When you think of Irish industry, what comes to mind?
A success story no doubt, a leading light in the recovery of the Irish economy after the global financial crash of ten years ago, built on technology companies, food and beverage, and the all-important life sciences sector. That 10-year viewpoint is a useful one – it really shows what can be done. So, let’s throw it 10 years forwards.
What does the future hold for Irish industry – where can it go, what should it look like, and what are the challenges that we must overcome?
At the core of industry in 10 years’ time, I expect to see the continued development of life sciences. Pharmaceutical companies and medical product manufacturers have a very comfortable home in Ireland, and long may that continue.
Similarly, the impressive Irish food and beverage sector will remain strong – both of these stalwarts of Irish industry are undergoing changes in the era of industry 4 that will present challenges, but on balance they have a fantastic opportunity to go from strength to strength under good, strategic management coupled with the right support from government.
But there is much more to Irish industry, and there is a huge opportunity for us to grow smaller or less mature aspects of industry and to build our reputation, output and productivity.
In fact, it is even possible to argue that the best route to industrial growth over the next ten years in Ireland comes from industrial diversification.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs here, I joined Rockwell Automation as country director for the island of Ireland having spent several years working in a variety of roles in the Middle East. Out there, diversification is right at the top of the agenda for industry. The (understandable) reliance on the oil and gas sector is not seen as a long-term strategy and huge commitments to diversification, both financially and intellectually, are already bearing fruit.
Diversification in Ireland makes great sense too – and unlike in much of the Middle East, we’re not starting from nothing. Here’s an example. Over the course of my career I’ve had reason to travel the world and spent time in mining facilities on several continents.
Without fail, in every single mine, I’ve seen Irish technology. Isn’t that something? Machinery manufactured in Northern Ireland is sold to more than 100 countries, the cluster employs more than 4,000 people at more than 100 companies.
It is supported by an established supply chain and strong engineering and research centres in two world-class universities. It is also an industry that is taking huge strides forwards as it benefits from remote monitoring and diagnostics of technologies built to be mobile – for much more on that, click through to our Connected Mining page.
Many more companies that could contribute to further diversification of Irish industry over the next 10 years already exist. The Irish entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well and is clear to see in its established industries as well as ones it is less well known for.
In my relatively short time as country director for Rockwell Automation in Ireland, I’ve seen some fantastic enterprises at the start of their journeys to becoming, potentially, brands of global importance across a variety of sectors – including working within the automotive supply chain, for example.
Industry 4.0 provides an environment that, if leveraged correctly by countries like Ireland, can help this diversification take root and grow very quickly. The barriers to entry for new companies are reducing all the time, the technologies now exist to scale quickly, the return on investment (ROI) from flexible, highly automated industry is becoming easier to prove, and the sophisticated supply chains and infrastructure that make it all possible already exist in Ireland.
Challenges exist too of course, and the most important one will always concern the human element. The best automation in the world can expand human possibility – it cannot replace it. Humans are and will remain the most important resource for industry, and as automation pushes the human factor further up the value chain, the importance of a highly skilled, highly trained, flexible workforce is more than it has ever been.