Asia is recognised as the manufacturing hub of the world and is a strong driving force for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market, which some are calling the Industry 4.0 revolution. In particular, Southeast Asia has the potential to leapfrog ahead of other developing nations as the region is forecast to grow at least five per cent annually until 2020, exceeding the global growth of 3.5 per cent. This can be attributed to strong support from the region’s governments to ramp up sustainable manufacturing capabilities in each of the markets, mass digitisation across sectors, increased interconnectivity between numerous technologies and the rise of sustainability movement globally.
Singapore is a prime example. The country’s manufacturing industry sits at a very critical time in its advancement. It no longer has the advantage on cost and quality, due to competition from surrounding countries and global trends. However, it can transform itself into a data-driven manufacturing powerhouse. Singapore’s developed digital infrastructure, forward-thinking government and government agencies such as Government Technology Agency (GovTech) are important competitive advantages for the state-country to work towards being a leader in IIoT. With this infrastructure, manufacturers can quickly tap on new innovative and provide boosts in productivity, cost reductions and quality improvement.
People are augmented with, and empowered by, Technology
Early adopters of automation are already seeing measurable gains including increased energy efficiency and a better return on capital expenditure. Reports show that manufacturing companies can see a 10 to 20 per cent increase in productivity when they migrate to a digitised lean assembly line that uses sensors, interfaces and basic analytics. Productivity rates can soar by a further 300 per cent with the deployment of Industry 4.0 technologies such as autonomous guided vehicles. At the same time, industry leaders looking to automate may find that a big challenge they face comes from within, where workers are resistant to change with fears of losing their jobs to automation. Moreover, concerns over costs and the lack of digitisation know-how loom over the case for automation.
It is important to understand that while the incorporation of technology or artificial intelligence (AI) will help to drive smart technologies, human input is still essential. While new technologies possess great autonomy, humans must provide direction and control — and apart from overseeing technology, they are needed to gather, compare, analyse and apply data. Technology has a pervasive and growing role, but the key message is that smart factories are empowering the human workforce, not replacing it.
For instance, machines and automation should be seen as an enabler for people to drive new and different procedures in operational efficiency and energy efficiency, breathing new life into traditional workflows and empowering the human workforce. These intelligent new technologies will require organisations to upskill human operators in order to drive the change. Schneider’s chief digital officer Hervé Coureil once said that building a digital twin without having a way to respond to the insights is like having a phone that never rings. Likewise, integrating AI technology into the current workflow without knowing how to interpret, manage, and act on the insights leaves any of us with just a shiny object that has no real applicable value. There is a need for organisations to develop talent strategies, as well as build up staffing and training plans to meet the changing needs in terms of skills, job description and organisational models of the companies.
Empowering people through knowledge-sharing
As a global technology company that drives innovation for energy management and industrial automation, Schneider Electric is here to help companies transform digitally by providing them the tools for digital transformation, and the training to help better equip the workers. The French multinational corporation is now part of an elite community of leaders in the Fourth Industrial Revolution who have agreed to open their doors to share their knowledge and best practices with other industries (such as F&B, electronics etc) and develop an ecosystem of innovators, which will continue to grow and advance the adoption of smart manufacturing technologies. This is why Schneider Electric has come up with tech solutions such as the open IoT-platform, Ecostruxure Machine Advisor and the Ecostruxure Augmented Operator Advisor, which uses Augmented Reality to help customers manage complex plants and factories.
Examples of such an integration can be seen in Schneider Electric’s smart factory in Batam, Indonesia, which not only functions as a factory, but also acts as a showcase for customers and partners to witness how digital transformation can help them make informed, data-driven decisions that bring about improved profitability, asset management performance, operational efficiency and a smarter productive workforce while keeping operations secure, agile and environmentally sustainable. More than 150 customers and partners from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Middle East, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam have visited the site.
To survive and to lead in today’s business environment, organisations need to innovate and transform how operations are run. Savvy use of intelligent automation starts as a competitive advantage and will become, over time, table stakes. With these solutions, and constant upskilling and empowerment of the human workforce, the assets and operations of plants and factories can be managed remotely and digitally from the smart control centre, and its energy efficiencies can also be better managed through data-informed decisions.
At the upcoming Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific (ITAP) conference, Schneider Electric has installed a full-fledged virtual Smart Factory with 7 interactive exhibits and daily live streaming of the Batam Smart Factory to demonstrate how a factory can be transformed through digitisation. The second Asia-Pacific edition of the iconic Hannover Messe industrial technology trade show will bring together the region’s leading industry professionals and government agencies to exchange cutting-edge Industry 4.0 concepts and technologies impacting the region.
To identify your current stage of automation and receive detailed recommendations on how you can advance in your digital transformation journey, visit Schneider Electric at Booth 2B18 to take the Smart Factory Readiness assessment during ITAP, held from Oct 22 to 24 this year, 10am to 6pm at Singapore Expo. Visit se.com/sg/itap for more information.
• Tommy Leong is Zone President of East Asia & Japan at Schneider Electric.