ENGINEERS WEEK Ian Haynes
15 Mar 2021
Ian Haynes, Head of Engineering at Lynoslife is in conversation with Brightwater’s Commercial Director Cathal O Donnell. An Irish life sciences company, Lynoslife specialises in the fields of contract formulation and manufacturing and has bases in Mayo and Cork.
COD: Ian, how are you? Thanks for joining us today. I thought it would be worth having a chat, to see where you’re coming from. You have a pretty exciting story so maybe you could tell us your background and where you’ve come from. What prompted your interest in engineering?
IH: You’d have to go right back to childhood. I’m not sure when engineers are born but I believe it starts way back in just a general interest in cars, how do things work, always taking things apart. That kind of led me into the whole idea of engineering in the first place. So I went to the University of Birmingham to do Mechanical Engineering and I think I chose that because it was the most general engineering degree at the time. It wasn’t too specialised. I had no idea of what I wanted to do in the future and I think that’s important as well because too many people perhaps try and decide what they want to be. I would recommend not to do that, instead choose a course that you’re interested in and then, like me, see where it goes. I’ve gone through tyre design, race tyre technicians on some of the racetracks around the UK and around Europe so I was in the tyre industry, then I then got into the glass industry and ended up now in cosmetics. You’ll never quite know where it takes you but I think it’s important to make sure that you start off with the interest, that’s the important part. -
COD: Maybe you could tell us where you are now, what role you’re in now and what company you’re involved with. What role are you in now?
IH: I’m with a company called Lynoslife which up until last year was called Cosmetic Creations and by that name you can see that basically we’re a cosmetics company although we do divert into some of the pharmaceutical products. I’m head of the engineering department and we have two sites in Ireland, one in Cork and one in Co.Mayo. I have various technicians and product engineers, electricians working under me. I’m based in Cork but I do have responsibility for the two sites.
COD: How has business been? Obviously we had the pandemic last year but how did that affect your company then when we all got that shock? What initial effect did the pandemic have on your manufacturing company?
IH: It went crazy. To pick a word, it just went crazy. It was round about March last year when the CEO, to be fair to him, he was ahead of the game, he could see what the demand was going to be. We very quickly started developing a hand sanitiser formulation. We pretty much converted both factories to hand sanitiser (manufacturing). The demand was through the roof. The HSE was screaming for it, the hospitals. To be honest, we couldn’t make enough. The big challenge was to convert a factory that was predominantly making hand creams, shampoos, fake tans, all of a sudden these machines had to start producing sanitiser gel. One of the major challenges there is that you have machines and processes designed for a very runny product like a liquid, almost like a water. Now it has to produce a gel. Obviously machines don’t just switch over. The engineering really came into its own. The ideas and the innovations just to convert the machines was, when I look back, it was great fun but at the time, it was huge pressure on everybody but well worthwhile.
COD: Could you give us a brief overview on one or two of those innovations or how your team came about them?
IH: One machine, we were actually in the process of refurbishing an old machine and we ended up rebuilding in the end. We had to make sure it could process this gel, that was the most important thing.
IH: For example bottle sizes, some of the bottles that we would typically fill would be 50ml or 100ml. Now we’re filling 500ml and 1000ml and 5 litres. To be honest, now we’re looking at fitting 20 litres into drums. These are machines that were designed just to carry very small bottles. We had to design new parts for the machinery, literally sit at a table, draw parts and send them out for manufacturing and fit them. Again the machine had never produced a bottle of that size. Every step of the way we had to redesign parts. Literally within weeks, we had gone from a drawing on a piece of paper to a piece of machinery on a machine to produce a product that the country was desperate for. That’s a great feeling to be honest with you, to be a part of that.
COD: How did you get new machine parts designed and made in order to pivot production? You mentioned the idea of getting products designed, was that another challenge? The concept is one thing but bringing it all together, was that difficult to do at the time as well.
IH: It is but to be honest, it takes me back, a long way back in my career to when my job at the time was maybe sitting at a design board and drawing parts. It wouldn’t be a typical day for me now as the head of the engineering department. It was nice to use all those years of experience and just get back into the basics of engineering. Designing a part and getting it made, just having the concept in your head and getting that onto paper and of course, it supports local industry. There were two or three local precision engineering companies that were probably virtually at the point of closure because of the pandemic and it’s very nice to knock on their door and ask, “can you make these for me and I need them by Friday?” It was a great local effort as well.
COD: It sounds like there might have been a great emotional feeling when you were involved on the front line in a product that was so essential to the Irish people.
IH: Well, it was and just to know that there was a national shortage, we were supplying schools and ok, the schools eventually closed but when the schools did reopen, they were just crying out for this product. You couldn’t get enough in the country and hospitals were just without sanitiser. We worked as hard as we could to fill that gap.
COD: Just one other thing that obviously happened to a lot of businesses, the idea of remote working, however manufacturing obviously has a different focus and particularly the manufacturing process that you guys were doing. How did that affect the business for you? How can remote working work for manufacturing? Are health & safety guidelines even more robust?
