Manufacturing will remain a key part of Singapore's economy although it will encounter greater disruption in the years ahead, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.
Mr Chan noted that the evolving nature of the industry will alter the composition of manufacturing to one of low-volume but high-quality products that require greater skills to produce.
Manufacturing makes up a fifth of Singapore's economy but there have been predictions that this will be a gloomy year for the sector.
The numbers tell a mixed story: The sector saw growth of 5.5 per cent in the last quarter of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017 but output declined 8.7 per cent compared with the third quarter, according to recent flash estimates.
Mr Chan, who was speaking at the opening of a new plastic moulding centre in Tuas built by American medical equipment manufacturer Becton Dickinson, had a more positive outlook.
He noted that manufacturing can continue to expand if the industry is closely tied to research and development, a process that would will also enrich the country overall.
But Singapore also has to get its intellectual property protection regime right, giving investors the confidence that they will be safeguarded here, Mr Chan added.
The way Singapore conducts quality assurance should also change fundamentally as the manufacturing sector competes with others on the basis of quality standards, not price or scale, he said.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
If we can get these few ingredients right, I have every confidence that manufacturing and advanced manufacturing will continue to grow from strength to strength in Singapore.
TRADE AND INDUSTRY MINISTER CHAN CHUN SING, who said the sector can thrive if Singapore makes necessary adjustments to its intellectual property protection regime and the way it conducts quality assurance.
Mr Chan, who also visited local vertical farm Greenphyto in the morning, said Singapore's resilient supply chain is another advantage. "We will deliver the ability for Singapore to connect to the world and we will never be constrained by our size or geography," he said.
"If we can get these few ingredients right, I have every confidence that manufacturing and advanced manufacturing will continue to grow from strength to strength in Singapore."
But the pursuit of better products, company performance or economic growth is not an end in itself - workers must benefit from picking up new skills and taking on higher productivity tasks by drawing better pay cheques, he said.
Becton Dickinson plant management director Hashim Baba agreed, citing his company's culture of specialised training and worker development as reasons why he stayed with the firm since it set up its Singapore headquarters three decades ago. The company also sponsored his Master of Business Administration course.
"It is difficult to find Singaporeans willing to put on a uniform and work in manufacturing in Tuas," said Mr Hashim, who started as a technical specialist with a polytechnic diploma in mechanical engineering and now manages a plant of 950 staff.
"To retain talent in manufacturing, there must be an engaging company culture and a system that trains its staff in all sorts of skills."
The firm, which produces medical technology equipment, opened its advanced moulding centre yesterday as part of its US$5.2 million (S$7 million) industry transformation plan. This involves expanding its plastic-moulded component production through smart technology such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and robotics.
The new centre will boost Becton Dickinson's competency, cutting reliance on manual labour by at least 50 per cent, said executive vice-president and president of greater Asia James Lim. Around 120 of its 1,500 employees have undergone training programmes and up to 500 workers will be re-skilled and re-deployed to technologically advanced roles by 2023.