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Bringing the virtual into reality
WHEN you're shopping for furniture from a certain famous flat-pack retailer, you know exactly what you're in for. Hours of reading instructions printed on paper, turning pieces around to see how they fit, and having an aching back at the end of it all.
As a visionary, CEO of technology firm CAD-IT Terence Chan sees the above scenario as an opportunity to bring technology to something as mundane as flat-pack furniture manuals.
Some furniture-makers use plan drawings that are hard to understand. "All these technical drawings make it difficult for the end user to see how it comes together. This is where augmented reality (AR) comes in," Mr Chan tells The Business Times in an interview.
"You use your phone, hover above the drawing and you instantly have an image which you can manipulate. We are among the earliest adopters and developers of this technology."
It is this commitment to forward-looking innovation which has enabled CAD-IT Consultants to remain relevant throughout its 25-year history and which has helped it win the Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards five times since 2012.
Incorporated in 1991, CAD-IT Consultants is today a system integrator providing solutions for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) and Internet of Things (IoT).
Mr Chan runs the company together with his wife Florence Tan, who is also the company's chief operating officer (COO).
REDUCING MATERIAL WASTAGE
The company's leadership in PLM, SLM and IoT enables them to guide others in cutting down the use of physical prototyping, thereby reducing material wastage caused by rejected prototypes and allowing companies to bring their products to market quicker.
Alongside its offices in South-east Asia, CAD-IT maintains offices in Singapore, China, the United Kingdom as well as R&D (research and development) offices in Ireland.
Its client portfolio includes industry heavyweights such as Aston Martin, Jaguar, Motorola and Panasonic.
"We had a hand in helping to design the Aston Martin DB10, used in the latest James Bond film," Mr Chan said, referring to the gadget-laden supercar Bond uses to outsmart the bad guys in Spectre.
A close partnership with American computer-aided engineering software developer ANSYS has netted the company 11 ANSYS Outstanding Performance Awards since 1996 for its excellence in sales, marketing, training, consulting and technical support of the entire range of ANSYS solutions.
In his mold-making factory in Taicang, Jiangsu province, Mr Chan highlights the need to move from resource-heavy workflows to high-tech methods involving personal electronic devices.
"Most people will create their molds in 2D. How do you then visualise the assembly? Ours is done on an iPad," he said, producing an example of how workers on his factory shop floor assemble the final product.
"You don't need a lot of overheads to run this piece of software. In my factory shop floor in China, everyone uses an iPad," he says. The software is deliberately coded to run on an ARM-based processor, and it's very light.
"Every single step of the mold assembly is here," he explains, showing off a manual containing parts of a mold in colourful representations.
For his work in advancing the manufacturing process of mold making, the local government named Mr Chan one of the top 40 entrepreneurs in Jiangsu in 2014, helping to cement the company's reputation as a high-precision manufacturer.
To showcase its forward-thinking, CAD-IT ventured into SLM technology back in 2012 and into AR technology early in 2015.
"SLM was unheard of back in 2012," recalls Mr Chan. "We were the first to come out with the term, and we are now one of the first companies to venture into the new field of augmented reality."
The automotive industry is an area of particular interest for Mr Chan. His factories in China already churn out headlights and rear lights for several major German automakers for the Chinese market, and he insists on making only the highest quality parts. "We invest in software and are prepared to be different," he notes.
With auto parts manufacturing already well under way, Mr Chan is setting his sights on the spare parts chain for automakers, and finding ways to implement visualisation software into reducing workload and paperwork for the technicians on the frontline.
He says he wants to improve the way automotive technicians approach their work, in a way where they are no longer limited by video files on computers and stacks of paper documentation. By presenting them with the ability to work off their mobile devices and to have the service manual live in their hands, it enables them to optimise their performance and react quicker to changes on the ground.
HIGH LEVEL OF PRODUCTIVITY
Mr Chan also envisions a logistics chain which is immediately updated and refreshed via input from the auto distributors.
"Right now if you look at all the auto distributors, they have to carry spare parts," he points out. "For example, there is an update to a component. Right now you can only view it in 2D, in a PDF file. We can do it such that when someone updates their central inventory, all the technical manuals update themselves. That leads to a high level of productivity."
If Mr Chan is worried that others will find ways to copy his methods, he doesn't show it. "If you want to compete in this industry, you must compete with the highest level of technology.
"It's not a question of how. People can learn about things by Googling them. And you must always stay ahead of the competition."
Ms Tan, the company's COO, believes it is important for SMEs to continuously innovate in order to upgrade themselves.
"They need to upgrade themselves (with the PIC scheme) so that they have the money to buy the software and hardware, services and training. With the funding, they are able to invest more confidently," she says.
According to her, in order to effectively compete, companies must have the tools first before looking for projects, and not the other way around.
"You need the skill set and the tools to be able to do the job, then you can attract projects," she explains.
"Having the ability to present your ideas is crucial. Start transforming our young people. We need to nurture their critical thinking, so that they can see they can become world-class," she adds.
It is this thinking which perhaps has kept CAD-IT at the forefront of the next generation of technology.