As Singapore enters a new age of manufacturing, where artificial intelligence and robotics will change how products are built, it must go beyond traditional boundaries - between industries, nations and public and private sectors - to grasp the opportunities coming its way, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.
Painting a picture of an exciting new world of innovation and interconnected networks, he also pointed to the challenges this greater efficiency would bring, as it would create higher-quality jobs, but not as many. But mostly, he stressed the benefits that would flow from closer partnerships.
Already, he pointed out, a new network of supporting partners is in place to plug gaps for manufacturers who assess how far along they are on their transformation journey - and what they need to get there.
Pharma majors here would be supported by government bodies and universities to improve their processes and technologies.
Start-ups would be helped by a German accelerator programme to expand into Europe.
"There is huge value to be created by collaborating with each other - between nations, between different industries, and between public and private sectors," Mr Tharman said at the inaugural Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific 2018 trade event at Singapore Expo yesterday.
He said even small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are taking advantage of these initiatives.
After the creation of the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index last year, which helps companies evaluate how ready they are for the smart new world, these firms are now being linked to banks, and technology and training firms, to find solutions to their shortfalls.
A result: Local food manufacturer Thong Siek used this help to automate its packing of fishballs. Previously, they were counted manually.
So far, more than 200 companies have committed to the index's evaluation, and a tool has been developed to show firms what they must do to be certified in international or local Industry 4.0 standards.
Other partnerships are falling into place. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research, local universities and three leading pharmaceutical companies - GlaxoSmithKline, MSD International and Pfizer - signed a $34 million consortium agreement yesterday to change how drugs are manufactured here.
Instead of the firms competing with one another, this programme allows them to produce drugs faster and potentially cut costs.
The Government also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with German Accelerator Southeast Asia to support start-ups expanding into Europe. Another MOU signed yesterday gives SMEs within JTC Corporation-run estates access to advanced manufacturing solutions and training programmes.
But, Mr Tharman said, employers and educators must address a fundamental challenge of creating jobs for the future.
"It is a challenge because, one way or another, if we succeed in improving speed and efficiency, there will not 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 have 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.
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