Robotics solutions will transform local SMEs: Minister Iswaran

Minister of Trade and Industry S. Iswaran (right) joined Aitech business development manager Eric Lee (left) and Aitech engineer Sean Sabastian in a demonstration of the company's prototype.
Minister of Trade and Industry S. Iswaran (right) joined Aitech business development manager Eric Lee (left) and Aitech engineer Sean Sabastian in a demonstration of the company's prototype.ST PHOTO: WONG WEI HAN

SINGAPORE - Robotics solutions will help transform Singapore's small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as the economy goes through its restructuring, but the process will require more than just the technology.

The awareness and adoption of robotics tech still needs cultivation amongst the SMEs, while parts of the workforce will have to be reskilled to move up the value chain in a more automated economy, Minister of Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said on Tuesday (March 29) following a visit to Aitech Robotics And Automation.

His visit to Aitech, which develops mobile robots for companies in sectors such as semiconductor manufacturing and food and beverage services, came days after the government announced a S$450 million expansion to the National Robotics Programme in Budget 2016.

Mr Iswaran said that robotics solutions can not only help solve the manpower issues but also enable SMEs across many sectors to grow.

But the government is still finding ways to encourage SMEs to adopt these solutions, he said, adding that a leasing business model where SMEs can access the robotics solutions at a lower cost may help in this regard.

Inevitably, some parts of the workforce will be affected as jobs are replaced by robots, Mr Iswaran noted.

That is why reskilling and retraining will form another key part of the government's restructuring efforts, so as to enable individuals to take up jobs with higher value-add.

In the backdrop, productivity growth in sectors such as F&B and retail services is still weak despite years of efforts by the government. Automation will not single-handedly solve this challenge, Mr Iswaran said.

The enhancement of business model and skillsets are just as important in Singapore's productivity journey, he stressed.

whwong@sph.com.sg