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An Approach to Remote Working that Maintains Standards and Improves Business Agility

Like many other companies, large-scale remote working became an abrupt reality at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In fact, 100 percent of our staff moved to remote working overnight as our offices across Ireland closed in line with Government restrictions.

We were in a good position as a company to deal with many of the challenges this presented. This particularly applies to the technical challenges, as we are a technology business. Also, we had a mindset at the highest level of the company dating back to before 2018 that embraced modern and flexible working arrangements, including remote working.

Our approach to this has evolved even further, however, following the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the periods of lockdown, we continued to operate at full capacity, delivering for our clients. We also developed new, novel solutions for our clients to help them operate remotely while remaining regulatory compliant and ensuring IT security wasn’t compromised.

The Future

As our society moves back to a more usual way of living and doing business, we don’t plan to go back to the way we operated prior to March 2020. We did have employees who had remote working arrangements back then, but they were in the minority. The default position was to have our team working from one of our four offices in Ireland (and our office in the US).

We plan to take an approach that is even more flexible, where individual staff members have more control over how much time they spend in an office. We will also have a default position that is closer to a hybrid situation, where employees will have the option of spending a portion of their week working from home with some time also spent in an office. This is in addition to the many members of our team who spend considerable portions of their working week on client sites. Of course, these arrangements are only being implemented in full whenever Government guidance on social distancing and working from home allows.

Good for Business

This approach to flexible working arrangements brings many benefits to SL Controls, including helping our employees achieve a better work-life balance while also making our company an attractive place to work.

We are also aware that remote working should never impact performance or standards. Instead, it should make us better at what we do in addition to making our operations more agile.

Take health and safety as an example, as it is a considerable challenge when staff are working from home. After all, everyone has a different setup and different space in their home working environment, and they have different personal situations.

We have dealt with the health and safety issue through training, plus we have developed a comprehensive Remote Working Checklist that our employees complete so we can help ensure they stay safe when working from home. This checklist covers everything from desks and chairs to fire and electrics to stress and welfare.

We also have well-established management, training, mentorship, and operational procedures to ensure teams and business units continue to deliver for our clients while also helping us deliver on our ambitious plans for the future.

Taking the Opportunity

At SL Controls, we see the way the workplace in Ireland is changing as an opportunity. This period of change is a time for a reset to take place, where employees can become more content and productive while at work while also having more time to spend with their families. It is also where companies can become more agile, efficient, and better equipped to deal with the challenges – and opportunities – of the future.

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New Equipment Systems Engineer Masters by Research Apprenticeship Launches

A new apprenticeship course has launched at the University of Limerick (UL), the Equipment Systems Engineer Masters by Research Apprenticeship. It was developed through a partnership between UL and the ESE Academy, with the ESE Academy taking the lead on the course.

The apprenticeship is part of a wider programme at UL to develop world-leading skills in Ireland. The new course, a level 9 apprenticeship, MEng by Research, is Ireland’s first apprenticeship in the new and increasingly important occupation, Equipment Systems Engineering.

Industry 4.0 Innovation

Shane Loughlin is the founder of the ESE Academy and is an Adjunct Lecturer at UL. He also founded SL Controls and is currently SL Controls’ Chief Digital Architect. Shane said: “This new apprenticeship programme is for experienced engineers in the fields of Industry 4.0 and high-end manufacturing in Ireland.

“The goal is to foster Industry 4.0 innovation in an environment that challenges conventional thinking and ways of working to develop solutions that are both disruptive and sustainable. The concept is simple to describe but challenging in practice, as it involves starting from a different position than the traditional approach. That traditional approach is to work out how you are going to do something. An Equipment Systems Engineer, however, will first look at what they are trying to achieve with digital transformation to determine the new digital business model.

“Take automation in the agricultural sector as an example. Currently, a large tractor with a driver will be deployed in a field to plant seeds. The traditional approach to automation is to work out ways of automating that tractor. However, when your starting point instead is ‘what am I trying to achieve’, you look at the problem differently. You are not trying to achieve the automation of a large tractor. Instead, you are trying to automate the seed planting process, so you begin looking at other solutions, such as using multiple smaller and lighter robots operating as a swarm while being controlled and synchronised from the cloud.

“It is this way of thinking that we need to develop in Ireland to stay at the cutting edge of Industry 4.0 and emerging technologies, particularly in relation to automation, machine learning, and the use of data. We also need engineers with the skills to see these projects through to delivery, where they have the abilities to develop the technical solutions that make innovative ideas a reality.”

