Using robotics can be a game-changer for SMEs

Using robotics can be a game-changer for SMEs
Increasing productivity: Mr Tharman (left) looking on as QB managing director Quah Wee Keong demonstrates how the company’s new cheese fabrication line works.

A SMALL and homegrown food manufacturer has shown that investments in automation aren't just for the big boys - they can be a game-changer for small and medium-sized players too.

QB Food Trading on Wednesday unveiled a new cheese fabrication line worth S$1 million, which has enabled the family- owned firm to increase production volumes by 60 per cent, and double its output per worker.

It is one of the few food manufacturers that has utilised robotics solutions to heighten productivity; these are traditionally used in the automotive and engineering sectors to optimise production processes. During his visit to QB on Wednesday, National Productivity and Continuing Education Council (NPCEC) chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam noted that some years ago, the food manufacturing industry - which comprises over 850 establishments employing almost 28,000 people - was thought to be a sunset industry.

"Now it's growing, it's vibrant, and it has done so by thinking a lot about export potential - by developing products that are appealing, safe, and trusted ... It has done so also by upgrading its processes, and QB is a very good example (of combining robotics with) different types of machines (to create) a highly efficient operation."

Apart from enabling QB to take on more orders than before, the robotic line has also reduced the firm's reliance on manpower. Only three workers are now required for the cheese cutting and packing process, compared to six previously.

With less need for human contact, contamination risks are minimised as well.

QB's S$1 million investment was paid for in part by SPRING Singapore's Capability Development Grant, although the exact amount of government support remains undisclosed.

While Mr Tharman acknowledged that overall productivity figures in Singapore are still weak, he stressed the need to look beyond headline numbers, and to see things from a sectoral perspective instead.

Said Mr Tharman: "I hardly look at the quarter- to-quarter growth myself - it's too cyclical. It's important to look at real changes taking place within each industry.

"Are new techniques being introduced? Are new logistics chains being used?

It's changes within the industry that will eventually show up in your macro statistics," he added, highlighting productivity strides made in the food manufacturing, precision engineering, and aerospace sectors.


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