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Leading the way: Taking Singapore manufacturing to the next level

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THE lead programme has been an important platform for trade associations and chambers (TACs) to work together with government agencies to upgrade and transform the industry. And it has been a very successful endeavour, says Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF).

“SMF looks forward to more such efforts that help to boost and improve the Singapore economy,” says Mr Foo.

Using funding support from the LEAD programme, SMF has undertaken several initiatives on multiple fronts to reach out to SMEs and help upgrade them, bringing them many benefits in the process.

Established in 1932, SMF has over 3,000 corporate members. Most of its members come from the electrical, electronics and allied industries, as well as the medical technology, food and beverage, and energy and chemicals sectors.

SMF is an example of a capable and multi-faceted TAC that drives multiple initiatives to benefit SMEs and make them competitive.

“The LEAD programme helps to build capabilities of the companies for them to stay competitive. In addition, the LEAD programme also helps the SMEs to internationalise and remain competitive in a global context,” says Mr Foo.

“The manufacturing industry in Singapore is transforming to knowledge-based, high-value activities. As such, companies need to formulate new manufacturing strategies and business models so as to sustain their growth. Through the LEAD programme, SMF helps companies to equip their workers with the relevant skills and knowledge, which will in turn increase the companies’ productivity and innovation capabilities.”

An important initiative taken by the SMF using the LEAD programme to push the industry to the next level is the Working-in-Partnership (WIP) Programme, which was launched in 2013.

SMF feels local companies need to adopt a forward thinking regional mindset and step out of Singapore, lest they be overtaken by the growing number of regional and global competitors. However, local SMEs may lack the knowledge to export, and resources and capabilities to find avenues to export their products.

WIP aims to help Singapore F&B companies internationalise and to carve substantive shelf-space and presence in overseas supermarkets. The WIP business model seeks to acquaint overseas buyers like supermarkets and importers with a collective number of Singapore food products and provide for direct shipment of the consolidated orders.

“Thus, alliance partnership through WIP programme can swiftly allow local food companies to band together to take advantage of collective strengths and minimise uncertainties,” says Mr Foo.

Under the WIP programme, with guidance from an in-market anchor partner, Singapore companies can make inroads to new markets by having their products listed with overseas supermarkets. Companies can enter direct distribution channels by leveraging on the experience and competency of the anchor partner, thus eliminating the middleman. Participating companies are able to enjoy economies of scale from shared resources, minimise risks and earn better marketing mileage from industry-specific branding events like Tasty Singapore.

Two WIP supermarket promotions were done in 2014. The first, with CityMart in Myanmar, attracted 16 companies and the second, with Tops in Thailand, drew 12 companies.

Another key initiative of SMF under the LEAD programme is the Singapore Innovation & Productivity Institute (SiPi), which was launched in 2012. SMF-SiPi received LEAD funding to set up the manufacturing productivity centre with four main thrusts focusing on Knowledge Generation, Knowledge Dissemination, Knowledge Implementation and Knowledge Resource.

Mr Foo says that in 2010 when the Economic Strategies Committee recommendations were released, SMF reviewed the relevance of its offerings for the industry. ‘Fostering inclusive growth’ was the key topic for SMF, and in particular the industry competitiveness in terms of productivity and innovation was highlighted.

“SMF was one of the proactive TACs that swiftly looked into developing productivity offerings, hiring a Chief Innovation and Productivity Officer, and organising productivity-related conferences and seminars.

“SMF recognised that in order to help companies wean off reliance on foreign workers and address the problems of rising costs, companies must receive assistance to look into their business and operational processes for efficiency and effectiveness,” says Mr Foo.

At the same time, SMF also recognised that the next step for productivity gains needs to be innovation-driven. This resulted in the setting up a knowledge enterprise, SiPi, to help improve productivity at the industry level. SiPi prides itself for its project coaching and consultancy expertise which has been a great help for some SMEs in productivity gains.

SiPi also offers technical advisory on productivity concepts and applications to SMEs, as well as productivity diagnosis and road mapping for them to better understand their competitiveness, especially in the productivity aspect. CEOs of these SMEs will then be able to see the gaps in their operations that contributed to cost or productivity challenges. They will also be able to see the lean wastes that could be easily eliminated, resulting in more streamlined business processes. SiPi also offers productivity coaching and implementation. SMEs are guided by experienced coaches who help solve their
operational problems. They are trained with the problem-solving methodology, lean concepts, statistical knowledge and tools to lead or work on a project.

In addition, SiPi is also one of the first institutions in Singapore to promote Business Model Innovation (BMI), which is about creating, capturing, developing and delivering value to the customers and the market.

“BMI can help Singapore companies to add more value to their services and products, allowing manufacturers to differentiate themselves from their competitors,” says Mr Foo.

SMF also actively works with Spring Singapore to push the industry to the next level. SMF has set up the SME Centre@SMF, funded by Spring Singapore, to provide SMEs with easy access to business advisory to help them start, sustain, and grow their businesses. It is a one-stop service centre that offers business diagnosis, information on government schemes and capability workshops.

Besides operating the SME Centre@SMF, SMF also operates SME Centre@NorthWest and SME Centre@SouthWest. Together, these SME centres assist around 3,000 SMEs annually and also serve to reach out to companies to increase awareness of assistance available to SMEs.

In addition, SMF has been appointed by Spring Singapore to administer standards development in Singapore. Hence, the SMF-Standards Development Organisation (SMF-SDO) was established in 2011 to manage the promotion and implementation of standards in four areas: biomedical standards, food standards, general engineering and safety standards, and manufacturing standards.