Flipped Classroom Structure

The new Equipment Systems Engineer Masters by Research Apprenticeship has a flipped classroom structure where online learning is backed up by face-to-face sessions. This minimises time away from the job for those going through the programme. Run over two years, it comprises:

  • Semester 1 – on-campus boot camp followed by remote disruptive innovation sprints to develop the research and thesis foundation.
  • Semester 2 – technology provider sprints delivered remotely as well as an eEXPO on-campus event.
  • Semester 3 – applying research to the innovative solution being developed and demonstrating proof of principle.
  • Semester 4 – writing a research thesis in addition to writing and presenting a report on the innovative solution at eEXPO.

Those undertaking the apprenticeship will also be engaged with Communities of Practice (CoP) at every stage. The CoPs provide mentoring and peer learning as well as forums for discussion with industry experts.

“In Ireland, we cannot afford to take a backseat where we merely follow Industry 4.0 innovation,” said Shane. “We need to be at the forefront in the digital transformation of sectors where we are already strong, including high-end, high-speed manufacturing.

“This new apprenticeship will contribute to the skills development that we currently need. We want to go further, too, by building closer networks of experts and engineers coming up through the ranks who have an interest in this field. When this happens, the opportunities for innovation and digital transformation are endless.”

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Irish software integration company SL Controls acquired by global IT group NNIT

  • SL Controls and NNIT join forces to further strengthen offerings in life sciences sector
  • Global expansion plans for SL Controls are strengthened by acquisition

SL Controls, the Irish specialist software integration firm, has today (July 5) been acquired by global service provider NNIT group.

NNIT is one of Denmark’s largest IT operators with more than 3,000 employees worldwide and offices across Europe, North America and Asia.

The NNIT Group is one of the foremost suppliers of IT services to the global life sciences industry. The acquisition of SL Controls will further strengthen NNIT’s solutions within Production IT and will open SL Controls up to new opportunities to continue its growth globally.

The deal was completed earlier today and represents an enterprise value of €16.9 million which comprises an upfront payment of €12.7 million with an earn-out element of €4.2million.

All SL Controls staff and management will remain in place and joining forces with NNIT will enhance the ambitious growth plans previously announced by SL Controls. In March of this year, the company announced the creation of 50 new jobs in Ireland over 18 months to bring the total workforce to 140.

Established in 2002, SL Controls is an international provider of equipment system integrated solutions to a range of world-leading brands across a number of industries including Medtech, Pharma, Healthcare and Technology.  Over the past 19 years, SL Controls has become the software integration vendor of choice in the industry.

The company has offices in Sligo, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Florida and has customers – mainly multinationals – in Ireland, across mainland Europe and the US. It has experienced strong growth over recent years and is on track to meet target revenues in excess of €10m for 2021.

SL Controls was assisted during the acquisition by Deloitte Ireland, Philip Lee law firm and DFS&Co Accountants.

SL Controls CEO and co-founder Keith Moran says:

In joining the NNIT group of companies, SL Controls is excited to join a company with a shared vision of excellence in service delivery in the life sciences industry. It’s an exciting time for SL Controls and its excellent staff who have supported the company’s growth over the last 19 years. Joining forces with NNIT will further enhance our service offering to meet our customers’ global requirements for fully integrated solutions across the Operational Technology and Information Technology layers.

“In the ever-evolving, fast-paced life sciences sector, digital transformation is critical in meeting our customers’ global supply demands for life-enhancing pharmaceutical and medical device products. Today, joining the NNIT group will allow us to continue our journey to further grow globally and to provide enhanced services to our clients and exciting career opportunities for our staff.”

Ricco Larsen, Senior VP of NNIT Life Sciences, says:  

“We are excited to welcome SL Controls and their unique experience and expert knowledge of life sciences manufacturing on board. The acquisition is yet another important milestone in our strategy to grow NNIT Life Sciences internationally. At the same time, we are delivering on our promise to further strengthen and grow our portfolio of IT services and solutions to the benefit of our customers. SL Controls will play an important role in securing our leading global position.”

Rasmus Nelund, Corporate VP of NNIT Life Sciences Customer Success, adds:

“We have already shown that we are able to successfully acquire IT companies within the life sciences segment and quickly leverage the joint synergies – in this case enriching our production IT and supply chain services and now offering end-to-end services.” 

 

SL Controls Senior Management Team

SL Controls join forces with NNIT - SL Controls management team

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Press Release: Call for female engineers to apply for key roles at SL Controls

  • Company has doubled number of female engineers since March
  • But still a low number of applications from women in engineering
  • Call being made on International Women in Engineering Day

SL Controls, the specialist software integration firm, is looking for female engineers to join its team.

In March, the company announced it would be creating 50 new highly-skilled jobs over the next 18 months to bring the total workforce to 140.

Since then, SL Controls has hired three new female engineers to bring to 5 the total number of female engineers at the company. However, it remains difficult for all employers to find female engineers to fill positions.

