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‘Leap of faith’ on new Shannon venture is hailed


CLARE had some positive economic news lately, when OLED Material Manufacturing Limited and PPG combined to create 100 jobs in Shannon, taking the former Avara site in Shannon.

Formerly of Roche in Clarecastle, Gerry Cahill is now the PPG Plant Manager for Shannon, as preparations begin for manufacturing.

While there is a long and very successful history of US companies coming to Ireland, he says it was very complex during a pandemic, with the whole thing having to be arranged virtually.

“One of the biggest challenges was the purchase of the site without ever physically being on the site. These guys have made quite a leap of faith. They’re currently leasing the site and early next year they’ll buy it.

“Until last week, no one from either PPG or UDC had been on the site, it was all done virtually. The second biggest challenge is that the site had been closed down for a year. We’re starting to reactive systems, but that’s all going very well.”

With pharmaceuticals having been manufactured at the site when Avara had it, he said it is a good fit for a company making OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) and he praises the IDA for spotting the opportunity, and helping the companies make the leap during the time of Covid.

As is virtually always the case when Clare gets multinational investment, the proximity to Shannon Airport was an important factor in the decision.

Unfortunately the advantages one would expect when investing next to an airport are quite absent at the moment, with the Aer Lingus link to the global hub that is Heathrow still severed. There are also no flights to America right now, and Gerry says they need key services back.

“That’s something we have spoken to our local politicians about. There’s two reasons, one is that the process of manufacturing OLEDs is quite technically challenging, so we need resources from the US here to help us.

“We also need to go to the US. Connectivity from Shannon either to Heathrow or directly to the US will be very important in the next year.”
He says the region did have several advantages to offer the investors.

“One is the infrastructure here in Shannon, the site was very good, the availability of talent with the universities and the amount of industry here in the Mid West. Then in general we have the airport, the connectivity, the motorways and getting more materials here and the ability to ship product from Shannon to various points around the world is also very good.

“It mightn’t seem the most logical choice if you were sitting in the US, but the plant was available, the people are very good here. Senior management came last week and they were very happy with what they saw. So far so good, it’s a good choice.”

OLEDs are used in numerous smart devices, and the demand for them is increasing and increasing, as they offer energy saving and quality advantages, so it’s expected the Shannon facility will expand significantly in the next few years. As things settle, there will be jobs available in a number of areas.

“There’s a wide range of jobs really, as in any manufacility, but here particularly. At the moment there’s quite a number of engineering roles. We’ll then move into operational roles and the quality demand is very high, so we’ll have a lot of roles for synthetic chemists.

“What we’re making is basically a chemical molecule and we’ll have a lot of analytical chemists. We’ll have supply chain people, distribution people, so it’s a very broad remit. The three main areas would be around operations, engineering and and analytical chemistry. “

It will take some time, but the drive has begun. “Initially we’re starting relatively small scale. From a competitive perspective, it’ll take a few years before the site is fully competitive.

“It’s a big site here, it’s 20 odd acres, but the demand for Oleds is growing quite significantly year on year. Our plan is to fill the facility over the next three to five years.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.