It's often been said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. In the electronics supply chain and manufacturing sectors, that Irish identity may be increasingly a norm.
In fact, the roster of big name electronics companies runs the gamut from semiconductor manufactures including Alcatel, Analog Devices, Atmel, Intel, and Xilinx to well known OEMs, distributors, and contract manufacturers including Avnet, Apple, EMC, Cisco, Sanmina, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, and Flex. From chips to finished products, companies are creating a presence on the Emerald Isle in order to further their European presence and support a global business.
EBN sat down with Shane Nolan, senior vice president technology, Consumer & Business Services at IDA Ireland. IDA Ireland's charter is to encourage investment into Ireland by foreign-owned companies. We asked him about some of the trends and tales of doing business in Ireland.
EBN: What's the state of electronics manufacturing currently in Ireland? What would make operations in Ireland compelling to electronic component makers, electronics OEMs, and contract manufacturers?
Nolan: Ireland is a hub of activity in electronics research and development (R&D) space right now from the nano-scale level upwards. Application areas are primarily in:
- Internet of Things (IoT): Intel has designed a new Quark chipset from the ground up in Ireland
- Medical devices: 33% of the global supply of ventilators is shipped from Ireland.
From a manufacturing perspective, we are seeing Ireland used as a global location for the production of complex high margin devices (EMC), medical grade or heavily regulated products (Boston Scientific, Medtronic), and a continuation of our long pedigree in semiconductor manufacturing with Intel and Analog Devices (the former having spent $5 billion on its Ireland plants in the last three years alone).
EBN: Please tell us a little about IDA Ireland and how it is helping organizations set up in Ireland?
Nolan: IDA Ireland, an Irish government agency, engages with companies across a wide variety of countries and industries to explore opportunities to use Ireland as a springboard for building their international business or grow their operational footprint. We currently have 1,300 clients, of which roughly 700 are headquartered in the United States.
EBN: Can you give us an example or two of results that global electronics companies that have received benefits from a move to Ireland?
Nolan: Intel's development of their Quark chip, which will underpin the company's move into IoT and was fully developed in Ireland, is a good example – IDA supported the company throughout this process. The company has 4,000 people employed in manufacturing and R&D in Ireland, but this is the first time a new chip family was designed outside the US/Israel for the company.
Another example is Apple's building of their first non-U.S. data center in Ireland. It will use 100% green energy and will benefit from the country's unique climatic conditions for greatly reduced cooling overhead.
EBN: Have you seen industry trends that make Ireland a strategic place to put a manufacturing or distribution hub?
Nolan: Certainly, we see a number of trends, including:
- Process design and bridging the gap between R&D and manufacturing. We are seeing the advent of contract manufacturers working closely with hardware start-ups to fast track the prototyping process from R&D to scalable production. Cork HQ's PCH is a very good case in point with their Highway1 hardware incubator. We are also seeing a growing interest in hardware hack-athons.
- Convergence between microelectronics/software and medical devices. Ireland is seeing this more and more and has invested as a country in research infrastructure to underpin this trend. This is supporting a healthy start-up scene in this space and activity from multinationals.
- 3D printing and additive manufacturing. The Irish government is looking at developing core fundamental research capability in the area of 3D or additive manufacturing to address some of the outstanding scientific challenges in this emerging area like metal printing, for example.
EBN: How do you see the opportunities evolving in Ireland?
Nolan: Ireland's evolving capabilities include:
- Batch manufacturing of complex microelectronic products
- Bridging the gap between R&D and manufacturing
- Working closely with innovative Irish electronics companies (particularly in the area of medical devices) and leveraging academic research capability in the process
- Using Ireland as a gateway to Europe for developing new markets and launching new products in the European market
EBN: Is there anything else you'd like to tell use about Ireland, IDA Ireland and the global electronics supply chain?
Nolan: With innovation still largely coming from the U.S. and supply chains increasingly located in Southeast Asia, Ireland can be the bridge between R&D and manufacturing from both a manufacturing process design perspective and a follow-the-sun operations standpoint. Our unique position is also a gateway to a market of 500 million people. Given our medical device track record combined with our investment in support for cutting-edge electronics research, the opportunity to use Ireland as a location for research and product development collaborations is great.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN