Modular Automation makes inroads in US medtech market
Irish firm provides automation solutions for Johnson & Johnson, Stryker and Medtronic
Vivian Farrell, CEO of Modular Automation: ‘We are supporting multinational companies in Ireland to be more competitive and to keep jobs in Ireland’
Future generations of medical devices coming out of the US could be manufactured on automated production lines using Irish technology. Earlier this month, Shannon-based advanced manufacturing specialist Modular Automation delivered its first solution to a US-based customer in New Jersey.
This marked a significant step on the company’s international expansion journey, having established an office in Jacksonville, Florida in 2015 with assistance from Enterprise Ireland.
Founded in 1986, the company provides complete automation integration solutions to customers in Europe, North America and beyond. The firm specialises in the medical device industry, and its blue-chip customer base includes world leaders such as Johnson & Johnson, Stryker, Boston Scientific and Medtronic.
The company’s strategy for growth in the North American market is to secure referrals from Irish-based US companies and use them to win business from sister sites in their home market as well as globally.
“This is an excellent model to use,” says Paul Burfield, Enterprise Ireland senior vice-president for the west and southern United States. “Our indigenous client base has a great advantage in having access to multinational customers in Ireland. It’s a great insertion point for them, and they can build relationships with those companies and leverage that to win business in their global networks.”
Innovation is also of critical importance.
“Modular Automation is doing phenomenally well,” adds Burfield. “When you look at the history of other Irish technology companies which have been successful in the US, you will find investment in R&D and innovation in their DNA. That’s the case with Modular Automation, who continuously invest to add value to their products, and they are now partnering with world leaders like Stryker, Johnson & Johnson and DePuy Synthes as a result.”
“We provide advanced technology solutions for medical device manufacturers in Ireland”, says Modular Automation CEO Vivian Farrell. “We work in partnership with our customers over a long period of time to understand their needs. We are developing equipment that hasn’t existed before. It’s pure innovation. We are producing machines that sit on the floor in the factory and manufacture product for our customers. This requires a lot of proof-of-principle work.”
Each project tends to be unique. “Very often a customer will come to us with a challenge such as the need to scale up to meet a demand surge,” she notes. “Quite often they say they need to double production and get to market quicker, and that what they are doing at the moment will not get them there. We are supporting multinational companies in Ireland to be more competitive and to keep jobs in Ireland.”
Through intensive R&D and proof-of-principle work, the company develops solutions to speed up processes through automation. This may be seen as robots replacing jobs, but Farrell argues that this is far from the reality.
“Ireland is not a cheap place to manufacture,” she explains. “Manufacturing will go to other, cheaper locations if it is not competitive here. Automation creates jobs. We have grown from 60 employees a few years ago to more than 150 employees today. Most of them are highly skilled software and engineering graduates. We are sustaining jobs in the medical device sector. Very often we find ourselves in conversations with customers who are competing with their sister sites in the US and around the world. If the parent company is close to FDA approval for a new device, the Irish firm will come to us to be part of the bid to win that mandate for the site.”
It’s not about replacing jobs, it’s about being more competitive by being innovative
And the firms have been successful in those bids.
“Part of the reason for that is because they can convince their HQ that they can deliver, that they have an automation partner who can deliver, who knows what they are doing, and who can do it. There is a whole cluster of SMEs in Ireland supporting multinationals and its very exciting to be part of that. If these multinationals are growing, it’s good for everyone. Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson and Stryker are all expanding here because they have been successful in winning new business.”
Innovation is central to the company’s success. “We are at the forefront of Industry 4.0. We are helping customers adopt robotics and autonomous vehicles in a safe way. It’s not about replacing jobs, it’s about being more competitive by being innovative.”
For the near term, the US will be key to the firm’s growth strategy, says Farrell. “We have big ambitions for growth, and some of that will come from Ireland and some will be in the US. There is huge growth in the medical device market at present, particularly with the opening-up of Asian markets. Manufacturers have to get in quickly if they want to get a slice of that market and they are not going to with current methods of manufacture. That’s where our solutions come in.”