S'pore lags behind regional peers in Industry 4.0

Employees working at the wafer production line at REC Solar ASA manufacturing facility in Tuas.
Employees working at the wafer production line at REC Solar ASA manufacturing facility in Tuas. PHOTO: ST FILE

It is too early to say what Industry 4.0 will eventually look like for factories, the chairman of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) smart automation industry group has said.

But the issue of being a big fish in a small pond may be the biggest obstacle for manufacturers here.

Mr Brandon Lee, who is also country manager for information technology firm ATS Applied Tech Systems, noted that the Industry 4.0 vision being pushed here "is not a big programme with different stages", but instead involves "multiple cycles of improvements".

"With each cycle of improvement, new competencies or even business models will emerge for companies to move closer to disrupting the market," he said.

Industry 4.0 refers to the notion that factories are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with automation and data coming to the fore as key technological trends.

Mr Jason Low, the Asia-Pacific lead for the speciality printing group at industrial solutions provider Zebra Technologies, said that while the technology will vary, a smart factory is one with a ready flow of information for all workers involved.

He said: "A 'fully connected factory' is the core of Industry 4.0, where real-time communication between the supply chain and the production line enables a high level of automation and digitisation."

The management would be able to track plant operations from a distance, he said, through a combination of emerging technological tools such as wearable devices and radio-frequency tracking.

Mr Lee felt more can and must be done, when it comes to expanding the use of tech in factories. The key obstacles are "complacency... and lack of ideas on the process and business improvements," he said.

Mr Low said developing markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines are adopting technology faster than economies such as Australia and Singapore.

"This leapfrogging is mainly because the mature markets are already heavily invested in technology, and the emerging markets have more to do," he said.

Annabeth Leow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore lags behind regional peers in Industry 4.0'. Print Edition | Subscribe