ONE of Dell’s most senior figures in Europe has said the Raheen plant remains one of the firm’s “most critical” operations in the world.
Castleconnell resident Tom Kitt, vice-president of global operations, engineering at Dell, addressed the Thomond branch of Engineers Ireland, at UL’s Kemmy Business School.
His talk focused on the transformation of the Limerick site, the importance of engineering roles in Dell, and the interaction the firm has with third level institutions.
Mr Kitt was drafted in after Sean Corkery, who runs Dell Ireland, was called to America on urgent business.
Once a bulk manufacturer, Dell Ireland’s approached in this country has shifted. The company remains one of the largest employers in the county, with more than 1,000 people on its payroll.
Although no manu-facturing takes place in Raheen any more, Mr Kitt says this still plays a key role in the operation here.
“We don’t make any products in Limerick any more. But we oversee, and manage the making of all of Dell’s hardware products globally, from this little place in Raheen. We are still utilising the skills, knowledge and expertise we have built up over 30 years in Raheen,” he said.
Gone are the days where thousands of people descended on Raheen for shift work at Dell.
Although there are fewer jobs in the company, they are better paid, and at a higher level.
Mr Kitt says the remaining staff have had to adapt their approach accordingly.
“We had process engineers looking after manufacturing processes. There is none of this anymore: these people have had to upskill, grow their capability, and get into project management. We had people looking after our technology processes. There are no processes like this any more. We need them working in our solutions laboratory, designing and developing customer solutions,” Mr Kitt said.
Dell achieved worldwide success thanks to its ‘Just in Time’ manufacturing approach.
This lets manufacturers purchase and receive components just before they are needed on the assembly line, relieving manufacturers of the cost and burden of managing idle parts.
But after 20 years, Mr Kitt said the company could no longer continue on this path.
“Different customers need different things, and we were supplying things under a one-size fits all idea. There is a cost disadvantage, there is a real-time disadvantage, and it allowed our competitors to get ahead of us,” he said.
The executive outlined three new “building blocks” for the company. It still builds computers to order for individual customers. But it also builds to plan for businesses, and builds to stock for mass market retailers.
“We target unique supply chains for different customers. We optimise by process and customers, which we were not doing previously. Everything was targeted at a configure to all model, and this is what you got whether you wanted it or not,” he said.
Engineering is a very important discipline to Dell, Mr Kitt said, using the example of one of its executives Tim Crowe, a UL graduate who has moved to a new manufacturing plant in Chengdu, West China.
“The activity there is being managed by our process engineering team in Limerick. We thought the person managing that team was doing such a good job, we thought we would send him over there for the next year. Tim has moved to Chengdu with his family to ramp that facility up and ensure it delivers in terms of quality, and cost,” he said.
Something that has been well documented in recent weeks is a shortage of engineering graduates in Ireland.
Mr Kitt feels more should be done to encourage engineering.
“How can we make it interesting and fun?” he asked. “The things I am talking about in terms of solutions, healthcare and digital forensics. How do we make it more attractive? I know the government are trying to help out, but there is certainly a lot more which can be done.”
The Thomond Region of Engineers Ireland organise monthly lectures and presentations with a focus on the different engineering disciplines. For more information on their activities, email firstname.lastname@example.org.