Like one of her heroes, Chris Hadfield, mechanical engineer Lorraine Corcoran's love for the profession started in space; as a child, she adored Star Wars and ET. A big fan of co-educational learning, she also recommends that anybody who is thinking of studying engineering at third level 'secures a course that includes a work placement, as the experience that I gained during my seven years with Hewlett-Packard has stood to me and allowed me to move into different industries which eventually led to me becoming the technical director and co-owner of LYNOSLIFE'.
Corcoran graduated with a bachelor of mechanical engineering from the University of Limerick in 1998.
During her career she has worked and travelled in the role of R&D/NPD manufacturing principal technical positions in the US and European based manufacturing multinationals including Abbott, Medtronic, Hewlett Packard, Vistakon (J&J), and Boston Scientific’s European Distribution Centre in the Netherlands.
For a brief change, Corcoran lived for six months in New York following 9/11, working in the Nathan S Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, where she focused on schizophrenia ECG and MRI brain mapping techniques. Previously, as a first foray into business ownership, she was a co-founder of Team Horizon from a startup situation in 2010.
Lorraine Corcoran, co-founder and technical director of LYNOSLIFE
When did you first become interested in engineering?
Being a young child growing up in the 1980s, space exploration, Star Wars and ET were hugely popular. Following an operation to remove my appendix at the age of seven, I spotted an ET teddy belonging to a fellow patient. I was obsessed with it, and my poor mother had to search the country for one. After that, my love of space made me very interested in becoming an astronaut. A few years later, after not succeeding in the dream to get a scholarship to the Kennedy Space Center, I became aware that a lot of the astronauts were engineers. It was then that I knew engineering was what I wished to do.
Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?
When I started secondary school, I became aware of a subject called mechanical drawing – all the boys in my year and two girls were doing the subject. I realised that a subject like this would be of benefit to me for a career in engineering.
I worked with my career guidance counsellor, Sr Una, to transition to that class. I went on to be the only girl to do Technical Drawing for the Leaving Cert for five years in my school.
Sr Una was always supportive of me and during my Leaving Cert year she organised a trip for all of us interested in engineering. We went to DIT Bolton Street where an Engineers Ireland conference was in progress. This was the first time I got to meet female engineers and realised that my dream of becoming a member of the profession was attainable! I met Sr Una at my 20-year school reunion and the first question she asked me was about my career in engineering.
How important is communication to engineers?
Communication is incredibly important. I think that people outside the industry do not fully understand what engineers do and the broad differences between the different disciplines.
It was engineers that got electric cars on roads, the space station free-falling around the globe and drug eluting stents into blocked arteries. When it comes to engineers, most people initially think of trains, planes, roads, bridges. I do not think that people understand that everyday appliances and complex high-volume production of vaccines are the result of multidisciplined engineering skillsets bringing them to life!
Overall, communication could be improved externally for people to understand the vast capabilities of people within the industry.
During the past 18 months, the mechanical and biomedical engineering fields have worked closely together to come up with apt solutions. Will this trend continue?
At LYNOSLIFE we pivoted the entire business in February 2020. Our cosmetics manufacturing was feeling the effects of supply chain issues in Asia affected by COVID-19 earlier than experienced in Europe.
We identified an opportunity within the market and we unveiled our first own brand, ‘Airmedica.’ We became the largest supplier of hand sanitiser in the country and subsequently the main supplier of hand sanitiser to the HSE.
Between our plants in Cork and Claremorris, they have produced close to nine million units of Airmedica in the past 12 months. We did this by utilising a cross-skilled, technical, multidisciplined team from the packaging specifications, to designing art works in line with Biocidal regulations, managing suppliers (who are all based in Ireland), designing bottle moulds, adding two new buildings, and aligning to ATEX compliance in both sites.
Being able to have our own R&D, analytical labs, global sourcing, and ability to scale in a very short amount of time showed the symbiotic relationship with engineering and technical disciplines within our organisation.
Who is your engineer hero, or the nearest you have to one?
Chris Hadfield, better known as the first Canadian to walk in space in 2001 and command the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021. He spent his entire life training to become an astronaut but started out by studying for a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering!
