The Luck of the Irish

22 June 2008 (Last Updated June 22nd, 2008 18:30)

Penny Jones explores developments in Ireland's medical device industry and its quest to become a hub for new technology.

The Luck of the Irish

Ireland truly has hit the jackpot when it comes to the medical device industry.

Just recently the nation has been working towards a promotion to 'medical device hub', investing not only in research and development and education but changing legislation and processes to make life much easier for internal and international companies wanting to make Ireland home.

It is no surprise Ireland wants a piece of the medical device pie. The industry, on a global scale, is estimated to be worth €115bn and in Ireland alone, exports exceed €6bn.

"The industry, on a global scale, is estimated to be worth €115bn and in Ireland alone, exports exceed €6bn."

The industry also employs 25,000 people (these figures were handed out by Ireland's Minister for trade and Commerce John McGuinees on 22 May 2008) and half of the top 25 global medical device companies have a presence in the republic, joining 140 medical companies that operate there already.

But the story goes deeper than that. After experiencing a technology boom which increased the economy in Ireland and provided much needed jobs, the hype is starting to dwindle. Dell – one of the more widely publicised technology companies to enter Ireland – announced this year it was downsizing its production plant for its IT products.

Higher cost of living and higher wages for staff are believed to be behind the decision, which saw 250 jobs lost. This is just one story that highlights Ireland's current plight of trying to maintain jobs while targeting new industry sectors.

Dell, however, did announce in May 2008 that it was going to hire 20 new staff at its Cherrywood facility as part of an Industry Solutions Group which will work within the OEM market segment of medical and industrial. Is this a sign that Ireland could be moving in the right direction?

GROWTH AND INNOVATION

The nation is hoping it will attract new industry blood by reducing the amount of time it takes companies to go through the CE process. The National Standards Authority of Ireland is targeting big multinationals by building up its expertise in CE certification in the hope more manufacturing facilities will be established there. Investment in technologies that will help this process along is planned, with the aim that its current 12-month rate of 100 medical device approvals a year will be drastically increased.

"Ireland's own medical device companies are also starting to mature, which will help the overall process of growth along."

Ireland's own medical device companies are also starting to mature, which will help the overall process of growth along. Small companies are now gaining the attention of venture capitalists and becoming known for their innovative R&D in this space. And investment in education and the nurturing of college programmes is only further helping the cause.

Just recently the Enterprise Ireland Student Enterprise Awards gave accolades to a number of college design projects. One such project, V-Sense, improved patient care and freed nursing time by monitoring vital patient information such as blood pressure, oxygen and blood levels and body temperature using wireless technologies. It sends the signal back to a central location in real time.

All efforts combined are pushing the areas of dental, vision and hearing, orthopaedics, disposables and support products and services ahead for Ireland, and those working within its bounds. The nation's steady growth – seen since the first companies started there in the early 1970s – could now skyrocket. Medical device producers look to ease red tape delays as the nation comes into a new era of medical device manufacturing. And that's certainly something for Ireland to feel lucky about.