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WHEN Kelvin Tan left a Japanese multinational corporation (MNC) to join Racer Technology in 2004, he suffered a massive culture shock.
"I almost gave up in my third week," he admits with a chuckle.
The industry itself was not foreign to him, as his previous employer manufactured components for medical devices. Rather, the main difference was that Racer seemed to be running in an ad hoc manner, "without really a good system", he recalls.
Why had he left his previous employer in the first place? At that point in time, many MNCs were shifting their manufacturing operations out of Singapore to lower-cost countries. His former employer had offered him a post in Batam, but Mr Tan decided to join a local small and medium enterprise (SME) instead.
"I think our Singapore SMEs need industrial practitioners that have acquired knowledge from the MNCs, to boost our local SME sector," he says.
He chanced upon a newspaper job ad, seeking someone with knowledge of medical devices for a quality assurance role. Thanks to his previous job, he was well-versed in the relevant standards and requirements.
He got the job - then discovered just how different life in an SME could be. But he credits Racer founder Willy Koh with giving him a reason to stay on, saying: "He has a very strong urge and drive to push Singapore SMEs to greater heights."
Mr Koh supported and empowered him to revamp the company's systems and culture. Today, Mr Tan, 52, is Racer's quality assurance and regulatory vice president.
Around 2016, Mr Koh entrusted him with Racer's "Factory 4.0" digitalisation drive. Together with the firm's general manager, Mr Tan did surveys and market studies to find the right digital solutions for Racer's needs.
A lot of providers were entering the Singapore market at the time, but Racer was meticulous in doing its homework. Says Mr Tan: "Not every set of Factory 4.0 (solutions) can be applicable to any trade."
In the end, it was Racer's existing partnership with the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) that supplied the lead. SIMTech representatives heard that Racer was exploring Factory 4.0 solutions, and offered their own.
The great advantage, says Mr Tan, was that SIMTech's solutions could be adapted to Racer's specific production processes, with the software being customised for and integrated into Racer's machines.
One of the digital solutions has also aided him directly in his job: a tablet-based application for quality inspections, which replaces tedious, manual, and hard-to-retrieve paper records. With this web-based system, his team can send information to him at any time - if they detect non-conformity or need a second opinion, say - even if he is overseas.
Material and planning manager M. Thamarai Selvan, 42, has also benefited from the digital drive. He joined Racer in 2005 as a quality assurance engineer, back when the team relied on "basic software and a lot of paperwork".
Over the years, this went fully digital, and a proper enterprise resource planning system is now in place. Unlike the old software, which offered little traceability, the current system allows for easy tracking of records, going back as far as a decade.
In his current role, he handles customers' material requirements, selecting raw materials for new projects. Racer's records have benefited long-running customers as well, he notes. If customers have lost records of the materials used in previous products, Racer's well-kept system comes to the rescue.
"They themselves might not know, but we can find out for them," he says with a smile.
Brought to you by The Future Economy Council