Intel Ireland general manager Eamonn Sinnott believes the future for manufacturing in Ireland remains bright, and with the key being education he is managing a new US$500m investment to prove it.
Picture the scene – it is the early 1990s and at an Intel plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a group of young Irish engineers are learning for the first time the rudiments of Moore’s Law and the chip giant’s methodical approach to process engineering and quality.
“All we had was our education and our enthusiasm,” recalls Eamonn Sinnott, country manager at Intel Ireland, who at the time had just joined Intel and had glimpsed its brand new manufacturing plant in Leixlip as he collected his visa to go to the States. “I remember seeing the steel skeleton of the building of Fab 10.
“It was all new to us, but today with a hardcore 20 years of manufacturing behind us we are the ones imparting our knowledge to new generations of Intel engineers.”
Intel is one of the world’s largest technology companies and its processors power the bulk of the personal computers, servers and machines that keep the world functioning. Founded in 1968 by Gordon Moore and Robert Noice, it achieved record revenues of US$43bn last year and employs 82,000 people worldwide.
Sinnott, who before Intel had worked at Digital Equipment Corporation, jokingly refers to himself as a poster child of Irish industrial policy; a member of the cohort of young talent that flourished on wise decisions to invest in education in the 1970s and 1980s.
As he talks about the Irish operations, where around 4,000 people are employed and a further 1,000 jobs (200 technological and 800 construction) are being generated to develop the next generation facilities to handle future products, you always get a sense of how proud he is of what’s happening in Leixlip.
“We are building facilities to handle the manufacture of products that haven’t even been invented yet,” he says.
“The physical goods we are manufacturing here right now just a few metres away are being created in a facility that is doing better than anybody else on the planet. The capability, flexibility and intellect of our workforce and their problem solving abilities are the best on the planet.”
Sinnott is at pains to point out that the products being created in Leixlip by Irish engineering talent is a testimony to the quality of education that forward-thinking policy produced. And he is adamant that tradition will continue.
After three years in Albuquerque, he came home to Ireland to help start Fab 10, which went on to produce 50pc of the world’s supply of Pentium producers at a time when Pentium chips were making the PC revolution and subsequent internet revolution possible.
Fab 10 was followed by investments in Fab 14 and then by Fab 24 and Fab 24 (2) where 65-nanometre chips (a nanometre is equivalent to the growth of a fingernail on a single day) are currently produced.
Ireland leading the way
He describes the latest investment by Intel of US$500m to redevelop the former Fab 14 operation at Leixlip as an investment in Ireland’s future.
“If you look at the last 20 years in context, Ireland has done extraordinarily well. Fab 14 is being reconstructed as we speak. It is easily the largest construction site in the entire country, if not the only one. That US$500m investment sets us up for the next 20 years and puts us in pole position on what’s going to be happening in computing.”
The investment means that Ireland will be hosting leading-edge process technology that will be enabling the technology roadmap of the future, and Sinnott maintains it wouldn’t have been possible without the capability and skills of the team.
“This highly versatile, capable workforce has delivered repeatedly for Intel over the last 20 years and is highly regarded in the company. It is fair to say that the investment here would be in a safe, protective pair of hands.”
In May last year Sinnott was promoted senior vice-president of the technology and manufacturing group at Intel and succeeded previous country manager Jim O’Hara to run the Irish operations.
Sinnott evinces pride not only in Intel’s Irish operations, but the company’s very value system and how it goes about its engineering and production of cutting-edge products. “Our philosophy is we have to be the best in the world at what we do or else we don’t deserve to be the No 1 supplier of processors to the computer industry.
“We want to believe our products are second to none and that is down to our manufacturing capability, process technology and the contribution of our workforce and management. Ireland’s contribution has so far been exemplary.
“The company recently recorded the highest ever quarterly revenues in its history. We have a growth strategy that is driven by our desire to provide solutions right across the computing continuum for consumers and businesses to buy.”
