The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on the SMEs in Malaysia and forced many companies to come to terms with the need to adopt smart manufacturing practices. Taiwan, with expertise in high-precision cutting machines, power presses, and machine tools to industrial automation and collaborative robots, urges SMEs to start now or to be eliminated.
In a bid to be a key global supplier in the smart machinery industry in the post-pandemic world, Taiwan Excellence, the symbol of Taiwan’s most innovative products, teamed up with Malaysiakini to share valuable insights during a “Smart Manufacturing: Driving Agility” webinar on the 14th of October 2021.
Representatives from two renowned Taiwanese smart technologies companies - Advantech and Hiwin - highlighted the importance of data collection, cloud analysis, and automatic error detection in the Industrial 4.0 revolution. The panel also stressed the need for value transformation and a long-term investment strategy to reap the benefit of smart manufacturing.
Advantech and Hiwin are Taiwan’s pioneers in the development of smart manufacturing technology and automation. The companies have a wealth of practical experience and are frequent winners of the coveted Taiwan Excellence award.
The panel of experts includes Ryan Lai, ASEAN WP. Sense Business Development Manager, Advantech Co. Malaysia; Tean Shen Zen, Sales Manager (Malaysia & Indonesia), Hiwin Singapore Pte Ltd. Joined the webinar also include R. Narayanan, Country Managing Director from ABB Malaysia Sdn Bhd, while moderated by Karamjit Singh from Digital News Asia.
According to the panelists, the sudden onset of the pandemic led many factory owners to face up to the challenges presented by a labor shortage and health risks, and how these factors can grind operation to a stop. Moving from Industry 3.0 to 4.0 is no longer something that can be left on the sidelines but must be fully embraced for companies to survive in the future.
Industry 4.0 of the Information Era
Many manufacturers across a myriad of industries in Malaysia are still using production line that requires manual workers at various steps of the production process. Ryan Lai cited an example of how a properly implemented smart factory might incorporate an AI algorithm that continuously monitors the production line and provide operators with real-time notification to preemptively avoid faults that might lead to downtime. Such a system forms part of a dynamic production line and goes a long way towards ensuring smooth operation and avoiding costly disruptions.
Narayanan added that digitalization can pave the way to greater agility in production. The agility of production refers to the ability to switch production easily in terms of speed and variety of output. Put simply, an agile production line will have the ability to scale up or down the output volume as required as well as allow for a greater degree of customization of products to meet the market needs.
According to Tean, the technology to implement smart factories are already mature, and having the mindset and determination to commit to the needed changes is the determining factor for companies to evolve. There are grants provided by the Malaysian government as well as various soft loans from the private sectors that businesses can look into to facilitate the transition.
Smart Factory will Reshape the Job Market
Resistance to changes is inevitable and one common worry is that technology will replace the need for labor leading to higher unemployment. In reality, people are highly adaptable and evolution in industries will lead to changes in job requirements rather than a complete elimination of jobs.
The panel cited the banking industry as an example where embracing automated and online services did not lead to widespread unemployment in the sector, but a shift in the job scope and the skillset required. In terms of the manufacturing sector, automation will not only improve efficiency but can shield the human operator from the hazards of the 3Ds (dangerous, dirty, difficult) jobs, leading to a much more desirable working environment.
Improving the working environment will also attract talents to the field and change the demographics in factories. As of now, most of the workers in Malaysian factories are foreigners in lower-skilled positions, and driving up the skillset required will open up more positions for Malaysians.
Changes Accelerated by COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in unimaginable ways and labor-oriented manufacturers in Malaysia have felt the brunt of the prolonged movement restrictions as they are forced to halt production. In contrast, smart factories can continue production with far fewer disruptions. As mentioned, agility in production is the ability to deal with the unexpected, and more than ever, business owners are forced to realize the importance of Industry 4.0 in the future.
SMEs and SMEs form the bulk of the manufacturing sector in Malaysia and a large number of them are still within Industry 2.0 with a minority in the 3.0 phase. Like the various industrial revolutions that came before, Industry 4.0 is here to stay, and companies will need to come to terms with this reality or find themselves behind left behind.
The above is a snapshot of the conversation. To learn more, click the following link for the full webinar replay: https://www.facebook.com/TaiwanExcellence.MY/videos/1118091932056033/