Singapore manufacturers must adopt new technologies to remain relevant and competitive: Heng Swee Keat

Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 86th anniversary dinner of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation at Resorts World Sentosa on Sept 26, 2018.
Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the 86th anniversary dinner of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation at Resorts World Sentosa on Sept 26, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Manufacturing, which contributes about 20 per cent of Singapore's GDP and 14 per cent of total employment, is being impacted by the rapid advancement of new technologies, as well as changes in global supply chains and consumer demands.

To remain relevant in the highly globalised and competitive sector, Singapore manufacturers must make the effort to understand new technologies, such as digital twinning, robotics and cloud computing, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Speaking at the biennial Singapore Manufacturing Federation awards event on Wednesday (Sept 26), Mr Heng said the industry should prepare to adopt and integrate new technologies into business processes as the "digitalisation of manufacturing - which some refer to as Industry 4.0 - is transforming the sector".

Giving examples, he said with the advent of ride-sharing technologies, "carmakers are now seriously rethinking whether their business model should centre around selling cars, or if they should offer transport services instead".

As for digital twinning technology, he said it allows manufacturers to create a digital profile of a product idea, which can then be tested and tweaked without needing a physical prototype.

"Data from both the virtual and physical versions can be used to further optimise the product. This means companies can make better products, have faster innovation cycles, and reduce production costs," he added.

Mr Heng called on top management to actively seek opportunities, overcome obstacles and bring their teams together and the workforce to similarly "be ready to adapt to these changes, acquire new skills, and be redeployed to higher-value tasks".

The sector has been doing well, he said, with GDP growth of 10.2 per cent over the previous year. In comparison, the overall economy grew 3.9 per cent in the second quarter this year.

The Singapore Manufacturing Federation has been actively supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) transform digitally, said its president Douglas Foo.

In May, it became the first trade association and chamber to be appointed to operationalise and implement a government programme called 'SMEs Go Digital Project Management Services'.

"Since then, we have been working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority to help SMEs that want to go digital but do not have the scale to digitalise," added Mr Foo.

Seventeen companies were recognised at the event on Wednesday, held at Resorts World Sentosa, for their innovative, collaborative and sustainable efforts, on a night which also marked the industry body's 86th anniversary.

Robotics and automation company PBA Systems was among the firms which won an award. The company adopted a new business model to provide robotic solutions to manufacturing companies after realising its trading business model "may not work in the decades to come".

Mr Foo said the awards aim to encourage companies to grow and to keep ahead of the competition.

"In today's volatile and disruptive market conditions, companies must be open to change and innovate," he added.