Imagine a world where we no longer have to settle for mass-produced shampoo, medicine, or mobile phones but can choose products customised to our very individual needs.
It sounds fanciful but the advent of communications technology and data analytics has made that scenario a real possibility - and Singapore must evolve to take advantage of it, said Mr Julian Ho, assistant managing director of the Economic Development Board (EDB).
The "consumer to business" model is one of the up-and-coming global trends that will soon become an integral part of the manufacturing scene here, he added.
Mr Ho was speaking to The Straits Times after a briefing by EDB's International Advisory Council (IAC) last Friday.
The IAC brought together leaders of some of the world's largest companies for a brainstorming session about Singapore's economic future.
The business chiefs recommended that the country should position itself as Asia's advanced manufacturing hub, and also take advantage of the way big data is changing the business world.
"The ability for the consumer to say, 'I want this', rather than pick choices off a shelf... the technologies are there for both business and end consumers to make their personalised choices known," said Mr Ho. "Those countries or companies that have systems which allow this personalisation to happen better than elsewhere will reap the rewards."
Data analytics is already beginning to change manufacturing processes, and global companies like General Electric are increasingly able to tap the benefits, said its vice-chairman, Mr John Rice.
For instance, GE analyses data it obtains from jet engines already in use around the world to use in designing and manufacturing new engines.
"We've gone from a 'batch' world to a 'real-time' world," said Mr Rice, who was in Singapore for the IAC meeting.
"The 'batch' way of thinking is dead or dying.
"There is no place better equipped than Singapore to develop the ecosystem that supports advanced manufacturing - from financing to support for small and medium-sized enterprises to research."
Mr Ho said manufacturing, which employs more than 500,000 people here, is a necessary component of a "balanced economy".
Its share of gross domestic product will continue to stay at 20 per cent to 25 per cent, he said. Painting a picture of the future of the sector in Singapore, Mr Ho added that "manufacturing is not just about staid production".
Machines can now capture data, transmit information in real time around the world and even anticipate breakdowns before they happen.
In the near future, Singapore is aiming to become a nerve centre for companies which want to expand into ASEAN and beyond.
"In Singapore, you could be controlling manufacturing processes all around the world... we want to look beyond Singapore's shores and plug into a global manufacturing supply chain," said Mr Ho.
Foundations have already been laid in sectors such as energy and chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas equipment and biotechnology.
"There's so much we can imagine for Singapore... young Singaporeans and their aspirations demand more challenging, exciting jobs and manufacturing can create these jobs," he added.
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