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In recent years, Smart Manufacturing has been a key discussion topic among government strategists, manufacturing experts and academic thought leaders. However, what does Smart Manufacturing entails and how does it apply to enterprises, particularly for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that contribute to 99% of Singapore’s total 216,900 enterprise count (according to November 2017 data from the Department of Statistics Singapore).
In simple terms, Smart Manufacturing leverage on real time manufacturing data generated using Information Technology (IT) to bring about manufacturing intelligence which enables flexibility and productivity in physical processes that eventually change how products are invented, manufactured and sold.
The key benefit of Smart Manufacturing is it helps enterprises to better manage their business and to overcome competition through innovation. The key element in Smart Manufacturing is in deriving real-time data from the manufacturing process for decision making and problem solving. This entails deriving data from individual stages of manufacturing with the use of software and devices such as Sensors, Intelligent motors, Computerized Control and Production Management software. This integration enables real time data such as raw material availability and work-in-progress inventory. Combining such information with powerful insights into customers’ purchase behaviour using digital tools will enable efficient management of plant facilities during low and high peak seasons, increase efficiency of supply chain, market products to customers who are interested and finally generating higher revenue with lower cost. Product innovations will be spurred from the creative use of manufacturing. It may give rise to process improvements or even disruptive technologies that enable a company using Smart Manufacturing to achieve competitive edge over its competitors.
In a report released on 9 February 2017, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) noted that over the past decades, a growing manufacturing sector had created positive spillovers for the sectors relating to trade, finance, tourism and professional services and vice versa. With Smart Manufacturing, the spillover will be further magnified because the manufacturing intelligence derived from it will have a multiplier effect as knowledge and growth extends to related services sector. These services sector will in turn, yield greater demand for products derived from Smart Manufacturing. Hence, Smart Manufacturing not only will help Singapore’s manufacturing companies stay competitive, it will even lead to creation of more jobs in the economy.
How Smart Manufacturing spur innovation and economic growth
In the past, manufacturers increase their productivity through “lean manufacturing” practices. However, over time, companies will experience a stage where such cost-cutting efforts can only produce diminishing returns. The continual, sustainable path to greater growth is to innovate with advanced technologies such as Big Data processing, Machine Learning, Advanced Robotics, Cloud Computing, Sensors Technology, 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing and Augmented Reality. In other words, every manufacturer should embark on the journey of Smart Manufacturing in order to sustain its business in this era of rapid technological changes and immense competition.
To help SMEs succeed in Smart Manufacturing, SMF has embarked on the following initiatives:
CEO Think Tank Series – this is a series of quarterly dialogue sessions where industries experts share knowledge on emerging trends and technologies with top management of enterprises. In August 2017, SMF partnered Makino Asia to hold an interactive session to share best practices on “INDUSTRY 4.0 – How relevant to Singapore SMEs?”
Specialised Training Programmes – SMF actively collaborates with government agencies and global industry leaders to develop training programmes that are heavily subsidised so that SMEs can build deep capabilities and embark on Smart Manufacturing.