I had the pleasure to attend one of his shows in the Bord Gais Theatre a number of years ago and it remains the best talk that I have ever attended.
Is there any one engineer you wish was better known?
“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks I think,” Hollywood actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr said this in 1990, 10 years before she died. The film star may be most well known for her roles in the 1940s Oscar-nominated films Algiers and Sampson and Delilah. But it is her technical mind that is her greatest legacy. Lamarr filed a patent for frequency-hopping technology in 1941 that became a precursor to the secure wi-fi, GPS and Bluetooth now used by billions of people around the world.
Lamarr emigrated to the US in the lead up to the Second World War and caught the eye of MGM studio head Louis B Mayer on the ship from London to New York. She spoke little English but talked her way into a lucrative contract to act in Hollywood films.
She socialised with luminaries including John F Kennedy and Howard Hughes, who provided her with equipment to run experiments in her trailer during her downtime from acting. It was in this scientific environment that Lamarr found her true calling.
What are your favourite engineering feats – either in Ireland or globally?
Having finally made it the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the summer of 2018, having wanted to visit it since I was seven – I was so excited. I got to witness first hand the technical skill and ability to get people into space. It is amazing what they can achieve and equally as amazing to see all the history and the current Space X launch site.
Have you travelled widely work-wise and, if so, is there any country or experience that stands out?
Engineering is a profession that allows you to travel all around the world without having to requalify. During my career, I have worked in Singapore, Oregon, California, New York, Boston, Texas, and travelled throughout Europe.
One project that really stands out was Project Lava from my HP days in 2003 and 2004. Oregon was the main R&D site; home photo printing was really starting to take off and HP was going to be first to market edge-to edge photo printing globally.
It was the first time all three manufacturing hubs (Dublin, Singapore and Puerto Rico) were working as a global team for the two-year project. Spending time in Oregon and working with a global team at the time we operated through HP’s own intranet as there was no Zoom or MS Teams.
HP’s culture greatly enhanced the ability for such a project to happen – it is a very dynamic, agile and innovative organisation with a strong emphasis on engineering skills and abilities. Of the 2,000 staff in Leixlip when I was there, there were 200 engineers on site.
Digitalisation, or 'smart' engineering is very much to the fore now – it seems to me that today's engineer needs to be a hybrid (with engineering education reflecting this), whether it is utilising mechanical engineering in the biomedical field or civil engineers being au fait with extensive software developments – would you agree?
I remember being asked in my degree interview by external examiners from other universities why I had a base degree in mechanical engineering that had a major in ‘mechanics of solids’ with a minor in ‘3D CAD’.
My final-year project was on ‘Simulated modelling of the aeronautical influence factor for the air cooling of plastic quad flat backed chips used in PC motherboards’. They were concerned about the mix of technical materials and the divergence from core mechanical engineering, but as we all know hybrid is the way the world works.
Engineering is a profession that constantly evolves based on base principles of maths and science techniques and, to consistently build and grow as an engineer, different skillsets and knowledge needs to be ingested as we grow.
What book is on your bedside table?
I have too many! I just recently finished Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights and I would highly recommend it.
I do not read many autobiographies as I prefer to read historical-based fiction, but Andre Agassi’s Open: An Autobiography is outstanding (I avidly followed him throughout his career). If anybody is looking for recommendations, two other books I could not put down are I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?
For anybody thinking of studying engineering in college, try and secure a course that includes work experience. It is invaluable and transfers the theory from lectures into real-life applications in a working environment. Plus, it enhances your chances of securing full-time employment upon graduation. When I was in final year interviewing for full-time roles, I looked for organisations that offered a graduate programme.
After receiving three offers I decided to go with Hewlett-Packard in Leixlip as it had a world-renowned graduate programme. The experience that I gained during my seven years there has stood to me and allowed me to move into different industries which eventually led to me becoming the technical director and co-owner of LYNOSLIFE.
If you weren’t an engineer, what might you have become?
I will admit that I would never go back and change my career. I completed my engineering degree in the University of Limerick, and I loved it. My work experience in Vistakon (Johnson & Johnson) at the start-up of the plant was amazing.
