In an interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News, Steve Bell of Renishaw Singapore provides his insights into and outlook for the Vietnam and Philippine metalworking industry.
Steve Bell is the general manager for ASEAN at Renishaw (Singapore) Pte Ltd. In this interview with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN), we talk about Renishaw’s activities, and his outlook on the metalworking industry markets of Vietnam and the Philippines.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE NEW TO THIS INDUSTRY, GIVE US A BRIEF BACKGROUND ON RENISHAW.
Steve Bell (SB): Renishaw is a long-established UK company. Our core activities primarily involve inspection and manufacturing process control. We have many solutions and technologies which help to apply high levels of automation and connectivity to fit any manufacturing process. This in turn boosts the efficiency and quality of manufacturing. These include probes used to set up and inspect parts on machine tools, tool setters and advanced 5 axis probing systems designed to check dimensions of components on CMMs.
Our machine tool systems centre on methodologies to implement in-process control with the aim of increasing throughput and improving quality. We branch into other essential areas like calibration—we have many products connected with machine setup, because unless the machines are set up properly, no matter what you do, you will never make the products right. Our calibration products include the XK10 alignment laser used during machine build, the XL80 calibration laser system and the popular QC20W ball-bar employed to do regular health checks on machine performance.
Moving on, we have the Equator automated measuring gauge, which has been designed for use in a production environment. It is used for immediate checking of parts coming off a machine tool as an alternative to manual or custom gauging. Intelligent Process Control (IPC) allows Equator to inspect a part, gather data from the inspection and use that data to update the tool offsets on the machine tool controller to ensure that future parts stay in tolerance. That’s a very efficient way to manufacture, where you are not waiting for the end of the process to find out that something’s wrong; you are making sure parts stay correct all the way through the process.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TRENDS YOU ARE SEEING?
SB: Basically, everyone wants to make the best products as quickly as possible and as cost effectively as possible. That’s what’s driving the trends in the first place. And one of the significant trends that we are seeing is the drive towards automation. And the reason for automation, from a Renishaw point of view, is its main benefit—consistency of manufacturing.
Deploying automation, systems are programmed in advance, meaning intervention and the possibility of human error is minimised or eliminated.
So, for us, automation is about increasing throughput, but also getting that consistency, which in turn, leads to quality.
WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES IN THE VIETNAM MARKET?
SB: The biggest challenge for the moment for us is that the market, after many years of being very buoyant, is now a little bit flat. A lot of this, I think, comes from international trade tensions; hopefully that is a relatively short-term problem, and things will get back on track.
But I think the longer-term prognosis is very good. We are going to see substantial growth here, particularly with a lot of manufacturing not necessarily moving out of China, but expanding beyond China, to Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand.
WHAT ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES?
SB: We’ve been active in the Philippines for many years. In particularly, we’ve worked with MESCO, our distributor, for 20-plus years. Frankly speaking, in terms of Southeast Asia, the Philippine market for manufacturing and automation is starting from a fairly low base point compared to, let’s say, Thailand, or some other Southeast Asian countries. But having said that, it is also the fastest growing market in the region from that low base. So, for us, it is an important market to be involved with now, and to start to work with in the future as well.
In the Philippines, what we see are manufacturers of consumer goods arriving—a couple of big brands are already active here in the Philippines—we also see a growing market for automotive subcontractors; so those kinds of companies are interested to streamline their manufacturing, improve quality—the kind of things that we bring through our gauging and in-process products.
Regarding challenges, there have been quite a few over the years in the Philippines where the market has been very flat. But as I said, at this point in time, it is definitely a growing market. We can see a big potential for growth. There are manufacturing investments coming in from Europe, the United States, other parts of Asia, and very often, when these companies are investing and setting up new plants, they are starting from a greenfield site—they are not inheriting previous manufacturing systems. So, because of that, when they do come in, they start at the current level of technology—moving straight into the best practices of manufacturing today, utilising automation, making use of all the latest technologies that are available to them. For us, that’s very exciting.
HOW IS THE MARKET FOR 3D PRINTING OR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING?
SB: That’s also a growing market from small beginnings in ASEAN. Singapore is definitely the leader in this technology for now.
Metal AM is very much a niche market at the moment in the Philippines. We hope to see some growth in the longer term.
The real growth in additive manufacturing will come when users start to think about using the technology for real production—not just design prototypes or research but manufacturing parts on a 24/7 basis—and we’re already seeing that now with some customers in Singapore. That trend is likely to spread out across Asia. In Singapore in particular, we are seeing opportunities in the oil and gas and aerospace sectors.
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE INDUSTRY? ARE YOU SEEING A BREAKTHROUGH APPLICATION OR TREND THAT WILL DRIVE THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY FURTHER?
SB: Everyone is driving for the same kind of goals, and I think the key thing that is changing is the push towards automation. Automation means, of course, manufacturing process automation but it also encompasses the associated innovations in collecting and managing actionable data about equipment and devices, processes and parts… all of these contribute towards the smart factory/smart manufacturing concept.
That’s probably the number one trend—automation making possible a drive towards advances in consistency, throughput, product quality and cost-effective manufacturing.
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