The industry’s continued success is the result of sound strategy and its application. The next tranche of planning extends up until 2013 and its important elements are outlined here.
Vibrancy and high employment
Vibrancy and high employment
The medical device industry is without a doubt a vibrant growth sector of the Irish economy that is continuing to grow from strength to strength. More than 140 medical technology companies are located in Ireland; they annually export goods worth more than €6 billion and directly employ 24000 people. Many of the world’s leading medical technology companies have invested significantly in Ireland and a number of exciting, research based, indigenous companies are emerging and competing internationally.
Sustained by the availability of a highly skilled and educated workforce and a supporting infrastructure, employment in this sector has grown rapidly. Between 1999 and 2006 the Irish medical device workforce has grown from 16000 to 24000 to represent nearly 10% of Ireland’s total manufacturing workforce. Today, Ireland boasts the highest number of people working in the industry per head of population compared with any country in Europe.
Ireland is well placed to capitalise on the growing global market for medical technology products and services. Devices and diagnostic products are becoming ever smaller, smarter, less invasive, simpler to use and more patient friendly. Technologies are becoming more complex using new materials and combinations. Pharmaceuticals are being used to improve the performance of devices, and information and communications technology (ICT) is being used in home health care. Ireland hosts many of the world’s leading ICT and pharmaceutical companies, thus the potential is high for the sector to continue to grow by capitalising on new convergent medical technology products across disciplines.
Ireland’s opportunity is to continue to expand and integrate the extensive range of strategic competencies on the island. This will enable the industry to adapt to changes in the global economy to not only keep pace with, but to surpass, international competitors.
Following intensive research and consultation, the Irish Medical Devices Association (IMDA) launched its 2008–2011 Strategy in February 2008. The strategy highlights the importance of an integrated approach and identifies four areas of opportunities for the sector: skills and knowledge; manufacturing and operational excellence; innovation, research, development and commercialisation; and shared services.
Investment by multinational companies in Ireland has been underpinned by a highly skilled and educated workforce and this will be critical to attracting future investment into the country. IMDA’s strategy recognises the need for Ireland to constantly focus on future skill needs and implement appropriate policies and frameworks to deliver the highly educated and talented workforce that has been an important driver of growth to date. IMDA has been an active member of the Forfás Medical Device Expert Skills Group, which reported earlier in 2008. That report identifies the sector’s future skills needs up until 2013.1 Specific recommendations include the establishment of a Medical Device Manufacturing Centre of Excellence, increased involvement by clinicians in medical device innovation, and the introduction of programmes that bring together mechanical, electronic and biosciences technologies.
The Irish industry has also developed what is believed to be a unique national accredited competence based system of assessing operators. Moulding, filling, packaging and polishing standards are among the 18 standards already developed by the industry. Most recently, IMDA members have received Government funding through the State agency, Skillnets (www.skillnets.ie), to develop and pilot continuous improvement (lean, Six Sigma) training and standards (www.imda.ie/0/skillnets). Delivered through blended learning, the programme minimises costs to the companies by providing the training to several companies at once. This programme puts operatives on the path to life long learning and creates measurable and standardised training.
Extending the manufacturing chain
It is the Association’s vision that Ireland’s strong manufacturing base will not only be sustained, but will continue to grow. Manufacturing operations and expertise that currently exist can be leveraged to encourage investment in research and development. As Ireland becomes a one-stop shop capable of taking medical products and services quickly from conception to market, its ability to manufacture in Ireland will be critical. By creating a value chain that runs from end to end, Ireland can create something truly unique. IMDA has played a central role in the development of recommendations recently delivered by the Forfás High Level Manufacturing Group, established by the Irish Government, and looks forward to seeing them implemented in full.2
Forging links and a roadmap
New capabilities and synergies are being developed between industry sectors, academia and clinicians. IMDA’s innovation research, development and commercialisation pillar focuses on nurturing strong interdisciplinary and cross-sector collaboration to maximise commercialisation potential in Ireland. It has lobbied to improve the clinical trials infrastructure in the country to provide a lengthened value chain. Significant success has been achieved in this area and the Association will continue to work to improve access to clinicians and to develop linkages between clinicians and industry.
With colleagues in the State agency Enterprise Ireland (www.enterprise-ireland.com), the Association is in the process of developing a technology roadmap that outlines opportunities for the medical technology sector in Ireland in the medium term (five to 10 years hence). This study aims to identify current global trends in the market place by reviewing patents and mergers and acquisitions and utilising those data as a source of information on technologies and their applications. The data are then being cross-referenced against the skills and expertise of the industry and academic base in Ireland to identify the areas in which Ireland can succeed in the future. The final report will be published in late 2008.
Collaboration in services
The industry also recognises that there is an untapped opportunity for Irish companies to develop shared services models. New and unique business models can increase the value generated in medical technology companies operating in Ireland by attracting significant levels of shared services investment.
Executing the plan
IMDA works to represent and support the industry and does so in a strategic manner. It believes that its 2008–2011 Strategy will enable the medical device and diagnostics sector to develop and grow in a manner consistent with the development of the global industry. As a result, Ireland will retain its position as a world leader in the medical technologies sector.
1. Future Skills Needs of the Irish Medical Devices Sector, www.skillsireland.ie/press/reports/pdf/egfsn080205_medical_devices.pdf