Day 5 of Tech Trek 2017: Loyola students make history in Cork

By Paul Tallon, Ph.D.

All good things must come to an end.

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For the fifth and final day of our study tour, we began by traveling to Ringaskiddy—10 miles southeast of Cork city—for our visit to Pfizer.

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At this particular facility, Pfizer manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) for a wide variety of drugs. The end product is typically a powder which is shipped to other Pfizer sites worldwide to be molded into tablets. Our host talked about how batches of API are produced in much the same way that a pastry chef follows a recipe to bake a cake.

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In this case, process is everything. You can’t just throw all of the ingredients into a pot and boil it. The slightest mistake can mean that the batch is rejected. A batch size can be thousands of kilos for products such as Viagra and Lipitor. But for other experimental drugs, a batch can be just three kilos. The end result could be equivalent to three bags of powder costing a million dollars each! Ouch! At Pfizer, we spent a lot of time talking about the role of IT in the supply chain. Pfizer uses SAP but Excel files also feature prominently in the production planning process.

At the end of our visit, we donned hard hats and protective glasses for a walk through of one of five highly automated manufacturing building on this site. We gained a deep respect for the complexity of taking a drug from initial research all the way to final production.

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After a brief lunch at Vienna Woods Hotel, we traveled on to Flex for our final company visit of Tech Trek 2017.

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We were treated to a terrific presentation of what Flex does in Ireland and a candid discussion of how current economic conditions are impacting the Cork site. Here again, supply chain terms popped up in droves.

After a balcony tour of the different areas of the production floor, we grabbed a group photo with Flex senior personnel. We were the first U.S. university to ever visit this site which is among the largest in the western hemisphere. Let me say that again in case you missed it… Loyola was the first U.S. university to send students to this facility.

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Flex took lots of photos and interviewed us for an internal event that will soon be hosted at Cork for hundreds of Flex’s global managers. We will also feature in their internal marketing materials. So this is a win-win for Loyola and Flex… confirming, yet again, the many opportunities that come from bringing Loyola students to visit technology companies in Ireland.

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Tomorrow is our final day in Cork but it will be a day for us to enjoy the city. Before we jump on the train back up to Dublin, we’ll go visit Blarney Castle where we can climb to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone. I suspect that the group will do lots of souvenir shopping at Blarney Woolen Mills, the largest souvenir store in the country.

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Afterwards, we’ll travel on to Cobh to visit the Cobh Heritage Center as a way to remember the hundreds of thousands of Irish who left these shores for opportunities elsewhere and the Titanic Experience. Cobh was the final port of call for the Titanic before it sailed across the Atlantic. Dozens of Irish boarded tenders to travel out to the Titanic for their journey to the new world. Sadly, most of these folks never made it. So tomorrow, we’ll pause and remember them.

Follow the students’ travels here.

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