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Staying ahead of the Kurve with robots

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"Even if the initial idea sounds amazing, it is important to network and develop the idea." - Hui Wing Feh, director, Kurve Automation, seen here with a robot he programmed to make omelettes.

FANCY a robot making your omelette in the morning and serving a fresh coffee along with it for a breakfast in bed? This may be possible in the near future, as businesses like Kurve Automation are increasingly using robots to automate processes that can otherwise be done only by a human.

Kurve aims to provide inexpensive, efficient and simple customised solutions for small-scale food manufacturing processes. It focuses on applying Universal Robots, a robotic arm developed in Denmark, to the production line.

Kurve has secured only one contract so far, with Komala's Restaurants, where a robot is used to make dosai with greater precision and speed than a human operator. For this project, Kurve director Hui Wing Feh personally went to his client's kitchen to learn how to make dosai.

Mr Hui takes it upon himself to find innovative, easy and practical solutions to save money and increase productivity for his clients. When he visited Komala's kitchen, he found that making dosai requires a great deal of precision in spreading the batter - which can be achieved much more easily with robots.

Aside from using robotics in food automation, plans to introduce the use of robots in F&B services firms are also in the pipeline.

Although he is only just starting out in the robotics business, Mr Hui has big dreams for his company. He is optimistic that business will pick up in the coming year, forecasting a profit of S$2 million for this year - a fourfold increase from its revenue of S$500,000 in 2015. This is because after securing its position as an authorised distributor of Universal Robots early this year, Mr Hui is looking to secure more contracts.

With the distributorship of Universal Robots, Kurve is able to create prototypes to present to clients by simply tweaking and programming the robot, said Mr Hui. "This helps to improve our credibility, because our clients trust us more when we can show them a prototype that is already 90 per cent workable, almost ready to go."

In line with its leader's passion for educating the next generation, Kurve has teamed up with STEM Inc to co-develop a robotics workshop. STEM Inc is a unit of Science Centre Singapore that opened in 2014, which provides resources targeted at secondary school students to foster interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Mr Hui hopes that this robotics workshop will infuse the design thinking skills that he also uses frequently in his business. This aims to encourage students to use easy and practical ways to solve real-world problems.

Setting up this business was certainly no walk in the park. Kurve is not unfamiliar with the difficulties faced by any startup in Singapore, such as the initial challenge of building a reputation, and also the costs incurred experimenting with different designs that failed during its initial years.

Describing his business as a "journey", Mr Hui said Kurve did not start off specialising in robotics. Rather, it focused on industrial design, and worked on projects such as a model of the Marina Barrage dam and design of window shade systems for a condominium.

Over time, as Mr Hui felt that the market was too small, Kurve ventured into automation, before settling on its current focus of using robots to create solutions for its clients. Speaking from personal experience, Mr Hui urges new startup companies to find a balance between business development and focus.

"Even if the initial idea sounds amazing, it is important to network and develop the idea as you go along," said Mr Hui, as Kurve developed its focus on robotic solutions only after a few years in business.

"It is good to start a business so you can network, explore new things and then improve your capability."