Q&A with Brian Conroy, SVP and Head of Engineering and Industrial Division at IDA Ireland

Optel Vision’s EMEA operations in Limerick, Ireland, is focused on supplying automated vision inspection systems for the pharma industry worldwide.

The Manufacturing Transformation blog now has quite a history of providing articles reflecting many of the changes now occurring within the world of manufacturing. Given the highly dynamic nature of the industry, there has been no shortage of topics to discuss.

Until now, our perspective has been focused on what manufacturers must do to adapt. Today, we explore from a different viewpoint: What must countries do to help support manufacturing in their region? Given the dynamic nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the sweeping changes are also impacting a country’s infrastructure – from power to communications to having an educated labor pool that can support the expansion and innovation that are now an embedded part of manufacturing operations.

I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Conroy, SVP and Head of Engineering and Industrial Division with IDA Ireland, a government agency responsible for industrial development in Ireland. Here is a link to Brian’s LinkedIn profile and here is a link to IDA Ireland’s website.

How important is manufacturing as part of the future growth plans for the Republic of Ireland?

If you drive a luxury German car, wear contact lenses, or have had a Botox treatment, you’ve had a touch point with something made in Ireland. Ireland is highly focused on developing and increasing manufacturing’s role in the country’s economy. As a result, its manufacturing sector is 50% larger than the EU average in terms of GDP percentage, and it has become one of the most globalized economies in the world. Ireland is an export oriented economy with €114bn worth of goods exported in 2014 (and a further €102bn of services). In April 2013, Ireland detailed its latest strategy to grow employment and revenues from manufacturing. The plan includes a series of goals, to increase manufacturing employment by 20 percent by 2020 by embracing the changes in automation, robotics and skills to become a global leader in manufacturing processes. In short, Ireland is looking to out-skill and out-perform other countries by increasing the number of manufacturing sites in the country.

The country’s strategy is to focus on high value, high productivity manufacturing – a clear point of differentiation for Irish manufacturing over competing countries. Foreign direct investment is an important character in the Irish story. Leading global firms such as Intel, GE, Pfizer, BASF, Stryker, St. Gobain and ITW all have significant manufacturing footprints in Ireland. These multinationals have aligned with homegrown companies such as CRH, Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan. One last important point on this topic: For every ten jobs created in manufacturing, at least seven are created elsewhere in Ireland’s economy. Broad awareness of the positive effects of manufacturing has driven public and political support for the sector.

Most people understand that a Fourth Industrial Revolution is now underway in the manufacturing sector on a global scale. How do you see that impacting investment in manufacturing in the Republic of Ireland? Are there specific areas of growth you are trying to incent?

Ireland, through its government enterprise development agencies, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, has sought to ensure the manufacturing industry is broad based. The agencies work diligently to pick those emerging sectors or industry niches in which Ireland has the best chance of securing high-value winners. PharmaChem looms large; however, engineering, medtech and information and communications technology (ICT) are increasingly important industries. R&D across these industries, including process development, continues to drive increased productivity. The Irish government supports manufacturing by providing tax credits for process development and energy efficiency equipment. This has supported the move toward automated and increasingly flexible operating environments. Most sites use Lean 6 Sigma, emphasizing the convergence automation and big data.

What industries do you see the greatest transformation on how manufacturing is executed, and how much to you see that as an impact from how factories are run vs. what end users are now demanding from the products they buy?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing manufacturing. Factories and plants that leverage the power of the IoT are more efficient, productive and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. This can’t happen without a robust supply of skilled and knowledgeable workers. The Irish strategy is to ensure that manufacturing firms are supported by an education system that connects companies with local universities to make sure they can access to top talent for their future needs, as well as make sure existing employees have the skills they need. Education is an area of focus and pride in Ireland, and its Institutes of Technology are consistently globally ranked. New degrees course are being launched, while older programs are being adapted to ensure graduates have the knowledge and skills needed on the factory floor over the next decade.


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