Budget 2016 - Shaping our future together: Transforming the economy

SMEs get help in adopting robotics to raise productivity

Industrial robot arms at work. Precision engineering firm PLC Industries installed two robot arms two years ago. One arm serves two machines, automating a process that would otherwise require four people.
A pharmacy technician at Tan Tock Seng Hospital checks baskets of medicine after machines pick and pack the medication for each prescription. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said robotics technology used in hospital pharmacies frees up time for staff to give advice on the medication.ST FILE PHOTO

Singapore will set aside more than $450 million to help companies adopt robotics technology.

This boost to the National Robotics Programme in the next three years will make it easier for companies to introduce the technology and, in turn, be more productive, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This is particularly important in the current tight labour market. Also, it can create more value-added jobs and help transform an entire industry, said Mr Heng.

"Robotics and automation technology can be applied widely to transform sectors such as construction, manufacturing and logistics," he added.

But such technology is often too expensive or complicated for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to set up, Mr Heng noted.

A pharmacy technician at Tan Tock Seng Hospital checks baskets of medicine after machines pick and pack the medication for each prescription. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said robotics technology used in hospital pharmacies frees up time for staff
Industrial robot arms at work. Precision engineering firm PLC Industries installed two robot arms two years ago. One arm serves two machines, automating a process that would otherwise require four people. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL ROBOTS

LOWERING COST BARRIERS

We will now scale up our efforts and, in particular, work with solution providers to offer packaged solutions to SMEs at a reasonable cost.

MR HENG SWEE KEAT, on making it easier and less costly for SMEs to adopt robotics and automation technology.

"We will now scale up our efforts and, in particular, work with solution providers to offer packaged solutions to SMEs at a reasonable cost," he said.

Citing the healthcare industry, he said robotics technology is being used in hospital pharmacies to pick medication accurately and quickly, a move that frees up time for staff to give advice on the medication.

Mr Esmond Lim, chief executive of precision engineering company PLC Industries, welcomed the boost to the robotics programme, which was introduced last July.

His company took the step two years ago when it installed two UR10 robotic arms to load and unload materials and finished parts on four production line machines.

One arm serves two machines, automating a process that otherwise would have required four people to operate.

Each robot arm cost about $60,000 to install, but Mr Lim said both paid for themselves within a year. "It helps improve productivity and frees up my operators to do other things," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'SMEs get help in adopting robotics to raise productivity'. Print Edition | Subscribe