Singapore makes strides in advanced manufacturing
Its extensive capabilities, ability to evolve and constant drive for innovation put it in good stead to sustain its competitiveness over the medium to long term.
In a research facility at the southwest of Singapore, more than a hundred researchers and engineers are testing, experimenting and trialling technologies from artificial intelligence, to robotics and fluid dynamics.
The goal for British manufacturer Dyson’s new S$587 million research and development centre set up in Singapore earlier this year is clear: Develop new technology that will allow the company to leapfrog its rivals in the innovation race by integrating hardware, electronics and software.
In a speech made during the centre’s opening, Sir James Dyson, founder and chief engineer, pointed to similarities between Singapore and the company – a mutual appreciation for talent and ambition for the future – as factors influencing the company’s decision to house its most advanced research facility here.
Today, Dyson is just one of dozens of multinational manufacturing firms that have partnered Singapore because of our drive to innovate for the future.
Innovating to stay ahead of the pack has always been in Singapore’s DNA. Singapore has embraced challenges and developed innovative solutions to overcome constraints in water, land, and talent.
According to INSEAD’s Global Innovation Index 2015, Singapore is the 6th most innovative city in the world, and the first in Asia Pacific. And companies have tapped on our relentless drive to innovate to create new solutions with a global impact.
Over the years, we have worked closely with businesses to turn possibilities into realities in areas such as NEWater and Jurong Island; all in a country that does not have any natural aquifers or produces a single drop of oil.
By incorporating innovation into every aspect of its economic development, Singapore is prepared to ride the wave of technological disruption, especially that which is sweeping across the manufacturing industry.
This new era of manufacturing is one that will see automation such as robotics, additive manufacturing and guided vehicles meet digital technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality to create Industrie 4.0, also known as advanced manufacturing in Singapore.
The emergence of advanced manufacturing has brought renewed impetus and relevance to manufacturing, which was once thought to be a relatively labour-intensive industry, mostly suited for low-cost economies.
In advanced manufacturing, technologies allow companies to have complete control over their entire manufacturing line, across borders and in real-time. Powered by big data, companies will be able to make predictive decisions about production quality and quantity, and even anticipate when machines need to be repaired.
The successful adoption of these technologies and its integration with a competent workforce will be key to enhancing manufacturing processes, improving productivity and reaping cost efficiencies by optimising resources and reducing bottlenecks.
Technology, has in a way, levelled the manufacturing playing field globally, making it attractive to both developing and developed nations. All around the world, there is growing recognition that advanced manufacturing holds the key to future economic growth.
Japan, for instance, is planning for Society 5.0, in which advanced manufacturing technologies are applied to society to cope with developments such as an ageing population. China has launched its “Made in China 2025” vision, which aims to boost manufacturing innovation and promote home-grown products. America and Britain too, has renewed interest in manufacturing, as it looks to drive economic growth and job creation.
Singapore is no stranger to manufacturing. The sector has provided Singaporeans’ with good paying jobs and is an integral part of the economy. Its importance has not waned over the course of Singapore’s growth: it currently contributes about 20 per cent of GDP and employs 13.7 per cent of our workforce.
Singapore, size notwithstanding, has leadership positions in various industries such as aerospace, electronics, chemicals and precision engineering. The country was ranked 5th for manufacturing value-added in the 2017 Bloomberg Innovation Index and is the fourth largest exporter of high-tech products as defined by the World Bank, behind only China, Germany, and the United States.
With shifting factors of production now favouring technology intensive economies, Singapore’s strengths in innovation and skilled workforce translates into a strong ability to transform its extensive manufacturing footprint and continue punching above its weight.
Anticipating shifts in the evolution of manufacturing, Singapore has embarked on a strategic move towards ensuring the economy and its companies are prepared for the change ahead.
First, the presence of enablers of advanced manufacturing in Singapore has expanded rapidly, and continues to gain momentum. From robotics company ABB, Accenture’s Internet of Things Centre of Excellence to Siemens’ first-of-its-kind Digitalisation Hub, Singapore is attracting some of the biggest names in the industry. These companies are critical in jump-starting and sustaining the growth of advanced manufacturing by providing solutions and technical expertise.
Second, the fast-growing start-up sector in Singapore is grooming some of the best young companies in this part of the world, providing a boost to innovation capabilities. For instance, when German semi-conductor giant Infineon was looking to develop AGVs, it turned to local SME Hope Technik. The partnership was named most disruptive collaboration between an SME and MNC at this year’s Singapore International Chamber of Commerce Awards.
Third, our world class educational and research institutions are undertaking cutting edge scientific research that pushes the boundaries of manufacturing technology. A*STAR has launched two model factories to help companies accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies. An early beneficiary was Feinmetall Singapore, whose digital manufacturing facility was outfitted with a slew of new innovative solutions, including those piloted at SIMTECH that are expected to raise productivity by about 10 to 15 per cent.
Anchoring these efforts together is Singapore’s continued commitment to upskill and retrain talent as we recognise that technology can only come to life because of people. The SkillsFuture movement, Professional Conversion Programmes, Industry Transformation Maps and Skills Framework will provide support to Singaporeans and companies, helping them harness and integrate technology into the workplace.
With these pieces in place, many companies have thus turned to Singapore to kick-start its advanced manufacturing journey. For instance, Yamazaki Mazak opened its iSmart Factory that will utilise Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology and an Additive Manufacturing Solution Centre that will develop IIoT solutions for the ASEAN region and India. Agilent Technologies will invest S$85 million over the next five years to increase its advanced manufacturing and applied research and development capabilities while PBA Systems has managed to achieve a lower production cost per unit in Singapore than its China factory through the deployment of advanced manufacturing.
Together, these initiatives enable us to accelerate our efforts to create new regional and global businesses, enabling Singapore to become not only an adopter of such technologies but an exporter of ideas and solutions.
The pursuit of advanced manufacturing is not about achieving a one-off boost in productivity but about equipping companies with the right tools and mind-set to meet challenges of the future. It is in fact, an evolution rather than a revolution as companies constantly re-orientate, tweak and innovate their processes and products to stay ahead of the curve.
This is just the beginning and there is more work to be done.
However, Singapore is not starting from scratch. Our extensive manufacturing capabilities, ability to evolve and constant drive for innovation puts us in good stead to sustain our competitiveness over the medium to long term and continue creating good jobs that meet the aspirations of Singaporeans.
As economist Robert Shiller noted in a speech at the World Economic Forum in 2016: “You cannot wait until a house burns down to buy fire insurance on it. We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Mr Lim Kok Kiang is the Assistant Managing Director of the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB). He oversees EDB’s engineering clusters that comprises Cities, Infrastructure & Industrial Solutions, Clean Technology, Energy & Chemicals, Electronics, Precision Engineering and Transport Engineering.
This article first appeared in the Opinion section of The Business Times, on 07 September 2017.