I was the first UL engineer to go on placement there. I started the Monday after I finished college the previous Friday and did the same when I went back to college nine months later. If I could have worked and completed my final year at the same time I would have. It was my final confirmation I needed to tell me that I’d found what I wanted to do for life.
If you could, is there any one measure you would introduce to help improve the gender balance within the profession?
If I could, I would ensure all schools were co-educational. I was fortunate to attend a mixed school, which allowed me to do subjects like Mechanical and Technical Drawing, Chemistry and Physics.
The world is a mix of people from all sorts of backgrounds, religions, creeds, colour, and sex. The more people experience this from a young age it aids one’s viewpoint of the world and opens up possibilities that a student may not have thought of before.
Portmarnock Golf Club, which recently announced that it would accept lady members
I have chosen my children’s education based on my own experience and we are lucky that this type of education is provided in our locality. Like the recent opening of Portmarnock Golf Club to ladies since its opening in 1894, I think our education system needs to follow suit!
Looking back over your career, is there any one project that stands out?
When my husband Aiden and I first acquired LYNOSLIFE (formally Cosmetic Creations) in early 2017, our plan was to grow and mentor an up-and-coming engineering team, like what we had experienced during our time in Hewlett-Packard.
An apprentice programme that came up with Sligo IT with Ibec and Solas allowed us to do this. In the first year we had two apprentices, and we recruited another during the second year.
Those first two apprentices have recently qualified as manufacturing engineers, and the third will graduate next year. The ability for people to start an engineering career with work experience while completing the course is another option more people and companies should consider.
What is a typical day for you?
As technical director, my very talented team and I provide expertise in all aspects of technical support in order to bring product ideas to life and successfully transfer technologies to high-volume manufacturing.
Our R&D team formulate products, analytically test them and ensure compliance to standards. In addition, our NPD teamwork with supplier on packaging materials and specifications, product branding and art works, create the production bill of materials and scale up for commercialisation in accordance with quality GMP standards and delivery of product dossiers.
We are the factory within the factory and work with the commercial, marketing, global supply chain, operations, quality and finance to manage and drive projects through the pipeline to successful launch as quickly as possible. From the data side of the business, all IT based system and data analytics are part of the technical team which supports the entire business.
What is your favourite film?
I love films, so this is extremely hard to answer, and I’ve rewatched some of them too many times, especially ones from the 1980s and 1990s.
But I would have to name the Lord of the Rings as my favourite trilogy, having read the books by JRR Tolkien years before seeing Peter Jackson bring them to life on screen. I loved it so much I also visited parts of New Zealand after the films to see if the right landscapes were used!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The quote 'Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards' – Floating Quote Philosophy from Soren Kierkegaard, sums up the best advice I learnt over the course of many years. As we were building our first startup business, an engineering consultancy and project management business called Team Horizon, we were in the midst of a recession and I had just had our third child, Clodagh.
We learnt that how we got to where we are today depends entirely on the past. However, life cannot go on if we are constantly dwelling over things not in our power, and as a business owner you learn that lesson in many ways – and most are unpleasant and stressful.
By taking Kierkegaard’s quote it urges us to keep living for the future; after all, if we do not live forwards, we will have nothing to understand looking back. As we move from one decade to the next, we gain this understanding that everybody is on this life journey, just we are all on different timelines and experiences.
What do you do to relax?
I have three amazing children, Keela is going into Leaving Cert, Dylan is going into second year and Clodagh is going into fifth class. They are my priority outside of work and I enjoy being able to coach their soccer and basketball teams.
At weekends we try to fit is as much as possible which allows me to relive my own childhood activities. I used to do a lot of duathlons (running and road cycling) but now I prefer hiking and weight training. During Covid we converted our garage at home into a gym, which has been a great asset.
I had been planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this July, but this has been delayed due to the pandemic. Last summer Aiden and I took up golf, as we both own and run LYNOSLIFE, we felt that the fresh air and playing ‘find the golf ball’ would be a great pastime.
Recently I have decided to embrace middle age and have added a polytunnel and gardening to my list of activities.