Today, June 23 is International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) and the company says it would like to see more women encouraged to go into engineering as a career.

In September, SL Controls will be launching a new initiative where its engineers will spend time in primary schools engaging with 5th class students about engineering and its real world applications.

Established in 2002, SL Controls is an international provider of equipment system integrated solutions to a range of world-leading brands across a number of industries including Medtech, Pharma, Healthcare and Technology.

An Enterprise Ireland client, SL Controls has offices in Sligo, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Florida and has customers – mainly multinationals – in Ireland, across mainland Europe and the US.

Shauna Ryan, SL Controls’ HR Manager, says the company is making a concerted effort to hire female engineers but the number of women applying for roles such as Systems Engineers and Validation Engineers was still low.

“There is not a huge volume of women applying for the roles and we would like to encourage more women to think of engineering as a career. We are actively trying to target and attract females to our roles but the effort to get more women into engineering needs to happen earlier – in our schools and at home. Very little has been done to explain to young people – especially young girls — how much engineering has evolved over the last 20 years. We want to get young people excited about, and interested in, engineering.”

“One of the missing links is that a huge proportion of young people are choosing their third-level courses and future careers without ever speaking to someone who works in the field. We are starting a new programme in September where SL Controls engineers will show 5th class students what being an engineer is all about. We hope this will encourage more students – both male and female – to take up STEM subjects in secondary school, and ultimately consider engineering as a career.”

Keith Moran, SL Controls founder and CEO, says:

“The education system is struggling to keep up to date with real world advances, which have been accelerated by Industry 4.0. New exciting career opportunities are being created in the equipment systems engineering (ESE) field by Industry 4.0 but we need to invest in educating our young people if Ireland is to capitalise on this unique opportunity. To be ready to capitalise on Industry 4.0, Ireland needs engineers who are not just trained in one discipline, but ones who are interdisciplinary or even antidisciplinary.”

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Women in Engineering – Saoirse Kearse, Software Quality Engineer

As this is women in engineering week, we are looking at the stories of women currently working in engineering to explore their route into the profession and why they think engineering is a good career.

In today’s post, we talk to Saoirse Kearse, a Software Quality Engineer at SL Controls. Even at secondary school, Saoirse knew she wanted to pursue a career in engineering, and she studied subjects that would help her go on to study a degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering at NUI Galway.

Shortly after graduating as an engineer in 2018, Saoirse was offered a job at SL Controls in our Limerick office.

Saoirse said: “I am from Clare, so I had to relocate to take up the job at SL Controls, but engineering is what I wanted to do, and it is what I studied for. This is still a male-dominated industry, but I found the team in Limerick very supportive, which really helps.

“While I was in the minority being female, there was never an issue with anyone or any concerns about whether I was capable enough. It also helps that I have an approach of always putting myself out there to take on new roles and get further engineering experience.”

That ambition led to other opportunities at SL Controls client sites and in our other offices around the country.

“I went to work in the Galway office after about six months in Limerick,” Saoirse said. “I have a lot of friends in Galway who made the move a bit easier. My travels weren’t over, though, as I got an opportunity to go to Dublin to take on a specific role with a large pharmaceutical company for a fixed time period. It was fast-paced lab validation work that was very different from what I was used to, but it was a brilliant experience and has really stood by me ever since.

“After that period at the client site in Dublin, I returned to Galway where I am currently working on projects for some of the largest corporations in the world.”

What about the issue of getting more girls and young women to consider a career in engineering?

“Engineering is a male-dominated industry, but it is not a male industry. In my career so far, I have found a lot of support and encouragement. Also, in my field of engineering, the stereotype of engineers being male is gone.

“A lot of change is still needed, as I was one of only four girls in my university class out of 60 students. There are also considerably more working male engineers than female. Things are starting to change, though. At the end of my time at university, I could see that more women were starting to apply.

“My advice to any girls or young women is to go for it. If you want to be an engineer, you can do it if you are willing to put the work in and put yourself forward.”

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Women in Engineering – Blessing Nwachukwu, Systems Engineer

As this is women in engineering week, we are looking at the stories of women currently working in engineering to explore their route into the profession and why they think engineering is a good career.

In today’s post, we talk to Blessing Nwachukwu, a Systems Engineer at SL Controls. Blessing is originally from Nigeria and made her way to her current role via an engineering degree in Romania. However, her passion for engineering pre-dates her time at university.

Blessing said: “From the age of six, I can remember I was always fixing things with my dad, passing him the tools he needed and doing what I could to help. He was a very industrious man and did most of the repairs in our house himself.

