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How Manufacturers Can Navigate Operational Challenges in Uncertain Times

It’s hard for any of us to imagine just how different the world will look in 10 or 20 years. Changing demographics, environmental shifts and a vast range of technological advancements promise a much different landscape to where we are now.

Of all the sectors undergoing rapid transformation, life sciences stands among to most important in meeting the needs of tomorrow. Continued innovation in biotechpharmaceuticals and medical devices are just some of the areas essential for supporting improvements in global health, both today and well into the future.

It brings me great joy to see Ireland as one of the countries really driving progress in this vibrant area. The work that’s been done over recent decades has given us a firm footing to be a major player in the sector, due to a flourishing business environment that has attracted leading multinational companies, our world-class research capacity and a rich vein of talent in areas such as pharmacology and chemical engineering emerging from our educational institutions. These tail-winds have also enabled smaller, home-grown engineering companies to propagate around the larger companies.

The opportunity this ecosystem has brought is immense, giving the Irish economy the ability to contribute to some of the most life-changing advancements of our time and bring substantial benefit – not only domestically, but to the wider world.

In order to realise this opportunity, the ecosystem needs to have the endurance to deal with any turbulence faced. Whether dealing with immediate-term, unexpected events, or longer-term operational threats, continuity is key.

These are examples of some of the challenges life sciences manufacturers could experience:

Short-term skills shortages

Even as the world becomes increasingly digital, human skills and capabilities are as important as ever. Pioneering manufacturing technologies, from control systems through to analytics software, need operators who know how to relevant use the equipment to its full potential. If there’s a severe shortage of those skills in the market, or frictions involved in finding temporary operators during unexpected spikes, companies may find themselves exposed to operational risks.

Maintenance and lifecycle management

The lifecycle of manufacturing equipment is shortening. What may have been a multi-decade investment in the past could now become outmoded or surpassed by new innovations in a far shorter space of time. Manufacturers therefore need to ensure that all machinery is fit for purpose and have plans in place for upgrading or degrading where it becomes obsolete and creates downtime risks.

Failover and disaster recovery

At the more extreme end, companies may encounter a situation where a production line – or even an entire facility – becomes unexpectedly inoperable. The reasons behind this vary greatly, from faulty components through to a mass-scale cyber-attack on IT systems. Whatever the case, the ability to restore operations, or seamlessly switch to an alternative facility, is crucial to avoiding supply chain disruption.

Longer-term skill sharing and transition

Continuity threats need not be an overnight event. There are many manufacturers that are experiencing issues in retaining the skills they need – either because employees with specialised skills move on to different roles or else retire. Being able to preserve the necessary skills within the organisation is often just as important as having them in the first place.

Supporting continuity

Operational continuity is important to life sciences companies for a variety of reasons, with profitability and reputation accounting for just some of the value at stake. At Rockwell Automation, we’re working closely with companies in various roles across the life sciences sector to make sure they can keep operations going regardless of existential pressures, both in the short and longer term.

Some of the key areas we work in include:

  • Audit and technical support. Our Asset Reliability Team conducts comprehensive analysis for all areas of the company’s manufacturing to spot potential vulnerabilities or risks. Once identified, we can offer the technical capabilities to restore or upgrade machinery to ensure optimal functionality.
  • Remote communication, monitoring and maintenance. Manufacturing environments are fast changing, with far less requirement for manual, on-the-ground operators in many cases. From control room operations through to remote maintenance and capturing of expertise, we help our customers install the functionalities to bring a new level of efficiency and control to their production line management.
  • Skills support. Matching needed competencies with available resource is a challenge for any business. It’s an even greater challenge during periods of turmoil or uncertainty, where hiring or contracting isn’t necessarily a viable option. We offer customers access to our expert team of engineers and project managers, all with deep skillsets in life sciences, so that they can benefit from essential skills on an as-needed basis.
  • Partner network. Of course, no single business can do everything. That’s why we’ve built a network of expert partners, with specialisms in areas such as cyber security and IoT to make sure we can deliver the greatest breadth of service to our customers.

With current global events and mega trends, we expect the Irish life sciences sector to expand in the coming years, attracting more businesses, research teams and talent into the ecosystem. Being able to work with the manufacturers driving this progress and supporting the entire ecosystem to run with greater efficiency and reliability is a great honour. Long may it continue to thrive.


John Condon
John Condon
Country Sales Director Ireland, Rockwell Automation
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