SINGAPORE - Collaboration between nations and industries is needed to harness the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Tuesday (Oct 16).
But employers and educators must address a fundamental challenge of Industry 4.0, which is to create quality jobs for the future, he said.
"It is a challenge because, one way or another, if we succeed in improving speed and efficiency, there will not as be as many jobs in manufacturing in the long term. There will be jobs, there will be much higher quality jobs, but they will not be as many.
"We've got to create jobs outside of manufacturing, so that it is still a job-rich future, quality jobs in every sector of the economy. And this is a major challenge for all countries," said Mr Tharman.
He was speaking at the opening of the inaugural Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific 2018 trade event at the Singapore Expo, which drew inspiration from Germany's Hannover Messe, touted as the world's largest trade fair.
"We know that Industry 4.0 is here. It is not just a forecast, it is already transforming manufacturing and logistics. Robotics, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing and some other technologies are already transforming the industry in our big firms, and increasingly, we want it to happen to our medium and small firms," said Mr Tharman, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.
To this end, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) launched a new industry network at the event to help companies accelerate the implementation of their own industry transformation programmes through building a community of technology, financing, talent development and training partners.
The Index Partners Network adds to the Smart Industry Readiness Index, which was launched last year. The index sets out a transformation road map which companies can use to evaluate the state of their own facilities against a national benchmark.
EDB assistant managing director Lim Kok Kiang said the Index Partners Network provides a common language and framework on which the various Industry 4.0 companies can base their solutions and offerings.
"The network takes us one step further by building a community of partners with diverse capabilities and expertise to help manufacturers execute their transformation plans using the index," said Mr Lim.
Mr Tharman said the index allows firms, large and small, to know where they stand on transformation, and the network is especially useful for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
He highlighted local fish ball manufacturer Thong Siek, which has used the index to identify initiatives such as paperless production and fully automated packing, and taps the network to access finance and technologies that can aid its transformation programme.
On top of the launch of the network, Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Standards Council have developed for the manufacturing industry the world's first standards mapping tool. It will map relevant national and global standards in areas such as operations, supply, automation and talent readiness to the Smart Industry Readiness index.
So far, more than 200 companies have committed to the index's evaluation, and EDB announced earlier in March that it will be funding 300 manufacturers to undergo the assessment.
Also to date, more than 2,000 business executives from over 500 companies have attended workshops and conferences hosted by the Government on the index, which is jointly developed by the Government and TUV SUD, a global testing, inspection, certification and training company.
The trade event also saw the signing of a $34 million consortium agreement between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), local universities and three leading pharmaceutical companies - GlaxoSmithKline, MSD International and Pfizer - to transform the pharmaceutical industry.
Known as the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore, the agreement groups the firms and public-sector researchers together at a pre-competitive stage to transform manufacturing operations and industry technologies, hence achieving greater efficiencies.
Singapore's pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, which contributes more than 3 per cent to the economy, has been growing, with eight of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies operating facilities here.
Singapore-based firms can also look forward to more innovation partnerships with Germany, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the EDB, Enterprise Singapore and German Accelerator Southeast Asia - a German growth accelerator programme - to support start-ups that hope to expand into Germany and Europe.
Another memorandum penned on Tuesday focused on raising the productivity and competitiveness of industrialists in JTC Corporation-run industrial estates and developments, by giving SMEs access to advanced manufacturing solutions and training programmes tailored for their businesses.
JTC will also develop a campus at the Jurong Innovation District over the next two years to house more factories with advanced manufacturing, research and capability development facilities. This includes a 260,000 sq ft robotics manufacturing factory by PBA Group, due for completion in 2020.
More than 260 companies from 22 countries were present at the event, which spans three days until Thursday and will see industry experts sharing insights on industrial transformation under the theme of Industry 4.0.