$18m investment in tech research to help keep supply chains agile, secure

The Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative has a total investment of $18 million over two years. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Technology could help smaller companies deal with any major future disruptions in the supply of products or services.

By analysing data in the supply chain and running simulations of such incidents before they happen, companies can figure out what to do during an actual crisis, such as reallocating resources to where the disruption has taken place.

This is one of the potential outcomes of the new Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative announced on Monday (Nov 22) by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as part of a series of announcements made on the first day of the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (Itap) 2021 event.

Itap 2021, held at Singapore Expo, is expected to have 5,000 physical attendees over its three-day duration and is slated to be one of the largest gatherings in Singapore since the onset of Covid-19 early last year, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

Among other things, the announcements at the event seek to give the manufacturing and supply chain sectors a technology and partnership boost.

On the matter of disruptions, Mr Heng said Covid-19 exposed the weaknesses in supply chains, citing the challenges posed by factory lockdowns and border restrictions.

He also noted that vulnerabilities existed before the pandemic and will persist after it, giving as an example the Ever Given container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March and disrupted global trade.

But diversifying supply chains is not enough, said Mr Heng, adding: "We must also tackle the significant inefficiencies in the flow of goods, and the magnitude of documentation required as the cargo flows through the supply chain."

Efforts like the Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative can help. With a total investment of $18 million over two years, it comes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and is supported by two research partners - the National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

The initiative aims to develop digital and automation solutions to meet the demands of businesses, and use technology to make supply chains more agile, resilient and secure.

In particular, it would allow small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - which might lack the resources - to tap such solutions and have better visibility of supply chains, things that only multinational corporations (MNCs) often have the means to access.

These solutions will be tested at A*Star's new Supply Chain Control Tower, which is housed in the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre in Jurong West.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on a tour of the Singapore Government pavilion at Itap 2021. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

So far, more than 50 companies across the aerospace, fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, precision engineering and semiconductor sectors are keen to participate in the initiative.

They include MNC Procter & Gamble and local SME PD Solutions, an enterprise software provider.

For a start, the researchers will look into the pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods sectors, the latter of which covers businesses that deal with goods that sell quickly such as packaged food, beverages, toiletries and cosmetics.

The Supply Chain Control Tower can be used to pool data from companies to help them understand how goods flow not only within their own business but also in the broader supply chain.

A*Star's Supply Chain Control Tower in Jurong West. PHOTO: A*STAR

Artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to help companies spot trends and detect developments that could result in disruptions, so that they can make adjustments to their own business models in advance.

Historical data could also be analysed to help companies forecast demand. For instance, when launching a new product, a company could look at data for similar goods launched earlier to more accurately figure out the demand for its product and plan accordingly.

Other research areas under the Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative include making Internet-connected sensors, which help companies collect data in the supply chain, more secure from being hacked. Such sensors are increasingly being used.

Another research project is on making warehouses smarter and more automated.

For instance, researchers will look into using AI to help analyse packages in a delivery vehicle to help workers sort them and figure out where to place them in a warehouse. Then, robots could be used to help unload the deliveries and load them on driverless vehicles that transfer and store the goods in the warehouse.

Other announcements made at Itap 2021 include updates to the Jurong Innovation District, which is a one-stop hub where manufacturers can collaborate by co-locating different parts of the manufacturing process in the same space.

JTC Corporation announced that two building developments in the district have been completed, costing about $240 million in total.

The first is an extension of JTC CleanTech Two, which adds 8,000 sq m of laboratory, office and collaborative spaces. Completed in June, it will house A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology.

The extension of JTC CleanTech Two in the Jurong Innovation District. PHOTO: JTC

The second new development in the district is JTC CleanTech Three, which has been opening progressively since September. It offers an additional 50,000 sq m of laboratory, office and collaborative spaces.

JTC CleanTech Three will cater to industries in advanced manufacturing, clean technologies and urban solutions.

It will also house German engineering firm Bosch Rexroth's Regional Training Centre, which is in the midst of moving in.

JTC CleanTech Three in the Jurong Innovation District. PHOTO: JTC

Japanese machine tool manufacturer Makino's Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence is expected to move into the building in the first quarter of next year. The facility is slated for completion in the second quarter of next year.

On Monday, the South-east Asia Manufacturing Alliance, a network of industrial parks in Singapore and the region that global manufacturers can tap, formally added Sembcorp Development and Gallant Venture as partners.

This opens new opportunities for companies to use Singapore as a springboard to grow their operations in South-east Asia.

The alliance is a tripartite agreement between the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore and private sector partners. CapitaLand was the first private sector partner to join the alliance in February.

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