It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic and recent global events have caused unexpected disruptions to the manufacturing industry. While some manufacturers are temporarily closing their factories due to government restrictions or falling demand, others are facing significant increases in demand for essential supplies.
Despite those challenges, Singapore’s manufacturing sector has proven to be resilient. According to the Economic Development Board, factory output increased 17.6% y-o-y in February 2022.
One reason for this is the move toward Industry 4.0, which refers to the digitalisation and automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using smart technologies such as advanced analytics and industrial Internet of Things (IoT). By doing so, manufacturers will be able to improve production efficiency and speed to market, better customise products, and even develop new business models.
Since Singapore expects the manufacturing sector to continue contributing to about a fifth of economic output over the medium term, its government has been actively encouraging manufacturers to embrace Industry 4.0.
For instance, the Industry 4.0 Human Capital Initiative by Workforce Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation is helping manufacturers identify gaps in their processes. Thereafter, they will go through an eight-week programme, wherein experts from McKinsey & Co and EY guide them in tackling issues like labour productivity and planning efficiency. Manufacturers can also trial Industry 4.0 solutions and receive a phased roadmap to support their workforce in the transformation.
Additionally, the Singapore government has set aside $25 billion for basic and applied research under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 plan, with manufacturing as one of the top priorities. This aims to increase the competitiveness of local manufacturers and help position Singapore as a global business, innovation, and talent hub for Industry 4.0 (also known as advanced manufacturing).
Moving to advanced manufacturing
Sunningdale Tech is a living example of how manufacturers can benefit from advanced manufacturing. The company provides one-stop, turnkey plastic solutions, with capabilities ranging from product and mould designs, mould fabrication, injection moulding, complementary finishings through to the precision assembly of complete products.
It has manufacturing facilities in 18 locations across nine countries — namely Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, the US and Thailand. The facilities serve the automotive/aerospace, consumer/IT, healthcare and tooling sectors.
In an interview with DigitalEdge Singapore, Sunningdale Tech’s CEO Khoo Boo Hor attributes the company’s resilience to its adoption of advanced manufacturing. “Amid challenges such as rising labour and logistics costs, supply chain disruption and the recent global pandemic, Sunningdale [decided to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies] to ensure our long-term sustainability. [For instance,] we’re investing heavily on automation using robotics and artificial intelligence to reduce our reliance on manual labour processes,” he says.
However, fully realising the value of Industry 4.0 technologies requires systems to be integrated as they rely heavily on real-time data from various sources.
As manufacturers look toward Industry 4.0 as a strategic pivot, this goes beyond smart manufacturing within factories and plants, but a model that connects production with end-to-end process execution across the supply chain so that companies can reach a new level of connectivity and adapt to changes on the fly.
Eileen Chua, managing director for Singapore, SAP
Khoo agrees. He says: “A key challenge [of Industry 4.0] is having to integrate different machines into one compatible platform. [To overcome this, we’re leveraging] SAP as the backbone of our Industry 4.0 efforts. [By doing so, we can] integrate big data from suppliers, our manufacturing operations, and customers through IoT connectivity before uploading it to the cloud. This allows us to effectively harness and analyse real-time data while incorporating data analytics into our decision-making process.”
Noting that an organisation’s ability to embrace new technologies is dependent on its employees’ skills, Khoo says that Sunningdale encourages its employees to attend regular training on its latest systems and processes. “We are also a strong advocate for improving our talent pool by sponsoring external courses, professional certifications, and other educational opportunities,” he adds.
Reaping the benefits of Industry 4.0
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According to Khoo, Sunningdale’s Industry 4.0 transformation has enabled it to “significantly improve its operational efficiency, productivity, quality control and profitability margins”. For instance, it now relies less on physical labour and is able to identify potential operational issues before they occur using predictive data analytics.
Over the course of our digital transformation efforts, global multinational customers across the automotive, consumer and medical industries have approached us not just as a customer, but also to partner us for the long term. Our world-class capabilities, global presence and digital systems and processes fit for an age of Industry 4.0 continue to be a key reason for our success in new customer acquisition.
Khoo Boo Hor, CEO, Sunningdale Tech
He adds that the company’s shift toward advanced manufacturing puts Sunningdale in a better position to capture opportunities within the medical technology or medtech space. “We see tremendous opportunities within the medtech industry and the expected growth in medical devices, as the sector continues to rapidly advance in the areas such as robotic surgery.”
The future of manufacturing
When asked what he expects the factory of the future to look like, Khoo says that it will be “fully interconnected and closed-loop, from the supplier network to the factory floor and finally to end-customers”.
Supporting his view, Chua believes that “the next opportunity in growth lies in high-value, precision manufacturing, where technologies like AI, IoT, and data analytics play a crucial role in elevating current production methods to one that is truly automated, intelligent, and predictive”. “That’s how they can make better, more intelligent decisions in a manufacturing environment that is constantly changing due to varying customers’ demands,” she adds.
Making those visions a reality will require government support. “Greater government support can aid manufacturers to pivot in key areas of digitalisation, upskilling, sustainability, and innovation,” says Chua.
Khoo adds: “The government support has played a key role in [the push towards advanced manufacturing] through continual investment in the manufacturing ecosystem, building up the nation’s research capabilities and promoting the adoption of Industry 4.0. This, in turn, has helped companies like Sunningdale in Singapore as we embark on our transformation journey.”