Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Worldwide around 50,000 employees work to further develop technologies that improve and enhance life – from biopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer, infertility and multiple sclerosis, cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production, to liquid crystals for smartphones and LCD televisions. Merck’s footprint in Ireland is a growing one with over 800 people focusing on the two key areas of Biopharma and Life Science. The Biopharma arm is headed up by Roisin Molloy from commercial offices based out of CityWest, Dublin with two Life Science plants in Arklow and Cork. The plant in Arklow (formerly Sigma Aldrich) is headed up by James Ennis and has a focus on the commercial scale production of custom and generic active pharmaceutical ingredients whilst the newly extended site in Cork (formerly Millipore) specialises in membrane products research and development with the aim of becoming the location of choice for the development and manufacture of all future Merck Life Science membrane products. Jean Lawless caught up with Martin McAuliffe, Managing Director of Cork Operations and Country Speaker for Merck in Ireland, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk about the bright future for the expanded Life Science plant.
How does your extended Life Science plant with its new manufacturing capability differ from others on the site?
We have two new manufacturing operations that we opened in the last year. The first is our Chromatography Media facility. We were making one of the raw materials for the product for the last six or seven years. We have closed the UK factory and moved that capability in to this new plant so now we are making the full product range from raw material to finish for shipment to our customers.
The other operation is our Specialty Membrane facility. We have a number of membrane plants on site but the difference in this one is that it makes a range of specialty membranes that were only previously made in the US. We closed the plant there and moved that technology into the Cork plant. That allows us to make membranes with very tight pore structures that can separate out viruses, a very tight specification membrane that is a new capability for us. Also, this line can be used as a pilot line for future development, so we have moved more into the R & D space where a lot of new membrane development will be done using the Cork facility and its capabilities.
We understand that Millipore is a relatively new addition to the Merck Group (since 2010) but has been in Cork for 29 years prior to this and Merck purchased Millipore to add to its Life Science offering? How has the Leadership changed under a European company like Merck from that of a US parent company like Millipore?
The reason Merck bought Millipore was to add to its life science offering and it was a bit of a learning curve for Merck that has transformed itself over the last 10 years or so from being largely a German chemical company into a worldwide global life science company. So Millipore was a very strategic acquisition for Merck. What is interesting about Merck is its tradition, it’s a very old company founded in 1668, that’s 350 years old, going back to the foundation of science almost, compared to other global companies such as General Motors or IBM which might be around 100 to 110 years. So Merck has a very long-term view on things. It is also majority family owned going back over 12 generations that gives a lot of stability to the company. It is a European company with a European culture. However it is also interesting that the senior leadership for the life science division of Merck is based in Boston, so we do have an American influence and ethic, which gives us a blend of the two cultures.
How have you gone about your manufacturing differently than similar companies?
We’re a manufacturing site so have our own way of doing things. Some of the products we make are ones we specialise in. For example we make filtration membranes and a lot of the development of membranes were invented by the founder of Millipore 60 or 70 years ago. We were one of the first companies to make these type of products, so we have a unique history in those and an expertise that is at the core of the science of the product that we make. This gives us a certain focus different from the more recent arrivals to the market as we would have a deep expertise and capability in the areas that we manufacture in.
What is your priority as MD in the leadership you give your team?
I suppose if I was to break it down I think the first thing I would say is that the customer is at the centre of everything we do. We are only in business because the customer buys the product we make, so we are very conscious as a manufacturing site that while we might not have direct sales contact with the customer, the internal businesses we serve and multinational clients who buy our products are uppermost in our minds. Many of them visit the site to meet with us. Another key area is adding value to the corporation. Every year the bar gets raised and we need to continue to deepen what we do and perform in a way that we can add increased value to the company. One of our priorities is to invest by constantly bringing in new lines and capabilities. That way we can leverage into the future and support the operation and employment in the area. The ongoing development of the workforce is also important. We are lucky to have great people working here and we must continually invest in and develop the talent that we have.
What are your aims in terms of growth and expansion?
One of the new manufacturing facilities is currently in commercial production so we are in the process of ramping that out at the moment, which is our immediate priority. The second facility is still at validation stage and will hopefully go into commercial production in early 2018. Another investment is a new line in our medical device area that will be coming on stream next year so these are the key expansion projects that we are currently focusing on. Every year we also upgrade the facility with more modern technology and capabilities and we aim to continue to do this.
How do you manage to keep the quality of your work at the top?
An interesting question. As a manufacturing site of products that get used in the health and pharma world, quality and safety are at the core of everything that we do and we talk about them constantly. The quality of the product is our signature so we focus a lot on making sure that what we ship out bears our stamp of quality and expertise and meets all the specifications and requirements of our customers and that’s important to us.
How do you find Ireland as a source of the qualified and quality workforce that you have?
Ireland is an excellent location, and in Cork we are lucky that there is a hub of life science and pharma and medical device companies in the area. We are also lucky that we have a lot of collaboration with academia in universities both in Cork and also Dublin, in fact we won a Science Foundation Ireland award last October for Industry collaboration working with Trinity College, Dublin, so we work very closely with universities to make sure that skills coming out are good. We have a lot of very qualified people in the area to work with which is attractive to us. We have a good relationship with the IDA in terms of supporting projects and getting access to senior executives. We do see occasionally some skill shortages when the industry picks up in certain areas like validations, engineers and some quality people. I think as a country we need to focus on developing the volume of graduates and candidates in those areas going forward.
As a more recent addition to the Merck Group, how much support have you received from your parent company?
We have received great support from the parent company as within the operations world in Merck we are considered a relatively large and strategic site with over 700 employees. We have had all of the senior members and owners of the parent company visit the site in 2014. Also the recently appointed CEO spent time here last year as well as the key people in all of our business segments who have visited in the last six months.
How many jobs have been created with the extension of manufacturing and what is the economic impact locally?
With the new manufacturing site there has been 70 new jobs ranging from general operatives, R & D, manufacturing engineers, chemists and microbiologists – a wide range of skills involved. We have also developed some of our internal people into these roles. We are a big employer in the area and this obviously has an effect on the local economy. As we’ve grown we’re building on a new extension to include a cafeteria and additional offices which will have a further positive effect on local companies and service providers
What are the benefits of being in Ireland? How has Merck’s relationship with Ireland grown?
Ireland is a great place to do business with a good hub of the type of skills and companies we need in the country. Many of our key customers worldwide are based within five, six or seven kilometres and they’re comfortable with the fact one of their suppliers is manufacturing close to them. Ireland has a lot of positive influences and a good reputation within our sector.At the opening last year, the IDA and a government minister got to meet with our senior executives who were very impressed with the access we have with key decision-makers that may not be replicated in other countries. The IDA is a great supporter and as we move into the R & D space we appreciate that backing. Ireland is sometimes considered a small country but that can also work in your favour and it certainly has for Merck.