As SL Controls CTO, Paul Clarke is responsible for the technical capability of the business and its future direction via a technical roadmap. He also provides support to all our business functions. This includes supporting the commercial teams in generating new opportunities and providing technical consultancy to our staff and customers.
You can find out more about Paul in the Q&A session below.
You can also read Paul’s latest whitepaper on the growing importance of Full Stack OT platforms in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and technology manufacturing industries. The whitepaper also includes a step-by-step guide for choosing the right platform for your business.
Q&A With Paul Clarke
1. Describe your job as if you were explaining it to a five-year-old.
The majority of our customers produce medication such as drugs or medical devices to help and improve people’s lives. I help our customers manufacture them more effectively through the use of automation or software systems. I provide this support through consultancy and solution design.
2. What types of projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on various connectivity and integration projects for large plants in the life sciences sector. This includes plants operated by large life sciences sector corporations and their contract manufacturers.
I also provide consultancy services on solutions and designs. I make sure I still get to do the hands-on parts of projects because it’s important to keep up-to-date and have a good awareness of what’s out there. It’s also essential to have a thorough understanding of what our customers are thinking and the platforms and solutions they are using.
3. How did you get into the industry?
I was lucky to get into the industry straight after college thanks to Shane Loughlin (SL Controls co-founder and Chief Digital Architect) who offered me my first position working at HP. HP really had cutting-edge systems at the time and I learned a lot there on how to structure good code and the benefits of automation and standardisation.
4. What is your proudest moment (work life or personal life)?
Professionally, it was early in my career and I was still very much a junior engineer but I completed a highly complex project for a large life sciences sector customer. The project required knowledge of their processes and there was a lot of customer engagement. It was also technically complex and a competitor had already tried to solve it and failed.
Once it went live, the customer had an instant 30 percent reduction in production time across most of the plant. It was the biggest productivity improvement I have ever seen on a single project for a customer as a result of automation and software solutions.
Obviously, in my personal life, it’s hard to top the first time you hold your newborn child.
5. What’s the best advice you could give to someone thinking of coming into this industry?
For anyone coming into the industry now, I would advise them to develop a broad knowledge across different platforms and systems through different projects. This is because the industry will be going through a lot of change over the next decade. Factors such as cloud capabilities, advances in connectivity, and possibly AI technologies will feed into manufacturing systems to disband what we call the traditional ISA 95 automation stack.
Under the traditional automation triangle, engineers’ roles were very clearly laid out at the level where they operate – device, controls, SCADA, MES, ERP. This is now being displaced by a move to increased connectivity driven by the shared resource capabilities of cloud solutions, protocols such as MQTT, and the move to a unified namespace.
I think for automation in the medium term, an overall supply chain cloud solution will probably auto-generate, deploy, monitor, automatically validate, and test all code in real time for a manufacturing process. Reports and user interfaces will also autogenerate in an environment where the manufacturing process is only one element of the overall supply chain.
The customer will be able to simply ask for what they want with a basic description of their requirements and the technology will auto generate and test the change.
6. Outside of work, what are you most passionate about?
I have always loved electronics, automation, and building things – building buggies, creating car modifications, working on home automation projects. I think a lot of this comes from growing up on a farm where I would have regularly fixed machinery from a young age.
The availability of low-cost kits such as Arduino or Raspberry PI is great now for electronics hobbyists and kids. These kits have really opened up the possibility of low-cost automation to anyone.
7. What’s the best thing about working for life sciences customers (pharma, MedTech, etc)?
It’s a great industry to work in because you can directly see how the products or medications being manufactured, that you work on and improve or make more affordable via optimised production, benefit people.
8. What is the best thing about being on the SL Controls team?
The support structures and expertise in the business are great, and they are only getting better and stronger as we grow. This is really down to the people who work in our business who support and mentor each other. I am always available to support anyone in the business on any technical or non-technical issue if I can, and I know this is the same for everyone in the business.