Singapore's Industry 4.0 journey

Industry 4.0, which optimises manufacturing processes through smart and autonomous systems, is no longer an industry buzzword but a business reality for many companies.

With Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, products and services are embedded with software that enables them to respond and interact with other machines. For example, factory lighting is no longer about simple illumination but a digital asset that can be controlled remotely, tracks foot traffic data and may even alert security surveillance systems if there is a threat.

Singapore – one of Asia’s most competitive economies – has seamlessly embraced Industry 4.0 manufacturing initiatives such as Internet of Things (IOT), robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

Manufacturing, after all, accounts for a fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Singapore is also the fourth largest global exporter of high-tech products. In the past decade, manufacturers in Singapore have been facing twin pressures of high cost of labour and increased restrictions on foreign labour. Intelligent automation is thus seen as the panacea to stay competitive with its neighbours that offer lower-cost manufacturing labour.

Starting with the ecosystem

As Industry 4.0 requires a connected, smart and highly efficient supply ecosystem, Singapore is addressing the nation’s readiness at different fronts.

In 2017, Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) launched the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index (to provide a common framework for understanding Industry 4.0 as well as evaluating companies' readiness levels. A prioritisation matrix was also launched to help companies plan and execute their Industry 4.0 transformation plans.

In addition, Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Standards Council have developed the world's first standards mapping tool for the manufacturing industry. This will map relevant national and global standards in areas such as operations, supply, automation and talent readiness vis-à-vis the Smart Industry Readiness index.

EDB has also launched an industry network scheme help companies accelerate the implementation of their own industry transformation programmes by linking technology, financing, talent development and training partners.

The human factor is still critical

Even though Industry 4.0 looks at intelligent machines, highly skilled talent is still needed to run the factory floor.

Starting in its schools, Singapore’s education has focused on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. Its students regularly top international league tables for these subjects.

In higher education, academic-practitioner collaboration is encouraged with funding for corporate labs to develop cutting edge solutions for industry problems. Local university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has partnered with corporates such as Rolls Royce, HP and ST Engineering while the National University of Singapore (NUS) has partnered with Applied Materials and Singtel.

These corporate labs tackle current Industry 4.0 issues such as cybersecurity, cyber-physical systems, smart industrial chemical production and computational engineering.

For those already in the workforce, the government is looking to build up local skillsets in artificial intelligence (AI) through several initiatives.

SkillsFuture promotes lifelong learning and emphasises partnerships between training providers and employers. There are short training programmes, earn-and-learn industry attachments to give school-leavers a foot in the door and online tutorials for busy executives.

One of the initiatives, dubbed AI for Everyone, is free for the public. It introduces Singapore to the possibilities of artificial intelligence with topics such as “What is Machine Learning?” and “What is a Data Scientist?”  Another initiative, AI for Industry, is targeted towards technically inclined industry professionals and provides certification on basic competencies such as Python programming.

Collaboration critical for success

With the accelerating rate of technology maturity, the cost and time to build Industry 4.0 capabilities from the ground up may be insurmountable. Collaborations across the ecosystem of different industry players from original equipment manufacturers to integrators and start-ups help companies to implement innovations across the value chain.

In October 2018, Singapore hosted the first Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific trade show. The inaugural Asian edition of this major global trade show saw 15,000 attendees from 55 countries and is meant to foster dialogue and knowledge transfer.

The 2018 event also marked a milestone for pharmaceutical companies in Singapore with the signing of a $34 million consortium agreement between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), local universities and three leading pharmaceutical companies - GlaxoSmithKline, MSD International and Pfizer.

The agreement, Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (PIPS), aims to raise the bar for pharmaceutical manufacturing, resulting in more sustainable processes and quicker production of active pharmaceutical ingredients – allowing treatments to reach patients faster.

Plans ahead

Other Singapore-based multinationals have chosen Singapore as a base to build their Industry 4.0 capabilities. German manufacturer, Siemens, opened its first digitalisation hub in Singapore while US consulting firm, McKinsey, has built a Digital Capabilities Centre – a digital model factory to demonstrate, teach and test Industry 4.0 solutions.

JTC Corporation, the lead government agency responsible for industrial infrastructure is also developing a campus at the Jurong Innovation District to accommodate more factories with advanced manufacturing, research and capability development facilities. This includes a 260,000 sq. ft robotics manufacturing factory by PBA Group, due for completion in 2020.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the ‘Readiness for the Future of Production Report’, Singapore is among the top 25 countries globally to be in the best position to benefit from the changing nature of production1.

The report assesses how well-positioned global economies are to shape and benefit from changes in production driven by Industry 4.0. Singapore is ranked second for drivers of production and is a leader in global trade and investment due to its open and trade-friendly business environment.

Separately, real estate consultancy Cushman & Wakefield, ranked Singapore fifth in its Manufacturing Risk Index. This index assesses the most suitable locations for global manufacturers to expand or relocate their operations.

Singapore’s strong ecosystem of industry partners and government support is transforming the nation to be a digital manufacturing hub where new and innovative ideas can be realised from a mere flight of fancy to the factory floor.

This article is produced by Hawksford and does not constitute legal advice. It is intended to provide general information only. 

Readiness for the Future of Production Report 2018

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