What Sinnott is at pains to explain is that the exemplary role that the Irish workforce has demonstrated within the Intel family could also be true across a myriad of layers of the Irish industrial landscape.
The first thing to bear in mind is manufacturing is and will continue to be a crucial part of Ireland’s economy both now and well into the future. Secondly, if Irish people simply put their minds to being the best at what they do in any given field, they can do it.
“Why do I believe that? Well because I’ve got US$500m on the table to prove it,” Sinnott says vehemently.
“Go and see what we’re building and think about the impact we will make for the next 20 years. We are going to be servicing a worldwide market and dealing with the best in the world for that. What I see as the fuel for the digital economy revolution is what is going on around us in this country right now.
“That may be the Intel part of the question but looking at Ireland overall I can’t help but believe that the digital economy represents a very positive future for a very vibrant Ireland.
“But how do we as a country participate in this digital revolution and how do we make sure we’re not left behind as an island off the edge of Europe?”
Accessing the world’s knowledge
According to Sinnott, it would be ideal if every person in Ireland, regardless of their means or location, had full access to the world’s knowledge.
“The internet is the repository of the world’s knowledge,” he stresses. “For ordinary people not to have that means we don’t have the capacity to be a key player in the digital economy. Putting the right infrastructure in place would give us a fantastic advantage and ties in very nicely with the Government’s agenda to be the best small country in the world to do business by 2016.
“I think that’s a fantastic ambition. The promise of what’s possible can be demonstrated by the fact that companies like Intel choose to be here and the workforce we have is the best in the world. Let’s give every citizen in this country the opportunity to compete on the world stage and be the best they can be. The key is infrastructure.
“Intel cannot solve all of Ireland’s problems but we can make our small contribution by going out to explain to people how the world is changing.”
One of the major changes is the role of manufacturing. “When I was going to school, getting a job in the factory was what happened to you if you didn’t do well at school. The plum jobs were in the banks or civil service.
“Well things have changed and it would be my ambition to see my kids work in a facility like this. The lifeblood of these organisations is a well-educated workforce. The promise is exciting, dynamic careers and futures.”
Sinnott believes Ireland cannot afford to slip behind on education, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
He notes the latest advancement at Intel – the bringing to production of a revolutionary new 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate that will enable Moore’s Law to continue doubling the number of transistors on chips for the next decade.
“This will enable technology innovation to continue and will enter production later this year. What we have learned is we are limited only by our creativity and imagination.
“What happens at Intel is we start with sand and end up with microprocessors but it’s the stuff that happens in the middle that makes the difference. The education system needs to evolve to ensure that we are at the heart of that kind of innovation.”
Paraphrasing Intel CEO Paul Otellini, he adds: “Innovation improves a country in quality and rigour and is the engine of future prosperity.”
From his interactions with the Government, Sinnott says there are a lot of things the country has gotten right such as online taxation and education.
“There is a need to exemplify the kind of contribution that Irish people and corporate citizens like Intel can make to help the country make its economic recovery. Look around and take inspiration from the companies that are here.
“As the former CEO of Intel Craig Barrett pointed out, the first decision is to decide to be the best in the world. To do that you decide what is already the best in the world and go out there and emulate that and prove you can make it better. But first, you’ve got to choose to be the best in the world.”
Eamonn Sinnott is vice-president, technology and manufacturing group, and Ireland country manager at Intel. He joined Intel Corporation in 1991 as manufacturing shift manager in Ireland and has held a variety of factory management positions both here and overseas.
Sinnott became factory manager for the 300mm start-up and ramp of Fab 24 in 2001 before taking over as plant manager in 2006 when he successfully ramped the facility to 65-nanometre technology.
Prior to joining Intel, Sinnott worked as an engineer at Digital Equipment Corporation and as a manufacturing manager at Nuvotem.
Sinnott received an MBA from University College Dublin in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in Science from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1986.
He is a board member of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), TCD, Ireland, and director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.
Ireland’s tech leaders will discuss Ireland’s digital future at The Digital Ireland Forum on 30 September 2011.