Collaboration with SEAM leads to manufacturing coming home

Mailo Power, Managing Director of Monkey Cups leaning on a brick wall smiling at camera

Monkey Cups, barista standard coffee cups made in Waterford, Ireland, began with a sketch by Managing Director Mailo Power, fuelled by her passion to turn the tide on single-use plastic disposables by creating a range of colourful and stylish reusable alternatives. With years of experience within the design, hospitality, food and beverage sectors, Mailo had seen the growth of the coffee culture and the growing need to provide an alternative to disposable cups for coffee on the go.

Inspired by the 100th Monkey Phenomenon of Social Change – the idea that once a certain number of a group start using a new habit, it will be taken up by all. The journey from design to prototype to finished product, took Malio on a worldwide journey and a discovery of the true value of local collaboration. As with every start up, the road is never smooth and the journey took a number of unforeseen twists and turns that would test any organisation let alone a new start up.

Six colourful Monkeycups in a row with a brick wall behind

After finalising the design and signing off a prototype, moulds were produced to enable the business scale up manufacturing. As with many organisations across Ireland, Mailo initially turned to China to for the injection moulded lids. “The initial prototype run of lids received from China were good and we were happy with the quality” Mailo confirms.

However, problems began to emerge as production began to scale. Mailo explains “Consistency in size was an issue, there was an element of shrinkage from when the lids were tested at production stage to their arrival in Ireland. In addition there was an element of softening when the lids where exposed to boiling liquids.”

Given that manufacturing was in China and subsequent production runs ended with similar results Mailo turned to her local network to see if the problem could be resolved locally. The first part of the process was to establish what was causing the issue with the lids? Was it design based, material based or a mixture of both? Through her business network Mailo was introduced to South Eastern Applied Material  (SEAM) research centre at Waterford Institute of Technology,

Based within Waterford Institute of Technology campus, SEAM, one of the leading Technology Gateway Centres in Ireland, provides innovative materials engineering solutions for industrial partners seeking assistance on material related issues that cannot be solved by utilising their on-site resources. Established in 2009 SEAM has worked on over 3000 direct funded industrial projects with great success, with clients such as Teva, Bausch & Lomb, Boston Scientific, Stryker, Schivo Medical, Garret, EDPAC, Repligen, Glanbia, GSK, MSD etc. .

SEAM carried out a series of tests and analysis on the material to try and assess the source of the issue.

The work carried out at SEAM for Monkey Reusable Products was to develop an understanding of the material properties of three different coffee cup lids that may affect their stability at elevated temperatures such as those that occur when hot drinks are placed in the cups. This was of great importance in determining whether or not a particular lid would leak when a hot drink was placed in the cup. SEAM utilised a wide ranging analytical equipment to test the candidate lid materials.. The analysis determined the optimum material for the application would be a unfilled polypropylene and this was used in the final product.

Mailo explains “I was very impressed with knowledge, capability and equipment that SEAM had at its disposal. Having access to this resource and expert capability gave me a certain level of comfort that I needed, and I knew that I was on the right track to being able to pinpoint the issue and develop a solution”.

Ramesh Raghavendra, Director at South Eastern Applied Materials (SEAM) Research Centre at Waterford Institute of Technology added: “This project, which is typical of what happens every day in Irish industry and manufacturing, is a great example that illustrate the benefits that small and medium (SME) industries can derive when they collaborate with appropriate academia. Once we discussed the issues and concerns that Monkey Reusable Products Ltd had with their lid, we were able to quickly identify the problem and suggest a path to resolution. At SEAM we pride ourselves on being accessible to all types of industry, big, medium and small and our quickness in terms of response and quality of service. SEAM currently serves over 250 companies across the island of Ireland”

After reflecting on the lessons and challenge of having production located in China, Mailo made the decision to move the manufacturing process back to Ireland. Monkey Cups lids are now manufactured in Waterford by Marli Products Ltd., Monkey Cups are hand assembled and dispatched from their HQ in Waterford Airport Business Park. This allows them to maintain a high quality product and offer a customised service to clients.

While COVID has been a disruptor, business has gone from strength to strength, Monkey Cups can now be purchased on their e-commerce store and all over Ireland including Brown Thomas, Dublin, Firecastle in Kildare, Niall Colgan, Limerick and GROW HQ, Waterford. Monkey Reusable Products Ltd. also provide custom branded barista standard coffee cups and stainless steel double walled bottles to companies in the USA, UK and Ireland. Their clients include, Red Hat, IDA, Flavahans, Taoglas, Roe & Co., and Oxford University Science Museum.

Both Irish businesses and academic institutions stand to benefit from collaboration, Irish businesses can gain greater access to cutting edge research and scientific expertise. Similarly academic institutions can extend their role beyond pure research to take on manufacturing challenges and contribute to economic growth. Current world events are creating an environment where collaboration to key to business growth, working together we can support local economies and build a more sustainable future for all.

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