Edwards Lifesciences’ Joe Nuzzolese: ‘Be ready for industry 4.0’

20 Apr 2018

Joe Nuzzolese, Edwards Lifesciences’ corporate vice-president for global supply chain. Image: Don Moloney/Press 22

Organisations are evaluating how digitalisation, robotics, AI and industry 4.0 will affect their future, says Edwards Lifesciences’ Joe Nuzzolese.

Structural heart disease monitoring company Edwards Lifesciences is planning to build a major operation in Ireland’s mid-west by 2020 as part of a major €80m investment.

Once the new purpose-built manufacturing facility is fully operational, Edwards expects that it will employ approximately 600 people.

‘AI and IoT, advanced sensor technology, and robotic assembly are all things we are looking at in terms of how we could use them and how applicable they can be to our network longer-term’

Future Human

The company is currently evaluating three sites in Limerick and Shannon for the new operation.

Joe Nuzzolese is Edwards’ corporate vice-president of global supply chain.

Prior to joining the company, Nuzzolese was the vice-president of supply chain for Johnson & Johnson’s global surgery business, where he was responsible for leading worldwide operations for the Ethicon and cardio and speciality surgery businesses.

Can you outline the breadth and scope of Edwards Lifesciences’ business?

Edwards Lifesciences has been around for about 60 years. Our specialisation is cardiology essentially, and our speciality is valve replacement. We spend a lot of time working on new innovations in terms of solving basic issues with structural heart disease and improving people’s quality of life.

Early on, we started in the heart valve business as our forte, and 60 years ago that was a mechanical valve. That changed over time to some of our more recent innovations, which have been around minimally invasive therapies for replacing heart valves.

We call them transcatheter aortic replacements and we are working on a future portfolio that has other replacement or repair options that are minimally invasive as well.

What was the criteria that made the mid-west of Ireland ideal as a location?

There were really a number of factors. I really like the mid-west region here for three specific reasons.

First, there is a great availability of talent. I have some significant experience in Ireland prior to my role at Edwards and I’ve always found the talent availability, particularly in terms of advanced medical technology, to be superior.

Second, its proximity in terms of logistics, and it has very good infrastructure to support supply chain activities for the long term; for example, access to Shannon Airport, access to motorways and access to the port. This gives us a good proximity to move our product and supply all of Europe.

The third reason is that there is a very good educational system locally. The University of Limerick and the Institute of Technology have had really good programmes in terms of young talent, especially for the capabilities and competencies we want, and they’ve been open to working with industry to make that very attractive for us.

How do you coordinate a global network of supply?

I have a very talented staff of people who look after different facets of the supply chain. When I say supply chain, it is everything from procurement of materials from suppliers all the way through to distributing the final products to our customers.

When we say supply chain, we mean everything end to end, including manufacturing, sourcing, logistics and distribution.

In Edwards Lifesciences, I am fortunate enough to have a very talented group of people on my team in charge of different aspects. The cornerstone of that is rooted in understanding what your business needs from a supply chain perspective and having the right processes in place to execute against those. It is crucial to have the right team of people to execute well.

We divide our company into four business units and we execute along those business unit lines, and this allows me to have a broad oversight into how well we are managing that.

From a technology perspective, what platforms do you use to stay organised in terms of sourcing, manufacturing and ultimately shipping to the customer?

We use a variety of different technologies. Similar to most manufacturers, we would have an advanced enterprise resource planning (ERP) system called JD Edwards, which is used by many companies to manage your procurement, your planning and scheduling, and ultimately your inventory management. That is the platform we will be using in Ireland.

In addition to that, we have a number of plant floor systems that we use in order to manage ongoing operations; for example, MES, a manufacturing execution system, which is an automated batch of instructions in terms of how you flow product through the manufacturing site.

On the quality side, we use sophisticated tools to track product quality as well as ongoing closure of investigations or any quality issues that may arise.

So, we use an array of different systems and we expect all to be implemented here in Ireland.

When it comes to the manufacturing of your products, what kind of precision is involved?

These are all high-precision products and there are a variety of different processes that we use. We source a great many components from some of our trusted suppliers as well, from high-precision moulding and plastics, to metal shaft assemblies through precision assembly, sterilisation of product. There are a great many processes – both metal and plastic manufacturing processes – and they all are high-precision.

What are your thoughts on industry 4.0 and the internet of things? Will this level of automation and digitalisation transform how your company will perform in the years ahead?

Yes, I believe it will. And it is important to be ready for industry 4.0. We are working on a digitalisation strategy company-wide right now; it is still in the works.

But, things like AI and IoT, advanced sensor technology, and robotic assembly are all things we are looking at in terms of how we could use them and how applicable they can be to our network longer-term.

Today, we use systems to our advantage but we are not using that digitalisation strategy quite yet.

When the new operation is up and running, will it have a technological edge compared to its sister sites around the world?

My vision for this site is that it will be the most state-of-the-art manufacturing facility we have. We have another facility in the US that is our primary manufacturing facility that assembles the same technologies, but it is an older facility for advanced catheters today. We have been investing in and renovating processes in that plant as well.

Every time you build a new plant, you have an opportunity to put in the latest and greatest processes. So, while we continue to upgrade our current infrastructure, this is an opportunity for us to install the greatest, latest technology and state-of-the-art processes from day one. And that’s how I see it shaping.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years