ST Future Economy roundtable series: An 'Elon Musk' era for Singapore

In the second of The Straits Times' Future Economy roundtable series, experts discuss the state of manufacturing

In 1932, the logo of the Singapore Manufacturers' Federation, as it was then known, was a factory chimney.

Later, as Singapore modernised, the logo changed to gear shifts.

Today, the business group, now called the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) - reflecting that some members do not have physical factories here - has a logo that is "three dimensional and USB type - (we) plug into the future but yet not forgetting our roots", as roundtable panellist and SMF president Douglas Foo puts it.

In fact, some tech players do not have their own manufacturing facilities these days. Such are the changes seen in manufacturing, a sector that makes up about one-fifth of Singapore's economy but about which few give much thought, unless they work in it.

Yet there is an undeniable whiff of excitement in the air. With the emergence of 3D printing and robotics, manufacturing is on the cusp of a new era.

Move over, Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook may rule the digital waves but Tesla's Elon Musk is manufacturing's poster boy, with a company that seizes the imagination for actually making something - in this case, driverless cars.

Indeed, panellist Aaron Low, deputy business editor of The Straits Times, declares: "I think we will have a very different Singapore, given that people are inspired by what he does."

As the Committee on the Future Economy debates the shape of Singapore's economy to come, senior editors from The Straits Times are leading an exclusive series of roundtables with industry experts, academics and government officials on trends, opportunities and challenges facing specific sectors.

Other topics to be explored in the coming weeks include the future of banking, manpower and healthcare. In this second of seven roundtables, The Straits Times business editor Lee Su Shyan and business reporter Jacqueline Woo report on prospects for the manufacturing sector.

SEE INSIGHT

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Helping SMEs adapt with robots

Wanted: A mixed bag of talents

Fix the skills gap with Elon Musk inspiration

For chip player in Changi, the future is already here

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'An 'Elon Musk' era for Singapore?'. Print Edition | Subscribe