Innovation award for Donegal man

SLIGO-based tech firm Ward Automation, owned and run by Donegal native John Ward, has won the Manufacturing and Design category in the annual Irish Times Innovation Awards.

Details of the winners of this year’s awards were announced last week at a virtual ceremony.

Ward Automation designs and builds cutting-edge production equipment for manufacturing industry with a particular focus on servicing the international medical devices and pharmaceutical sectors.


Speaking to the Donegal News this week John Ward, Managing Director of Ward Automation, said that he was delighted to win the award.

“It’s a fantastic award for us. It gives us great exposure and credit to the whole team. We’ve people here with us from almost the beginning so it’s not just family. We have other very strong people here,” he said.

A native of Fintown, John’s late parents were from Lettermacaward and Maas. They ran a pub in Fintown (the Finn Bar) for the first five years of John’s life before taking over a small pub in Convoy for two years. It was another pub, the Cinema Bar (now called the Bird’s Nest), which saw the family move to Bundoran from where his mother ran a Bed and Breakfast business.

Having worked as an engineer for Abbots in Sligo for 13 years, John saw an opportunity to strike out on his own in 1995.

“There were a lot of machines coming in from abroad at a time when automation became an integral part of our business.

“Abbot were buying in machines, mainly from Italy, and I took a keen interest. The machines weren’t properly working one hundred per cent and I was asked to try and improve them and do some design, rebuild and programming work,” he explained.

“In those days there were great opportunities as nobody knew much about programming machines or designing in Ireland at that stage,” he added.


Based in Sligo and Galway, Ward Automation, which supplies AbbVie, is renowned for delivering innovative, high-quality automation equipment and robotic machine solutions for multinational customers all around the world. They employ 60 people between the two sites.

“Abbot were very good to me. Our first job came from them and they’re still one of our main customers. We do work for most of the large medical device and pharmaceutical companies – like Abbvie, Abbot, Allergan and Hollister,” he said.

“We’ve one or two American customers as well while some of our machines go abroad. We would have shipped machines to places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic but a lot of that business originated through the multi-nationals here in Ireland. They would source a machine in Ireland and then want repeat machines in other plants throughout the world. That’s where we picked up a lot of our export business although most of our business, about 80%, is Irish.

Despite the global pandemic, Ward Automation is busier than ever at this moment in time.

“We’re fortunate in that we’re a supplier to the medical device and pharma companies and they’re doing very well,” he said.

Today, John’s three sons and daughter are very much involved with the business. Shauna is marketing co-ordinator, Kenny is Business Development manager, Aaron is controls engineer while Ashley is design team leader.

“They help keep me right. I’m very fortunate to have such a good team around me,” he said.







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