A bold new vision of smart digitalised factories using intelligent systems, where machines can "talk" to each other, emerged yesterday.
The Government's $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme (ITP) is now turning its sights to precision engineering.
The smart technology push in this key industry could spell 3,000 more jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians by 2020.
Much manual work is set to be shifted to robotics, for instance, as operators and technicians face the need to upgrade their skills to manage new machines and systems.
Home-grown precision engineering firm Meiban Group is the first to embark on this journey, to digitalise its factory operations through what it calls the iSmart Factory project.
The firm signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday with several parties such as PBA, which offers robotics and customised solutions, and Arcstone, a provider of analytics platforms for manufacturers.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran told an event at the Meiban Innovation Centre in Ang Mo Kio: "The digital transformation that Meiban is undertaking is an example of what firms in the precision engineering industry must do, so as to continue to compete and thrive.
"This is also why we are launching the precision engineering Industry Transformation Map today."
He said this road map is the first to be rolled out for the manufacturing sector, led by the Economic Development Board.
The road maps come under the ITP, a national strategy to promote growth and competitiveness, unveiled in this year's Budget.
Food services was the first of 23 key sectors to get its road map last month to help tackle manpower challenges. Many more are to come.
The precision engineering road map outlines plans for the Government to support the setting up of digital factories, said Mr Iswaran.
PRODUCTIVITY PUSH- Rise of digital factories
He said such factories serve multiple functions, including offering a setting for technology providers and end-users to test solutions.
Meiban chairman George Goh said whole systems will be linked in its iSmart Factory and "will have the ability to not only communicate to one another, but also the ability to visualise, analyse and predict trends and patterns".
Meiban's head of research and development Helen Ho said the project could lift productivity by 20 to 30 per cent, and would cost about $10 million to $15 million to fully implement, with 2020 as the target.
Mr Iswaran said: "The success of Meiban's digitalisation initiative will be replicated in its factories in Malaysia and China, to culminate in a manufacturing network coordinated here in Singapore."
Another aim is to move local small and medium-sized enterprises towards higher value-added activities, he said.
The Singapore Precision Engineering and Technology Association is giving broad-based support.
The Government is supporting firms such as PBA - which started trading bearings and mechanical components and has evolved to become a robotics and automation systems integrator - to expand capacity and enter regional markets too.
Mr Iswaran said that as the precision engineering industry evolves, 3,000 more jobs for PMETs are expected to be created by 2020 in the industry.
Meiban chief executive Carol Goh noted that at least 150 of the firm's 300 staff in Singapore "are more hands on, such as operators, technicians or machinists, and they will probably be interacting with collaborative robots in future".
Training to upgrade and develop its staff is included in Meiban's R&D fund of $2 million, and the firm has set up a learning centre as well.
Mr Iswaran also introduced a new Skills Framework, which "lays out career pathways for 13 occupations within the precision engineering industry".
Workforce Singapore, a newly formed statutory board, is also developing a programme "to support reskilling of those keen to embark on new careers in advanced manufacturing".
He said: "The precision engineering industry will be well-positioned to ride the wave of digital manufacturing.
With support from stakeholders, we aim to grow output in this sector from $32 billion today to $42 billion in 2020."
Key features of the Precision Engineering Industry Transformation Map
NEW GROWTH AREAS
•The precision engineering industry employed 94,000 workers and made up nearly 15 per cent of Singapore's manufacturing sector in 2014.
•The aim is to grow the industry's contribution to GDP to $14 billion by 2020, up from $8.8 billion in 2014.
•A key strategy is to move the industry into new growth areas - by growing complementary segments such as additive manufacturing, robotics, and lasers and optics.
INNOVATION AS A KEY DRIVER FOR DIGITAL MANUFACTURING
•Model digital factories: A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology and the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre are working to establish digital manufacturing platforms - the first phases are slated for next year - to support the specific digitalisation needs of firms.
•Digital champions such as Meiban: Solutions in robotics, automation and smart factory software will be test-bedded and adopted in Meiban's factories, and commercialised for local and global markets by Meiban's partners.
•International Enterprise Singapore will support firms going to new markets, by connecting them to global business partners, for instance.
NEW JOBS AND SKILLS UPGRADING FOR SINGAPOREANS
•3,000 jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) will be created by 2020, in areas related to digital manufacturing such as robot coordinators and industrial data scientists.
•New skills framework covers career pathways for 13 occupations, job roles and training programmes.
•The Singapore Workforce Development Agency has started a series of advanced manufacturing master classes on emerging technology fields, such as additive manufacturing and advance robotics.
TRIPARTITE COLLABORATION AND CONSULTATION FOR IMPLEMENTATION
•There are plans to expand the membership of the Singapore Precision Engineering and Technology Association from 170 to more than 400 by 2020.
This article was first published on Oct 13, 2016.
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