state-of-the-art 3-D printing equipment and learned the intricacies of additive manufacturing. Not only is Daniel’s research extremely topical, it led to a publication which was one of the very first from the Confirm Centre, Ireland’s €47 million smart manufacturing research centre.
Over the course of the two-year master’s, Daniel was situated in the institute’s Research Hub where he was surrounded by other researchers from a multitude of disciplines. He felt supported by his fellow research students and found them to be a wonderful resource at times when he needed an empathetic ear or had a question about a machine or process.
For Daniel, the big difference between the Irish and Malaysian education system is the emphasis on learning and understanding material rather than learning by rote, the latter of which he says is common in Malaysia. AIT prides itself on being extremely responsive to the needs of industry, and as a result, it has a strong focus on applied education in tandem with a commitment to academic excellence. AIT students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, are always encouraged to put their theoretical knowledge to the test, through research or engagement with industry. This translates to a high graduate employability rate with 94% of students employed within six months of graduating. Of this figure, a significant amount are employed in Athlone and the surrounding Midlands Region thanks to an abundance of MedTech, ICT and Engineering employers.
Now that he has successfully completed his master’s and graduation is just around the corner, Daniel has applied for his graduate visa which will entitle him to live and work in Ireland for a further two years. Before heading back home to Malaysia with an internationally recognised education under his belt, Daniel hopes to gain more industry experience with one of AIT’s many industry partners, including Boston Scientific, Mergon or Harmac Medical. He also hasn’t ruled out pursing a PhD in Polymer Engineering at Athlone Institute of Technology, which is the only institute of technology with authority to delegate PhDs in this area.
It isn’t all work and no play, however. Daniel has really enjoyed his time living in Athlone. From the plethora of local shops, to the myriad restaurants, cafes, there’s always something to do in the Midlands. If he had one criticism it would be the weather, which can be wet and chilly at times, however, he’s quick to point out: the beauty of the lush, green landscape, Ireland’s rich cultural tapestry and friendly, good natured people, more than makes up for it.
An educational powerhouse defined by a commitment to academic excellence, rigour and applied education, Athlone Institute of Technology has enjoyed considerable successes in the academic arena this year, most notably being named ‘best in class’ for research across the technological higher education sector. Further solidifying its reputational prowess, the institute was recently awarded ‘Best Academic Partnership’ at the prestigious national Education Awards for its part in developing SURE, Ireland’s first academic network dedicated to promoting undergraduate STEM research across the technological higher education sector. These accolades build upon the institute’s success in winning the Sunday Times Good University Guide ‘Institute of Technology of the Year’ award in 2018.