SMEs to get help adopting new tech

Two model factories will allow firms to first develop, test ideas

A*Star's model factory at SIMTech will allow companies to try new techniques to improve their processes in a safe, learning environment.
A*Star's model factory at SIMTech will allow companies to try new techniques to improve their processes in a safe, learning environment. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Companies considering adopting advanced manufacturing technologies will soon get a helping hand.

The Model Factories initiative announced earlier this month in Parliament will involve A*Star creating two plants to allow companies to develop new technologies in a learning environment.

It is estimated that 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will benefit from the move over a span of five years.

One of the model factories will be based at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), with the other at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre. Both are expected to be operational by the fourth quarter this year.

"The factory will provide an experiential learning environment where companies can have hands-on experience with new technology," said Dr Koh Poh Koon, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry yesterday. "It provides a safe environment for them to gain knowledge before larger-scale implementation."

A*Star gave a preview yesterday of the Manufacturing Control Tower (MCT) platform that will feature in the model factory at SIMTech. The MCT platform will allow operators and managers to track the progress of the machines on their shop floor at any time from a remote device.

The factory at SIMTech will allow companies to interact with the new technologies on a functional production line so that managers can visualise how similar solutions can be adopted for their own operations, said an A*Star representative.

These solutions will be targeted at digitalising a firm's manufacturing operations and using the data gathered to optimise performance.

Masterclasses and workshops on the latest manufacturing system technologies will also be offered as SIMTech collaborates with more companies to develop targeted solutions for their processes.

By embracing new technologies, SMEs will be well-positioned to capture growth opportunities, Dr Koh said. Yet, despite the benefits of new technology to improve quality and productivity, a survey conducted by McKinsey & Co found that only 48 per cent of manufacturers think they are ready for advanced manufacturing.

Mr Willson Deng, founder and chief executive of data analytics start-up Arcstone, believes that it is because many industry players are equipped with the wrong idea of what advanced manufacturing is really about.

"Advanced manufacturing is not only about a monolithic automation solution," he said. "It is a journey of individual steps and processes - targeted action that is aimed at increasing efficiency."

Mr Deng added that it is crucial to the manufacturing companies' survival that they address their misconceptions sooner, rather than later.

"At some point, firms will need to optimise their manpower, processes and productivity to compete. To do so, they will have to find out what advanced manufacturing really means for their specific operations, be it simply moving away from paper and pen, or full scale automation."

This will be the main question the new initiative will hope to answer.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline SMEs to get help adopting new tech. Subscribe