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Singapore manufacturers can test latest technologies at new model factory

COMPANIES that have already taken up some advanced manufacturing technologies now have another space to learn about and test new ways to improve their factories and products.

For example, assembly lines can be made leaner by using "collaborative robots", instead of humans, to carry out repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks, while autonomous guided vehicles can replace traditional conveyor belts.

A new 15,000 sq ft facility by Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) launched on Thursday will allow companies to view such technologies and co-develop their own.

The Model Factory, located at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (Model Factory @ ARTC), has over 10 areas showcasing different technologies including a virtual manufacturing lab, a digitised lean assembly line and intelligent control room.

Companies who want to make use of the model factory's facilities can approach A*Star, and they will have to pay a fee depending on the services required.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said at the facility's opening that Singapore is well-placed to ride on this growth to meet the growing demand for high-quality products and services, especially in Asia.

"The world's economic centre of gravity is shifting towards Asia, due to the rising middle class and increased urbanisation in this part of the world," he said.

"New technologies will also play a major role in shaping manufacturing trends - disruptive technologies such as additive manufacturing, robotics and artificial intelligence are ushering a new era of manufacturing, also known as Industry 4.0," he added.

These technologies will transform the way businesses operate, produce and interact with customers and their supply chains, said Dr Koh.

Manufacturing contributed about 20 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and 14 per cent of total employment in 2016.

This public-private partnership complements an earlier learning factory opened last October at A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) - which was mainly aimed at companies starting to adopt advanced manufacturing technologies.

A*Star's model factory initiative aims to sustain the Republic's competitiveness in the industry and technology innovation. By bridging technological gaps, the initiative also helps businesses reinvent themselves.

So far, about 50 companies have participated in the model factory initiative at both ARTC and SIMTech.

Dr Koh added that the Government is committed to helping the industry upgrade its capabilities, pledging $3.2 billion from 2016 to 2020 to develop research and technological capabilities in the advanced manufacturing and engineering domain.

Customers are increasingly demanding products that are customised and trend-based, said A*Star in a statement on Thursday.

"To stay competitive, manufacturers must be flexible in their operations by adopting high-mix, low volume manufacturing techniques to produce high-value customer-oriented products and services with a shorter lead time," it added.

Some companies have already started working with the Model Factory @ ARTC, such as Abrasive Engineering which designs and produces automated abrasive blasting and shot peening machines, which strengthen metal components.

By working with ARTC to implement sensors in its machines to monitor machine health in real-time, allowing users to perform maintenance before failure occurs, Abrasive Engineering aims to increase its sales by 20 per cent and achieve $12 million in sales revenue by 2021.

Another company that has joined hands with ARTC is turbocharger maintenance company Tru-Marine. Its executive chairman David Loke said the firm is working on a pilot to digitise a part of its workshop that produces spare parts.

Mr Loke has reconfigured the factory layout to maximise efficiency, and hopes to eventually link up the production process to a central machine so that employees can monitor the machines' information in real-time and make better decisions on the floor.

"This is a small step towards transforming our company into a digital enterprise," he said. "We have seven cells in our workshop and should finish our pilot on the first cell by the end of this year. If it works, we will replicate this to other parts of our factory."

On Thursday, ARTC also embarked on new partnerships with Nestle, and Procter and Gamble, marking its expansion beyond the aerospace and machinery sectors to serve the fast moving consumer goods sector as well.

ARTC will also partner Shell to test-bed advanced digital technologies with the aim of applying them extensively in its regional operations.In addition, Singtel will upgrade its membership with ARTC with the goal of developing capabilities for smart manufacturing.