$500m to develop future manufacturing technologies

Even as Singapore aims to help existing businesses, it is also looking for new growth opportunities in sectors such as the satellite industry and data analytics.

That is why the Economic Development Board (EDB) will put $500 million over five years into the development of future manufacturing technologies.

Announcing this in his Budget speech on Monday, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said disruptive technologies such as robotics and 3-D printing are changing global manufacturing.

"We must keep up with these developments to ensure that Singapore remains a key global centre for advanced manufacturing," he added.

Associate Professor Shandre Thangavelu of the National University of Singapore's economics department said the Government was moving in the right direction.

This is because Singapore's manufacturing sector faces competition on high-value-added products from Asia and Latin America, so it needs to improve innovation in the sector by investing in competitive technologies, he added.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular need to improve their skills, said Prof Thangavelu.

"We need a national innovation system that encompasses research institutes, local companies and government agencies to pursue a key and integrated innovation strategy at the national level."

Already, Singapore is home to a handful of companies that provide 3-D printing services, said Mr Benoit Valin, director of one such firm, Research and Development Solutions.

"Traditional prototyping methods like machining and moulding work well but are relatively slow," he said. This can take weeks compared to newer methods which take just a few hours.

And demand for such services, mostly from product design, consumer and industrial electronics and other firms, is growing.

"We're fully booked for the next six months," Mr Valin said.

Meanwhile, $90 million of government funding will go to a Satellite Industry Development Fund for the emerging satellite industry.

The Office of Space Technology and Industry under the EDB, announced last week, will administer the fund, which will go towards public research activities and help local industries expand into the satellite sector or beef up existing capabilities.

Loop Electronics, which makes specialised radio-frequency components for satellites, is one such SME.

Its managing director Lim Guan Choon said it hopes to tap the fund to build up test and production facilities and technical capabilities.

Singapore will also venture into up-and-coming services like data analytics and infrastructure development, and help SMEs expanding overseas mitigate their risks, Mr Tharman said.

For one thing, Singapore wants to develop a pool of 2,500 analytics professionals over the next five years, such as through Nanyang Technological University's business-analytics track in its mathematical sciences degree, he said.

And Singapore is working with the Asian Development Bank and private insurers to provide credit guarantees for SMEs that want to export or expand overseas.

caiwj@sph.com.sg


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