In the 36 years he has been running G&G Engineering in Mayo, Roland Groepler has seen a steady reversal in the initial shift towards low-cost manufacturing overseas.
The toolmaker set up G&G in Killala in 1984, having moved to Mayo from his native West Germany to supply the manufacturing sector in Ireland. G&G specialises in toolmaking, injection moulding, metal pressing and automation.
“Our market is in constant flux. When I started initially, the demand was local. We sold mainly to small wholesalers here in Ireland,” Groepler said. “Most of our work was in stamping and welding – the rougher stuff. The work we do now is far more precise.
“Initially, we didn’t make or do plastic injection moulding or assembly. We found, however, that it was often the case that the assembler would have unreasonable demands, trying to bully suppliers like us.
“We decided to eliminate the middleman and to instead offer the customer fully or partially assembled modular components.”
G&G Engineering sells to manufacturers in a broad range of sectors globally, including automotive, electronics, technology, medical and aerospace. Clients include Glen Dimplex, Intel, Krupp, Audi and Hasbro, the US toymaker.
In his first decade running G&G, Groepler continued to supply the Irish market primarily. “When some of the companies we were working for started to leave Ireland, they took us with them. One company in Wicklow moved to Poland for cost reasons, for example. We still supply them now,” he said.
“When Magna Donnelly [formerly Donnelly Mirrors], closed its Naas facility in 2006 and moved to Germany, we started supplying Magna Corporation worldwide.”
As more and more of its customers relocated manufacturing overseas, G&G became an export-focused business.
“If you go back about ten years ago, about 80 per cent of our business was automotive and 92.8 per cent was export,” Groepler said.
“That completely changed about four years ago. The automotive sector was getting too volatile. The margins were too tight, so we reoriented the whole business.
“Exports now account for less than 20 per cent of our business. Eventually, 90 per cent of all the parts we make leave Ireland, but we don’t export them, our customers do. Our main business focus now is the Irish market.”
Groepler put this shift in focus down to the recent trend towards what he calls “reshoring”.
“More manufacturers are bringing work which they had moved to Asia back into Europe and Ireland,” he said. “Covid-19 and Trump’s policies in the US have really accelerated this. Pandemics cannot be predicted, and neither can you predict what the American president will do next.
“That affects all kinds of things, including prices and supply chains. Companies want to keep manufacturing closer to home now, because it is a safer business strategy.
“In the last two and a half years, we have regained four customers in Ireland which we had lost 15 or 20 years ago when they went to Asia.”
G&G Engineering is a client of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency, and employs 17 people. Groepler has continued to invest in automation for close to three decades.
“In the early 1990s, I employed 32 people. I looked at that and thought: ‘If I continue the way I am, I won‘t be around’,” he said.
“As early as 1992, we invested IR£348,000 in a single machine. It was capable of producing, in a single shift, what eight people could do in the same time. “I now have four of those machines. Automation is a really important part of staying competitive.”