“We have an ambitious plan to scale up training to support the upskilling of manufacturers” – CEO Q&A: Barry Kennedy, IMR

CEO Q&A | Wed 4 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research
Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research

In our next CEO Q&A, Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research, talks about the silent challenge facing the manufacturing industry today: the technological revolution.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

To build a vibrant motivated organisation, leading edge infrastructure and strong industrial networks to create an environment to help manufacturing companies with the disruptive technological challenges facing them, through the research and upskilling programs we provide .

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Most would say talent acquisition which I would agree with. Hiring and holding good people in a buoyant market place and maintaining affordable salaries is a major challenge.

Along with that managing the finances in a not-for-profit research organisation brings up unique challenges that would not happen in other types of business.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

As a not-for-profit company, we have limited levers to recognise employees with financial incentives.  So we have created a work environment that allows employees to grow and develop and to work on the latest technologies in a very comfortable, trendy work environment.

We strive to acknowledge the work through good management engagement with the employees. Let them know we care and their work matters.  We strive to keep a positive energised and motivated teams with a sense of purpose.

We also offer continuing education and opportunities such as doing a PhD by research in the organisation in partnership with Universities in Ireland.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

We have 33 multinational and 30 SME enterprises engaged with IMR with 37 companies engaged in collaborative research in our research and pilot line centres in Rathcoole and Mullingar.

As a cross sector research company we have unique insights into the challenges facing manufacturing companies.  As an open export driven economy, manufacturers are facing into some significant challenges.

There are the well documented ones of Brexit, current US policy of ‘bring back US jobs’, and pending tax changes but the one silent one that faces manufacturers and potentially bigger is the technological revolution that is facing the industry.

Coined under a term called Ind 4.0, emerging technologies such as collaborative robotics, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing (3D-printing), IIOT or digitisation of manufacturing are and have the potential to disrupt complete business models and supply chain. Example 3D printers, printing bespoke shoes for each individual is already upon us.

This will change where and how these shoes will be manufactured or the full digitisation of a factory with AI will game change how supply chains operate where from order to product delivery will be entirely digitally controlled.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

The movement towards full digitisation is well and truly upon manufacturing. The introduction of affordable ‘collaborative’ robots is here. The use of 3D printing and other Additive Manufacturing techniques to disrupt how, what and when we manufacture products is being integrated into manufacturing facilities today.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) capability to support workers is happening now, and most importantly, sustainable manufacturing responsibility is quickly emerging as a top priority as we grapple with climate change.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Yes, there is an urgent need to upskill current manufacturing technicians, engineers, operators and managers in developing areas of collaborative robotics, Data Analytics, 3D (design, printing and operations), business model transformation; how to cope with the fast changing advancements and stay successful.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

The seeds for the foundation and setting up of IMR was at the start of the last economic crisis where industry both large and small gathered to look at ways to a collaborative approach they could face the economic challenges facing them and take cost out of their organisations.

Irish people are known globally as good networkers and excellent at collaborating, and using the vehicle of IMR, industry are networking, building solutions and driving business growth while also collaboratively looking at ways to show global leadership through their sustainable manufacturing initiatives.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Certainly companies who are active with us and who are in the food industry where shelf life is key are being challenged significantly with their product to market. On the incoming supply chain to manufacturing facilities this too is a worry where there could be unforeseen delays with inventory supplies to facilities.

Certainly if manufacturers products are subjected to higher duties going into the UK then these companies profitability will be challenged and getting cost out of the product to protect margin will be key.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

If you look up the definition of success it says things such as ‘the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status’ or I prefer the ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’ but with a key differentiation ‘accomplishment of an aim or a purpose’ bigger than yourself.

I need a project, program, job that has real purpose where I can make a positive difference, that will carry me over the rough times and that’s got to be a project bigger than myself.

IMR strives for this today by driving research that is making a real difference to succeed with delivering sustainable jobs for Irish employees, doing as much as we can in our control to improve climate change, and provide a positive working environment for our teams where they enjoy coming to work.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Find the purpose that you believe in, life is too short, build a strong team around you who believe in the vision and focus on the delivery.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Seeing the IMR team develop and grow together to deliver two state of the art facilities and delivering real impact with such positive energy and enthusiasm.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

IMR has an ambitious plan to scale up its training in areas of additive manufacturing, robotics, analytics, IIOT and sustainability to support the upskilling of manufacturers in Ireland.

We will also be focusing on looking at ways to support incubation of new companies in our facilities and on our production pilot line areas.  Secure funding for and deliver in latest emerging systems for manufacturers in areas such as additive manufacturing.

Furthermore, deliver the research and develop a roadmap which will support the transformation of Irish Manufacturing Industry.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

IMR to be the leading research, development and solution provider in Ireland for manufacturers.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

In order for Irish manufacturers to stay relevant, they need to understand the size and risk to their business associated with these disruptive technologies. Understanding whats going on in other parts of the world is key. It is critical that Irish manufacturers invest more in RND.

I need a project, program, job that has real purpose where I can make a positive difference, that will carry me over the rough times and that’s got to be a project bigger than myself.

Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research

Barry Kennedy, CEO of Irish Manufacturing Research