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Home » Manufacturing » Irish manufacturing has ‘met its moment’ in industrial digitalisation

Dermot Lynch

Head of Business & Market Development GB&I, ABB

Stephen Nolan

Co-owner & Technical Director, Robotics & Drives Ltd

A unique industrial landscape within Ireland is set to offer the country a clear lead in the advance digital manufacturing marketplace. 

Ireland is uniquely primed to capitalise on the benefits of advanced manufacturing. Industry expert Dermot Lynch believes Ireland is “meeting its moment” within industrial digitalisation. However, he also adds a note of caution, highlighting hurdles in skills development that need to be overcome. 

Industrial legacy 

One reason the Irish market is well-placed to capitalise on the benefits of advanced digitalisation is that it is ‘unencumbered by a long industrial legacy’ which acts as ‘ballast’ to innovation in mature markets. 

“Ireland is primed to ‘leapfrog’ these markets in a technological sense,” suggests Lynch. “The sectoral balance of medtech, biopharma and electronics delivers a ‘baked-in’ bias to technological innovation.” He also points to the collegiate engagement in Irish industry, which makes it easier to convene smaller groups to work on problems. 

Benefits of generalism 

Irish manufacturing’s proximity to the tech industry — which has a strong presence in the country and a focus on generalism — offers further advantages. “Larger economies can have a sectoral specialisation that drives technology providers to specify for a sector, such as the automotive industry. Culturally, there is a tendency to privilege the status quo,” explains Lynch, who is Head of Business Development for electrification and automation specialists — ABB.  

Their Irish partners such as Robotics & Drives Services (RDS) have benefitted from serving a wide market base, generating a value-adding approach to innovation. Co-founder, Stephen Nolan, recognises the opportunity for Ireland to become a global centre of excellence in areas such as robotics. “When we started in 2005, robot sales were in the single digits, domestically. Now, the domestic market is over 100 robots per year, and 80% of our current business is export-related,” says Nolan. 

The ultimate objective is to relieve skills bottlenecks and shorten the distance from vision to actualisation.

Dermot Lynch

Skills challenge 

There are skills challenges to overcome, and Lynch cites Irish MedTech Association research highlighting the need for upskilling and reskilling. A separate Google and Amárach survey found that national investment in digital skills could add €9.5 billion to Ireland’s economy in the next three years. However, few SMEs felt they had the requisite skills to adopt new technology, and the majority are ‘less than halfway’ on their digital journey. 

Within this skills shortage debate, the MedTech report also identified that 92% of companies saw robotics as critical. “With skills development, we cannot wait for a new generation to come through because it is happening too rapidly,” he says. “We will also need to upskill or reskill people in mid-career. We’ve seen how supply constraints can inhibit growth, and this is an even more acute issue as skilled resources are less fungible than goods.” 

Role of robotics 

Technology provider ABB is looking to participate in upskilling and has a designated robotics training facility but also recognises its role in removing technical barriers. Core to this is a so-called ‘low code’ approach that involves removing some of the technical hurdles. 

Lynch gave the example of changing a robot’s function that previously would have required an expert to reprogramme the code. Solutions, such as ‘lead-through programming,’ mean anyone can reprogramme by physically moving a robot and clicking a button to automatically write the code for that new movement. He says: “The ultimate objective is to relieve skills bottlenecks and shorten the distance from vision to actualisation. We are at the point where people can programme without prior training.” 

Stealing a lead

ABB and its subsidiary B&R Automation are also contracted to provide a digital factory at the Advanced Manufacturing Centre (AMC) in Limerick, working with local partners (the Malone Group, Bonners, RDS & KAON Automation) to showcase the latest in advanced digital technology. “We look across the globe and the vision from the IDA and AMC teams is unparalleled. It will deliver an asset to Irish manufacturing which will enhance Ireland’s comparative advantage in industrial digitalisation for years to come,” Lynch concludes. 

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