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Interview With Mr. David Chia, Automation Charter Chair Of The Singapore Industrial Automation Association

Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News is pleased to conduct an interview with Mr. David Chia, Automation Charter Chair of the Singapore Industrial Automation Association on his views on the future of manufacturing technologies in Asia and the impact of the current trade war on the industry.

Interview With Mr. David Chia, Automation Charter Chair Of The Singapore Industrial Automation Association

1.Could you provide an overview of the key trends that have shaped the manufacturing industry in Asia in 2018?

We see some key trends emerging this year:

  • Digitalisation in the drive towards more manufacturing productivity, we are witnessing more and more companies (mostly MNCs) develop and execute their digitisation plans. Each sensor data, each module conditions, each machine performance are getting collected and sent to the cloud, where the data engineers and scientists are waiting. Driving business insights from those data is now no longer a dream, but an imperative corporate goal to ensure survival and growth.
  • Adoption of open standards. Digitisation is not possible without the existence of the underlying IoT technologies. Without a common standard, it would’ve been very expensive for individual companies to develop and deploy their own standards, thereby slowing down the whole digitisation process. MQTT seems to gain a very wide acceptance as the communication technology of choice here. It is quickly becoming the de facto standard to communicate with the cloud. Meanwhile OPC UA is becoming the protocol of choice for device and machine intercommunication on the factory floor.
  • Governmental push towards Industry 4.0. Singapore is blessed with a forward looking government who has put out the initiative as early as 2014. However, government in the ASEAN region is quickly catching up. One example is Indonesia, who announced this year their own roadmap to Industry 4.0. Having such a large manufacturing base in the country, it is encouraging that the government has focused on five sectors: Food & Beverage, Chemical, Textile, Automotive, and Electronics industries. We can expect other governments in the region to do the same soon.

2. What has been the top 3 biggest challenges in the digitalisation of manufacturing in Asia?

The biggest challenges are funding, technology standards, and talent.

  • Funding, this is probably the biggest challenge facing SMEs. Digitisation is relatively a new concept in manufacturing space. Very few companies can claim that they have done it successfully. In the absence of such successful case studies, it is quite difficult to get the appropriate funding.
  • Technological standards. While some standards in some areas are quite established, they are not monopolies. For example, when we look into the area of fieldbus, there’s a plethora of options out there: old vs new standards, serial based vs Ethernet based, and a variety of ways that these standards work. This presents a challenge for the implementer of digitisation to get the data from different machines or different part of the plants.
  • Unfortunately for companies embarking on digitisation journey, it is not a one month journey. There is no single off the shelf components or a plug and play software solution to perform digitisation. For many companies, digitisation is a multi-year multi-stage efforts. Getting the right people to perform different functions along this journey is a challenge. Retaining the talents is probably a bigger challenge. Meanwhile the factory floor workers must be re-trained to get up to date with the latest digitisation initiative that the company is embarking on.

3. How do you suggest that the challenges that have been mentioned above be overcome?

It will take some efforts from different stakeholders to overcome those challenges:

  • Companies should collaborate more to create common standards. There are more to gain from standardisation than competition. Germany is leading this effort and they have done quite well. VDMA is leading the machine standardisation for Germany. Countries in the ASEAN region may need to follow on their footsteps.
  • Governments across the region should help in the funding of digitisation initiative. This is very important for SMEs. While big players have easy access to funding, small SMEs are facing a big challenge here. Governments can come in and fill the funding gap in the short to medium term.
  • Re-training and upskilling the workforce is needed. We are facing shortages in data engineers, data scientists, data analysts in the region. While some manufacturing jobs will eventually disappear as an effect of digitisation, new ones will be created. However, those new jobs creation are on the higher end of the skill spectrum, hence the importance of educational institutes.

4. How has the trade war impacted manufacturing in Asia in 2018 and how will it continue to impact the industry in 2019?

There’s an old saying that goes where one door closes, another opens. This is true in the current trade war situation. It creates uncertainty on one hand, but it creates opportunity on another hand. We are seeing more investment flowing to other regions outside China. Closer to home, the South East Asian region seems to benefit from this trend.

5. For 2019, what will be the emerging markets and focus areas that the metalworking industry in Asia will focus on?

At the mass market stage, enterprise digitisation will penetrate deeper into the manufacturing floor. Enterprise will look to get more data from as many machines and sensors as possible. This has been happening in the past years, and we are expecting this trend to continue.

The need for data collection will force some rethinking in what goes inside the control cabinet. While traditional controllers are well known and well loved, it needs some additional components to do data collection and data sending. Additional components means additional costs and more point of failures, and a potentially bigger control cabinet. Some PC based solutions out there will be more attractive moving forward.

As well as sending data over standardised communication protocol, companies will increasingly looking to get standardised information from each machine type. This so called “information modelling” will make sense when one look into a production line today, there is hardly a “homogenous” production line containing the same machine model from the same manufacturer. In this area, the VDW has announced umati, an open and common language specifically designed for machine tools. With umati, end users can utilise the same interface to get the same data from different model of machine tools from different manufacturers. The good news is, umati is based on OPC UA.

Another focus for metalworking and CNC world will be the use of AR technologies. While still a cutting edge technology today, this technology holds a lot of promise from speeding up operators training, to helping maintenance work.

At the bleeding edge, we increasingly see a trend where suppliers are looking to implement ML directly on premise / machine. While this is on early stages, we feel that this would be the internal focus of many bleeding edge supplier

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