Manufacturers urged to join hands for next upturn

Companies in manufacturing know they have to innovate to stay ahead in these turbulent times, but they must also collaborate to prepare for the next upturn.

That is the message Mr Douglas Foo, recently re-elected president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) for a second term, hopes to get across.

Firms should also try to expand their production base and market overseas, and SMF can help, he said.

Time is of the essence, added Mr Foo, who is chairman of Sakae Holdings, which owns the Sakae Sushi restaurant chain.

"If you presume you have all the time in the world... you won't exist... It's about survival and transformation," he said in an interview at the SMF's office in Bukit Merah on the group and its plans to help members amid the current slowdown.

He added that disruptive innovations will make life simpler and more efficient, but displace manufacturing enterprises quite rapidly.

For example, people may no longer need to go to clinics to get blood tests done in the future.


They could, instead, get blood samples analysed by smartphones made to do the job. In such a case, the demand for the manufacturing of medical kits for blood tests could disappear.

As the manufacturing sector evolves, workers may be displaced. In such cases, the SMF, which has over 3,000 members and about 125 full-time staff, reaches out to its members to see if they can absorb the workers.

It works with the Employment and Employability Institute and statutory board Workforce Singapore to link workers up with training programmes, such as three new Professional Conversion Programmes launched this month for roles like manufacturing associates, to help them convert their skills to more relevant ones.

Mr Foo believes the collaborative model is the way forward for businesses, and the SMF has identified partners in countries like Indonesia that are ready to work with Singapore firms to do manufacturing abroad, without having to do a lot of groundwork and set up a factory there.

Technological advances facilitate this, he added. "Today's supply chain is a lot more IT-driven and data-driven than before, so you are able to manage a lot of what you send and track it."

To seek out opportunities, companies can expand into overseas markets, or even use proprietary technology in a different industry.

For instance, instead of just supplying parts for oil rigs, some of the technnology used can be applied to infrastructure projects - such as airports and ports - in demand in developing countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, he said.

The key is to be adaptable and innovative, and the SMF, set up in 1932, will continue to remind businesses to do this, he added.

"What we want to do is start meaningful initiatives to ensure that manufacturing continues to be a strong anchor of the economy, and to help enterprises to get themselves ready for the next upturn," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Manufacturers urged to join hands for next upturn'. Print Edition | Subscribe