“At secondary school, I enjoyed chemistry and physics, but my favourite subject was maths. I did consider going into medicine, but I decided engineering was what I really wanted to do. So, I took an exam and won a scholarship to attend a university in Romania.

“I wanted to become an engineer, but it was difficult to get onto the Electro Mechanical degree programme as they thought that course wasn’t suitable for women. Another lady and I fought for our places, and we got onto the course.”

Already breaking down barriers, Blessing decided to take a slight change in direction.

“In the third year of my degree, I became more aware of the advances that were being made in the field of automation. I quickly realised that automation was going to be an area of engineering that was going to be in demand for years to come, unlike some other fields.

“So, I started looking into courses, and I got a scholarship in Ireland at the University of Limerick to study Mechatronics. It was quite a change from what I had been doing, and there was a steep learning curve at the start. But I took it upon myself to learn what I needed, giving myself three months to get ready.”

Blessing’s determination worked, as she obtained her qualification before being offered a job at SL Controls.

“From my experience,” Blessing said, “you will meet barriers even after you’ve made your mind up about what you want to do. I definitely met barriers in Romania. When this happens, you need to stand your ground. It helps if you know for sure this is what you want to do, engineering. If it is, the sky should be your starting point, not your limit.

“You don’t need to act like a man, but you shouldn’t hold back from expressing yourself and ensuring what you offer, what you bring to the table, is substantial.

“You also need to have passion. You need to have a purpose. Engineering is my passion and purpose, and I am thankful I am an engineer. It is very rewarding.”

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SL Controls Supports Pride Month and Ensuring Engineering is an Inclusive Career for Everyone

Diversity in engineering is a big topic in Ireland and around the world. The equation is simple – we need more people, regardless of who they are, to become engineers, both to meet demand and to ensure we have equality in the workforce. However, solutions to the problem can be challenging. At the very least, we need more open dialogue and honesty in the engineering profession, and we need to do more.

Often discussions about diversity in engineering centre on women. Of course, that is an important topic as women are grossly under-represented in the profession. Gender isn’t the only diversity issue facing engineering, however.

As it is Pride Month, the representation of the LGBTQ community in engineering comes into focus. In addition, the experience of LGBTQ engineers is also important to discuss.

What do we know? We know that LGBTQ STEM students are more likely to drop out before finishing their degrees than their peers. We know a large percentage of LGBTQ people in STEM careers haven’t come out to their colleagues – more than 40 percent. We know one-in-three physicists in the US are told to stay in the closet. We know that LGBTQ STEM professionals are more open about their sexuality when they work in fields with a higher-than-average representation of women.

Keith Moran, CEO of SL Controls, said: “More research on the representation of the LGBTQ community in STEM, and in engineering more specifically, would shed further light on this issue. It would also help to have further research on the experiences of LGBTQ engineers. My hunch, however, is the research we have is only scratching the surface.

“At SL Controls, we are acutely aware of the need to bring more people into engineering. We work to address this in a range of different ways, including building close relationships with educational institutions in Ireland. We are also a founder of the Equipment Systems Engineering Academy, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes a new and increasingly important field of engineering that is central to the services we deliver to clients.

“Our perspective is that we want everyone, regardless of who they are, to consider pursuing a career in engineering. It is also important to acknowledge that the industry we are a part of and that I am so passionate about has not done enough for several sectors in society, including the LGBTQ community.

“We are committed at SL Controls to ensuring we have an open and inclusive workplace where engineers and others can develop and move forward in their careers in a supportive environment, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, or cultural background.”

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Our New Website Goes Live!

The new SL Controls website went live today. It features who we are, what we do, and the industries that we serve. You will also find information on Industry 4.0 and systems integration for manufacturers in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and technology industries, as well as details of our latest vacancies.

Check out our new website now at slcontrols.com.

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Escaping The Office In A Whole New Way In Our Latest Social Event

Working remotely and living under lockdown restrictions has made it difficult to arrange social events in the workplace. Like many other companies, we have turned to virtual events here at SL Controls. We call these events Celebrating Wins Together, and the latest one was held at the weekend. It involved escaping the office.

 

 

The theme was based on the popular escape rooms concept but adapted for virtual participation. So, we all got comfy on our sofas with our devices to take part. The concept involved being summoned to an office only to find you can’t get out and are being framed for an art heist. The goal was to work in teams to escape the room before the police arrive so you can clear your name.

Shauna Ryan, HR Manager at SL Controls, said: “We had a great turnout at this virtual social event on Friday, plus this one was really different with the escape rooms’ theme. I don’t think any of us could have imagined taking part in events like this 18 months ago, but it was fun and entertaining and full of creativity. It is also great to spend time with colleagues outside the work environment, even if we’re not in the same room together.”

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