Limerick.ie's Q&A with Paul Collins following DesignPro's €2.7million H2020 Phase 2 funding.
Tell us about your background?
I’m originally from Strokestown, Co. Roscommon. My engineering career began in IT Sligo where I studied mechanical engineering and design, shortly after graduating I moved to Shannon where I started working for Molex and from there I moved out to West Limerick to Kostal. It was 2004 when I set up DesignPro, with the initial idea of becoming a design support partner for the local electronics industry focusing on creating small jigs, fixtures and assemblies.
What does DesignPro do?
DesignPro provides precision automation and machine build services to some of the world’s largest multinationals. We have 14 in-house departments which allow us to take projects from initial concept right though to final installation. Projects can range in size from small solutions to fully functional production lines. We offer a full range of processes that can be tailored to suit any manufacturing requirement.
You established the company in a spare room in Abbeyfeale?
In 2004 I made the decision to leave industry and go out on my own. I originally set up the company in a spare room in a rented house in Abbeyfeale but towards the end of 2004 I was able to move into a small unit based in the industrial estate in Abbeyfeale, which I then went on to purchase in 2005. It was at this point that I took on my first employee, Pat Downes, who is still a key member of the company today.
The business began to grow in a very novel way, there were no big marketing campaigns or advertising, it all came down to word-of-mouth. The business was small but we had built ourselves a nice kitchen area, sales reps would call in and we’d offer them a cup of tea and more often than not we’d also give them their dinner. I suppose you could say we took the Irish approach, we’d ask how they were getting on and they in turn showed interest in us and as they went out to the bigger internationals they began to tell them about the work we were doing. Our reputation grew and today we now have over 60 plus blue chip companies on our books.
How many employees do you have?
At the moment we employ 55 staff, this has increased by 100% since 2015 and is expected to double again in the coming year.
Your building in County Limerick is the largest machine building facility in Ireland?
The company was significantly expanding so in 2010 we moved to a 14,000 ft2 unit in Newcastle West that we thought would do us for a long time but as it turned out we only lasted five years in that facility before we had to move again.
The need for a third move presented us with the 120,000 ft2 Anderson site in Rathkeale and with that we saw an opportunity to have a facility that would allow us to scale and expand even further giving us the capabilities to avail of the opportunities that had become available in the market.
How has the company benefited from being based in West Limerick?
West Limerick had become my home and the friendships and relationships that were built up over the years were very important to the business. The site in Rathkeale also offered a great opportunity for us to establish and expand ourselves into one of the biggest machine builders in the country.
The benefits to the company lie in the people and the fact that we have such a skilled workforce on our doorstep to tap into. Limerick has a lot of multinationals that can offer employment in the city but one of our biggest selling points as a company is the fact that people can work close to home without the need to sit in traffic. We’re flexible too with our hours and we aim to work around people's lives.
Location wise West Limerick is well serviced, 20 minutes into Limerick City, an hour and 10 mins into Cork and with the new road to Tuam the gateway to the west coast has really opened up. We work with European companies and being in close proximity to Shannon and Kerry airports allows us the flexibility to transport quickly to the likes of Frankfurt and Berlin.
In February 2017 Design Pro secured H2020 Phase 2 funding and support for a €2.7 million project. Tell us about the project and your collaboration with GKinetic Energy?
Over the last couple of years DesignPro has attracted a lot of successful one-off projects but the GKinetic project was particularly appealing. It offered entry into the renewables industry by combining our engineering and automation expertise with the knowledge and technology of a local businessman, Vincent Mc Cormack and this is what ultimately enticed me to invest in the partnership. Vincent is a very driven individual and it was important to me to partner with someone who has the same goals and mindset and I believe this is what has made this collaboration so successful.
It was a huge achievement for the company to receive recognition from the European Union in February 2017, coming top of our category in the SME Instrument Programme resulted in an investment of 2.7 million in our river turbine project.
How important is it for DesignPro to engage with other members of the local business community?
DesignPro is in a great position in that a lot of our supply chain requirements from an engineering point of view can be sourced from local industries. I can confidently say that the majority of our machines are 90% Irish built, so for us the local business community is very important.
What changes have you seen in the business landscape in Limerick over the past number of years?
We are a company that has experienced a downturn and come out the other side. During the recession we focused our business model on a number of industries; aviation, automotive, pharmaceutical, medical devices and electronics and it was this diversity that shielded us from the recession.
Our location in Limerick has given us access to a diverse number of multinational clients such as Regeneron, Cook, Johnson & Johnson and these are all companies who are expanding and looking for our type of expertise and innovation.
Limerick as a city is thriving and there are great efforts being made by a number of organisations to improve the infrastructure. We have experienced this first hand through the support of Innovate Limerick and Limerick City and County Council who played an invaluable role in helping us to setup our facility here in Rathkeale.
The one thing I would highlight though is the pressure on SME’s when trying to entice experienced staff, with so many opportunities available within the larger multinationals the jobs market is very competitive. It’s so important for industries like ourselves to work together with the various education institutions so we can build up a pool of talent in the area to accommodate the demand.
I’m very optimistic about the future, there is a huge demand for our services in industry and with the era of Industry 4.0 upon us and the developments in the automotive market regarding autonomous vehicles it a very exciting time right now in engineering.