Founded in 1998 by CEO Frank Madden, Crest Solutions has grown to become a leading provider of machine vision, serialisation and managed services to the European life sciences industry. The company specialises in assisting companies in the sector to implement digital technologies and services that will enable them to become more compliant and competitive.
Crest Solutions numbers some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies among its blue chip customer base. From vials, blister packs and cartons to labels, packs and pallets, Crest systems inspect, mark, verify, track and trace components and their associated packaging through the entire supply and distribution chains.
Madden recalls starting up the firm with more than a hint of humour. “I set up Crest with another guy,” he says. “We were both operations managers with Apple, which was closing part of the factory in Cork at the time. We had been writing software to make the factory more efficient. We sold our Apple shares because we figured the company was going nowhere. We set up back then providing solutions to the manufacturing industry, focusing mainly on the pharmaceutical industry. Our aim now is to build the world’s leading provider of Industry 4.0 solutions to the life sciences industry – we are digitalising the life sciences industry.”
Crest counts 40 of the world’s top 50 pharma companies as customers
Crest is engaged in the development of a range of advanced products in the area of industrial automation. These include augmented and virtual reality, robotics, machine vision, and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.
A conscious decision to focus on the life sciences sector was taken early on. “We don’t go outside the industry,” says Madden. “It’s a very highly regulated sector. Once you start working with the industry you become very specialised. Our key customers include 40 of the world’s top 50 pharmaceutical companies and we now have offices across Europe – in Ireland, the UK, Benelux and Sweden. Our group sales stand at more than €35 million and we employ 200 highly trained and experienced people. At the moment, we are a pan-European company at the point of moving into the US market.”
The highly regulated nature of the life sciences sector has meant that it has traditionally been quite slow to adopt new technologies, but this is changing, Madden explains. “The industry was almost forced to be deliberative and slow, but a major change has come about in the FDA. It is now encouraging companies in the sector to be more innovative and to move to Industry 4.0.”
Crest is well positioned to provide the innovative solutions required in this new reality. “We have been in the industry for 20 years now and have been the largest industry vision supplier for the past 15 years. We are in there already, helping the industry comply with things like serialisation requirements.”
Tracking life sciences products through the entire supply chain
This is the assignment of unique, traceable numbers to individual items produced by the life sciences industry. “It’s putting a number plate on every product, so that you can track it through the entire supply chain,” he explains. “The legislation requiring this is coming into force in Europe in February 2019. It’s the biggest transformation in the industry in 30 years. Industry 4.0 is the next wave, it’s a logical progression.”
Interestingly, cost is not the key driver here. “The motivation in the life sciences industry is improved compliance. It’s not about cutting jobs or costs. There is an awful lot more plant and equipment than people in the industry in any case. Industry 4.0 is about augmenting human capabilities, helping people make better decisions. It will also take away the boring repetitive jobs and allow employees do higher-value work and it will enable the industry to become even more compliant and produce better-quality products.”
The firm’s strategy is to combine its own technologies with the best in class from around the world. “We spend €1.2 million a year on R&D,” says Madden. “We have a hugely talented team of software developers and we hire about 20 graduates each year. We have very close relationships with the colleges and have been very well supported by Enterprise Ireland, especially in our expansion on international markets.”
Investment in innovation is crucial
This investment is crucial if Crest is to stay ahead of its competitors, he continues. “We have a suite of Industry 4.0 products that we are either already providing or which are at various stages of development. We also put a lot of work into finding new technologies. We always go out in search of the best of breed. If the technology is way ahead of where we are, we will seek to represent the company involved.”
This strategy has paid dividends for Crest. “We have been growing at a compound rate of 35% per annum,” says Madden.
The majority of this growth tends to come from existing customers. “We build very close relationships with our customers. We don’t add a lot of customers each year. It’s more a case of supplying more services to our existing base.”
Madden credits Enterprise Ireland with a key role in Crest’s success over the years. “Enterprise Ireland has been a partner from the very beginning. The first week we left Apple we went on an Enterprise Ireland programme. We have used every programme they have. It’s not just financial support, their advice and programmes have been hugely important to us. Enterprise Ireland has always helped us in the right way at the right time.”