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Irish engineering focusing on a more sustainable future

Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-do – it’s a must, says Engineering Industries Ireland

Next week will see the launch of a new strategy for the engineering sector by Ibec’s newest trade association. “The strategy will focus on the four key strategic pillars of regulation, innovation, people, and sustainability,” says Pauline O’Flanagan, director of Engineering Industries Ireland.

“Engineering Industries Ireland’s mission is to build a better and sustainable future for engineering business by influencing policy with a unified voice on shared challenges and encouraging companies to innovate and develop solutions for sustainable businesses and to drive talent development,” she adds. “Our vision is for Ireland to be a global engineering centre of excellence.”

The breadth and complexity of the industry is enormous. “Engineering Industries Ireland represents a broad range of engineering companies in Ireland in terms of size, scale and product,” she says. “The industry has total exports of €8.8 billion, with over 50,000 people employed by 10,800 enterprises – 65 per cent of them indigenous companies. Many are involved in the design development and manufacture of electronic and electrical components, of vehicle parts, design, development and manufacture of machines and other mechanical devices, design, development for components for aviation and maintenance and repair of aviation parts and automation.”

They are also part of the global supply chains of some of the largest manufacturers in the world. “They are competing for business both within their own parent organisations and for other customers internationally. If an electrical company is making a product and a company in Ireland is not able to supply a part for it, they will look elsewhere.”


Innovation is a key pillar of the new strategy for the industry. “It’s a very innovative sector,” says O’Flanagan. “We have many tier one and tier two suppliers working on new autonomous vehicle and electric vehicle technologies, for example. Valeo has its global research and development centre of excellence in Tuam, where it is working on vision systems. And Kostal supplies automotive electrical components to some of the world’s leading car makers. These are just two of the huge number of companies here that are involved in the automotive industry sub-supply sector.”

Refrigerated trucks

Trane Technology manufactures refrigerated trucks for export throughout the world, she says. “They excel in what they do and have developed innovative new refrigerant as well as new robotic manufacturing cells, which they are supplying to other companies in the group. Grant Engineering is doing great innovation on new oil boilers and heat pumps while E&I Engineering in Donegal has been a fantastic success story in the electrical switchgear area, and it was sold for €1.8 billion last year.”

The strategy aims to help the sector become even more innovative. “We want to build capability in the sector and help companies move up the value chain. That will help attract new investment into Irish companies. We can provide training programmes to help on their innovation journeys and we have a six-step process to help companies realise their R&D ambitions.”

Turning to the people element of the strategy, she points to growing competition for engineering skills as a challenge facing the industry. “Ireland is well known for its highly skilled workforce and good education system, but we don’t have enough engineers, and there are not enough women coming into the industry. We need to improve access and create more pathways to engineering to attract more diverse talent. Ibec set up the Engineering Skillnet to develop training programmes for the sector. We plan to grow that Skillnet to support the training and development of staff in the industry and attract more people into the sector.”

Huge area

Ongoing regulatory change is a feature of the industry. “We want to help support companies to influence the regulatory environment,” says O’Flanagan. “Regulation is necessary to ensure products are safe, but we want to ensure it doesn’t create a negative environment for business. We want to see transparent and cost-effective regulation that is harmonised across Europe.”

Sustainability is also vitally important for the future of the industry. “It’s a huge area. It’s no longer a nice-to-do, it’s a must. Customers are insisting on it and they want to buy from companies with a sustainability strategy.”

She mentions Ibec’s newest campaign, Ireland: Towards a Model of Sustainable Substance, in this context. “The campaign sets out clear metrics for business to achieve progress against indicators not limited to GDP but also across broader societal and wellbeing metrics.

“The Irish engineering sector is resilient and is redefining itself in the face of global challenges in climate change and digitalisation through innovation – with many companies developing new innovative solutions to reduce fossil fuels by moving to biofuels, electrification of cars and machinery and increasing digitalisation and the use of data to drive business performance. We are supporting our member firms in their sustainability journeys.”