Digital manufacturing in Singapore got a boost yesterday with the launch of a $18 million laboratory that would pave the way for higher-quality, more user-friendly goods that get to consumers more quickly.
The facility set up jointly by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and local manufacturing software company Arcstone will also look into ways of making the environmental footprint of a product more transparent.
Digital manufacturing is essentially about using technology to help factories become more productive and efficient, and reduce human error.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said at the lab's opening that the manufacturing sector is a strong engine for Singapore's growth. The sector registered a 7.5 per cent year-on-year growth in the first quarter of this year - outpacing the overall gross domestic product growth of 0.2 per cent.
"The ambition is for Singapore to move towards high-value manufacturing, where competition is not based on cost, but based on intellectual property, know-how and skills," he said.
The country needs a strong base of local manufacturers with home-grown expertise and knowledge in order to be relevant and to build a resilient growth sector, he added.
He commended Arcstone for its innovative spirit, citing its continuous investment in research and development.
"The joint lab will enable Arcstone to not only develop new products, but also help other local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) speed up digital transformation in their factories and make production greener," said Mr Gan.
For instance, one area the new lab will look into is the development of systems that can track the environmental footprint of the entire supply chain - and make that information available to consumers.
Arcstone chief executive Willson Deng said that, amid the growing global sustainability movement, providing customers with data, such as via a QR code on the back of a product, will allow consumers to make a more informed choice.
Digital manufacturing offers companies the chance to make more efficient use of resources - cutting down wastage and improving energy efficiency, said Professor Alfred Huan, assistant chief executive of A*Star's Science and Engineering Research Council.
Digital manufacturing gives business owners the ability to monitor closely the various aspects of the production process. This monitoring is usually done by humans. But the processes can be digitalised and optimised using a suite of technologies such as sensors and artificial intelligence.
Take, for instance, the process of taking measurements for a car part.
This was usually done with a tactile probe and the data recorded manually, said Dr David Low, chief executive of A*Star's Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre.
"But now, we have the visual tools to begin to scan the entire car or specific components, compare that information with the master data and observe if there are any differences," he said. Digital manufacturing could also allow for real-time monitoring of inventories.
Arcstone currently has its own manufacturing execution systems that will give manufacturers oversight of their production processes.
But under the three-year partnership with A*Star, the aim is to "upgrade" the existing solutions with state-of-the-art tools that A*Star researchers are developing.
Dr Low said public-private partnerships like this will help scientists tailor their research to industry use and create solutions that can solve real-world challenges.
The lab will also place special emphasis on the user-interface for the system, making it easy to configure and use, especially for first-timers.
Mr Deng said: "It's training the brain (smart solutions) to speak the language of the operators and the workers, and every single SME in Singapore."