SME bosses get taste of food technology on exchange visit

This potato peeling can peel up to 300kg of potatoes per hour, a job which would require at least 10 employees to get through by hand.
This potato peeling can peel up to 300kg of potatoes per hour, a job which would require at least 10 employees to get through by hand.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

SINGAPORE -A machine that churns out 10,000 eclairs an hour may sound like the brainchild of Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

But such technology is already helping Jurong-based food and beverage company Neo Group to cut down on kitchen labour and drive up productivity.

On Tuesday a group of 60 small-to-medium enterprise (SME) bosses and Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say observed Neo's collection of almost 200 machines which also make items such as Japanese tamago egg and sushi maki.

The site tour was the third in a series of exchange events held by the Workforce Advancement Federation (WAF).

Its Workforce Champion Series, which is supported by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, aims to get SMEs to learn human resource strategies and productivity measures from each other.

The first two sessions were hosted in June and September by Jason Marine and Yang Kee Logistics. The next will be held at WAF chairman Chan Chong Beng's interior furnishing firm Goodrich Global.

Neo Group, an umbrella company spanning caterers such as Neo Garden and Orange Clove, as well as Japanese fast-food chain umisushi, has been investing in machinery since founder and chairman Neo Kah Kiat bought his first rotary fryer in 1992.

Mr Neo said that he chooses to invest in machinery to cut down on the labour he needs, and also to ensure more efficient and precise processes. "If I want to grow this business, I need to leverage on technology, or I won't succeed," he said.

For instance, a potato peeling machine he bought three weeks ago can peel up to 300kg of potatoes per hour, a job which would require at least 10 employees to get through by hand.

Mr Lim said of the site tour: "Everything I saw reinforces the message I have been trying to convey about productivity."

He commended the way in which Neo Group has used increased automation to cut down on the number of foreign work permit holders they need to hire.

SME bosses in attendance said they found the visit educational. Mr Low Cheong Kee, managing director of do-it-yourself store chain Home-Fix DIY, said: "I was impressed by the kitchen's cleanliness, efficiency and use of modern equipment to optimise manpower.

"It's good to visit other industry players to see what we can apply to our own operations."

Mr Bronson Chow, director of specialist contractor Eng Seng Tech, said: "This has been like a recharge session. I must tell my people to look out for ways in which we can use machinery to use less manpower, and increase output and productivity."

oliviaho@sph.com.sg