Using tech to make supply chains more resilient, secure

New initiative also aims to develop digital and automation solutions to meet demands of businesses

Technology could help smaller companies deal with any major future disruptions in the supply of products or services.

By analysing data in the supply chain and running simulations of such incidents before they happen, companies can figure out what to do during an actual crisis, such as reallocating resources to where the disruption has taken place.

This is one of the potential outcomes of the new Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative announced yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as part of a series of announcements made on the first day of the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (Itap) 2021 event.

Itap 2021, held at Singapore Expo, is expected to have 5,000 physical attendees over its three-day duration and is slated to be one of the largest gatherings in Singapore since the onset of Covid-19 early last year, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

Among other things, the announcements at the event seek to give the manufacturing and supply chain sectors a technology and partnership boost.

On the matter of disruptions, Mr Heng said Covid-19 exposed the weaknesses in supply chains, citing the challenges posed by factory lockdowns and border restrictions.

He also noted that vulnerabilities existed before the pandemic and will persist after it, citing as an example the Ever Given container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March and disrupted global trade.

But diversifying supply chains is not enough, said Mr Heng, adding: "We must also tackle the significant inefficiencies in the flow of goods, and the magnitude of documentation required as the cargo flows through the supply chain."

Efforts like the Supply Chain 4.0 Initiative can help. With a total investment of $18 million over two years, it comes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and is supported by two research partners - the National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

The initiative aims to develop digital and automation solutions to meet the demands of businesses, and use technology to make supply chains more agile, resilient and secure.

In particular, it would allow small and medium-sized enterprises - which might lack the resources - to tap such solutions and have better visibility of supply chains, things that only multinational corporations often have the means to access.

These solutions will be tested at A*Star's new Supply Chain Control Tower, which is housed in the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre in Jurong West.

So far, more than 50 companies across the aerospace, fast-moving consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, precision engineering and semiconductor sectors have expressed interest in the initiative.

For a start, the researchers will look into the pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods sectors.

The Supply Chain Control Tower can be used to pool data from companies to help them understand how goods flow not only within their own business but also in the broader supply chain.

Artificial intelligence (AI) could help companies spot trends and detect developments that could result in disruptions, so that they can make adjustments to their own business models in advance.

Other announcements made at Itap 2021 include updates to the Jurong Innovation District, which is a one-stop hub where manufacturers can collaborate by co-locating different parts of the manufacturing process in the same space.

JTC Corporation announced that two building developments in the district have been completed, costing about $240 million in total.

The first is an extension of JTC CleanTech Two, which adds 8,000 sq m of laboratory, office and collaborative spaces. Completed in June, it will house A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology.

The second new development in the district is JTC CleanTech Three, which has been opening progressively since September. It offers an extra 50,000 sq m of laboratory, office and collaborative spaces.

JTC CleanTech Three will cater to industries in advanced manufacturing, clean technologies and urban solutions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2021, with the headline 'Using tech to make supply chains more resilient, secure'. Subscribe