IH: Well, for the engineering department, there was obviously no hope of working remotely at all because you were there as part of the process. Even in my position, barely a day would go by that you wouldn’t be called to a line or to a process, hands-on to look at problems. That can’t be done from home at any level in the engineering department. But we did have to be very mindful of the dangers involved and we did an awful lot of work. We installed, I think in the end, 4 or 5 canteens where there would have been just one before. We got temporary canteens brought in. We split locker rooms up, we brought in temporary toilet facilities.
The idea was, that although we had to be here, the less you met people and were with people, the better. It’s a very difficult compromise between being on a machine and trying to hands-on solve problems and yet keep as far away from other people as possible. I wouldn’t say it was that enjoyable from that point of view. You’d take lunch on your own and let’s be honest, you’re at work 40 hours a week and the social interaction is part of your life and all of a sudden, that was gone. Just when work got difficult, coming to work became more difficult, put it that way.
COD: I’d say the plant looks a lot different than it did.
IH: Oh, it’s unrecognisable. We built timber partitions between every production line in both factories. The idea was that we would only have a common crew of people working together. What we had to be mindful of was if there was a case of Covid in the workforce, we knew that anyone around that person with the contact tracing, would have to be gone from site for a couple of weeks. The work that we were doing was so essential for the country, that we couldn’t take the chance of the entire workforce having to go for two weeks. Touch wood, probably because of the work that we did do, that’s never happened. Right from the beginning, we’ve contained it really well. We have very robust procedures. We staggered start and finish times for the different production lines so that they didn’t cross in the locker rooms and in the car park. As I said, the factory just changed completely.
COD: Just in regard to the industry going forward 2021, new year, what’s your view on the challenges in the industry for 2021? How’s this year going to be for everybody?
IH: I think it will level off from a demand point of view. I mean, we are in a very high peak of production at the moment. I think we expected to find a new level but I think it will level off. A lot more people will carry on the habits that we have now. People going to the supermarkets now grab a bottle of hand sanitiser every time they go shopping. They never did that so there will be a new level of demand. But we have to be mindful at some point that life will get back to some kind of normality. The other products that we used to make and that we don’t currently make, the demand will come back for them as well. Hopefully we’ll have a much higher demand across the factory but it will be an interesting integration that we’ll have to go through. How do we continue doing what we’re doing now with machines that as I’ve said, we’ve changed. Somehow, we have to give back to the other products as well so more challenges I’m sure.
COD: When you’re recruiting people or when you’re looking to bring additional staff on board, is there any particular type of people that you historically would always look for in your industry? What type of people do you look for when recruiting engineers?
IH: What I like is a person with a very great ability of hands-on and innovation. Problem-solving is critical on the production lines. We did hire a new guy in last year (via Brightwater) and he was a perfect fit for that. He brought new skills. I want people who can look at a machine and see why it’s not working as well as it can and what can that person do about it and be autonomous about it as well. That’s really important to me. I can’t solve every problem that’s brought to me. I have supervisors up in the other factory, he can’t solve problems for everyone. We need the hands-on autonomous engineers.
COD: Do you think those people are in short supply or have you seen that type of profile coming through?
IH: I think what’s important is that there’s people out there who are currently going through the universities and courses. One thing I think that is desperately lacking is the work experience in that course. I used to work for a French company here in Cork, it was actually on this same site before. The French are extremely good at this and they’re way in advance of Ireland and the UK. They build in work experience into their degree courses. We used to have a lot of French students come here and they used to spend 6-12 months getting some experience in engineering, in factories. That tends not to happen and I’m as guilty. I did a very compact three year degree course, came out, yes I had the degree but I had never even been in a factory. That is still a problem today in this country.
COD: And within secondary schools, you just mentioned the educational side of it, but the STEM function is really important as well and promoting that across the male and female sectors. What’s your view on that and do you think it’s being promoted enough to female engineers? Is enough being done to promote STEM careers to females?
IH: I don’t think it is. I think the figures will show you that. If I go back to my university days, it was a very large department in Birmingham and I think it was in my final year, the first female student joined the engineering department. I’d gone through 3 years and only 1 female started as I was leaving. I’ve now done 40 years in engineering in factories in Ireland and the UK and I’ve not yet worked alongside a female in an engineering department. In 40 years! So something is still wrong from that point of view. It has to be.
COD: Are there any recommendations that you think could be done that concept of bringing people onsite for periods, could we do it here?
IH: Yes, I think it’s the work experience. I don’t know if there’s a fear, do females have a fear of “big heavy engineering” but if they could only come into factories and see that it’s not all about big heavy bags of tools and that stuff like that. Engineering, there’s a lot more finesse to it than that. Again, I go back to the French model. At least 50% of the students from engineering that would show an interest would be female. I’ve never seen that in Ireland or the UK.
COD: From your experiences so far through your career, would you still recommend engineering as a career of choice to someone who is maybe considering it going from secondary to university?
IH: Yes, I can’t imagine doing anything else to be fair. Every day is a challenge, every day is interesting. As I said, it doesn’t matter what position you attain in a company. Every day you can move up and down, from strategic to hands-on, down to design of parts for machines, I love going up and down that scale every day.
Ian was in conversation with Cathal O’Donnell, Commercial Director of Brightwater’s Engineering & Life Sciences division. Cathal can be contacted on [email protected].