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In mutual pursuit of innovation

There are natural areas for partnership between Singapore and Germany, which leads in Industry 4.0 solutions.

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S Iswaran, Singapore Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations (left), visiting the Singapore country booth at the Hannover Messe industrial tech fair in the German city. Later this month, Singapore will host the first Asia-Pacific edition of Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology trade fair.

GERMANY and Singapore's broad and deep bilateral ties have expressed themselves in recent years in a burgeoning range of partnerships - from public to private sector, manufacturing to services, education to science and technology.

A common theme runs through these though: a pursuit of innovation and search for new solutions, even as rapid technological advancements disrupt industries and business models.

"I believe it is important and there is much scope to enhance our partnership and co-innovation between German and Singaporean companies as they learn from each other and grow together," S Iswaran, Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations, said at this year's Germany-Singapore Business Forum, on the side-lines of Hannover Messe.

2018 marked the first time Singapore participated in the Hannover Messe, setting up three country pavilions at the world's largest industrial technology trade fair.

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And later this month, Singapore will host the first Asia-Pacific edition of Hannover Messe, a three-day event jointly organised by Deutsche Messe, the owner and organiser of Germany's Hannover Messe, and Singapore trade event company SingEx Exhibitions.

The trade show, titled Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (ITAP) - a Hannover Messe Event, is the fruit of an agreement between SingEx, Deutsche Messe and the Singapore Tourism Board and will be held in Singapore for three years.

ITAP "will provide an added boost to Singapore's manufacturing scene", says Economic Development Board (EDB) assistant managing director Lim Kok Kiang. Organisers are expecting more than 10,000 visitors to attend the trade show, which has lined up more than 200 exhibiting companies and 100 speakers.

Mr Lim point out that both Germany and Singapore view manufacturing as key pillars of their economies and are committed to growing manufacturing in a competitive and sustainable manner. Which creates natural areas for partnership, particularly with Germany's leadership in Industry 4.0 solutions.

There is, for instance, the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index (SSRI), which EDB developed in collaboration with German testing, inspection and certification company TÜV SÜD.

As more companies in Singapore seek to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies, EDB realised from interactions with companies that many found it challenging to assess where they stood relative to industry peers or figure out how to get changing their manufacturing processes.

"In this regard, a common framework for companies to learn Industry 4.0, evaluate their facilities and plan a transformation roadmap would help accelerate industrial transformation. We recognised that the tool needed to be comprehensive, useable and relevant to all industries for it to succeed both locally and globally," says EDB's Mr Lim.

EDB chose to work with TÜV SÜD as it was involved in developing the Acatech Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index and could thus help ensure that the Singapore index would be aligned to global standards such as the RAMI4.0 framework.

And TÜV SÜD itself has been laying down roots in Singapore. Construction of its S$100 million hub at the International Business Park is now underway. It is the company's first major real estate investment outside of its German headquarters.

There have also been efforts to catalyse German-Singapore partnerships, such as the German-Singapore SME funding programme, launched in 2016 and administered by Enterprise Singapore and the AiF Projekt GmbH, the appointed project manager for the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.

It aims to encourage partnerships between German and Singaporean startups and SMEs by funding joint R&D projects. Project consortiums must involve at least one German SME and one Singaporean SME and are meant to develop new and innovative solutions for Asian and European markets. A second call for proposals was launched in August under this programme.

There is also the first Singapore-German Academic-Industry (2+2) International Collaboration initiative - for which the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star)'s Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) and Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) jointly called for proposals in January this year.

A*Star says the grant call is meant to strengthen research and innovation efforts between Singapore and Germany in advanced manufacturing. Which is why the proposals must be submitted by a group of one Singapore-based and one Germany-based public sector researcher, and representatives from one Singapore-based and one Germany-based industry partners.

Specific topics for the competitive grant call included advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 cyber-physical production systems, new materials and methods for additive manufacturing, security systems for industrial Internet of Things and smart sensors for production.

Other tie-ups develop more organically. Germany's Heliatek and Singapore's vTrium, for instance, have jointly test-bedded in Singapore what they described as Asia's largest organic photovoltaic power generation installation, before commercialising it for Asia.

In the realm of education and research, Germany's Federal Foreign Office estimates that there are now some 80 bilateral cooperation projects between higher education institutions in Germany and Singapore's universities.

German research institutes have built up a noticeable presence in Singapore. TUM Asia has its TUM Create research project in partnership with local universities and polytechnics, while Fraunhofer, known for its applied research, tied up with Nanyang Technological University last year to launch a research institute developing digital technologies, including virtual and augmented reality technologies.