5 Singapore companies that levelled up the innovation game
The business of manufacturing has always been competitive. However, this is an age where every industry is facing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (or VUCA in short). Competition is now put on steroids. When technologies disrupt entire industries, workforces and systems on a more rapid scale, manufacturers need to move up the value chain fast and stay ahead of the curve.
One of the ways this can happen is through research, development and innovation. A*STAR is committed to moving Singapore’s manufacturing industry ahead by helping companies think, grow and expand.
This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) – one of the research institutes under A*STAR. Here are five companies that have worked with SIMTech, took advantage of the competitive environment and emerged with fresh perspectives, making them a source of inspiration for many others.
1. SIA Engineering Company Limited (SIAEC): Paving the way for SMEs to enter the aerospace sector
SIMTech’s work with SIA Engineering Company is helping to develop the local aerospace value chain.
Mr Foo Kean Shuh, Senior Vice-President, Line Maintenance and Cabin Services, SIA Engineering Company
There was a time when local SMEs were unable to enter the aviation industry. Their lack of expertise in product design and manufacturing of aircraft cabin parts was hindering their progress. Moreover, strict aviation regulations raised the barrier to enter this industry and penetrate the market.
SIAEC overcame this together with SIMTech in 2012. The company went on a mission to build the expertise and technology needed by local firms to become suppliers to aerospace companies. It embarked on Collaborative Industry Projects (CIPs) with local SMEs to transfer the know-how to make aircraft cabin parts. SIMTech had since worked with eight SMEs to manufacture an expanding range of components for SIAEC.
In one notable result, one participating SME, Proway saw its revenue grow by 30% and is now turning its sights further to venture into Vietnam and Indonesia. Another SME, Maxservo, saw its annual revenue increased by 25%. All other participating companies have since secured business from overseas clients.
Through a bold vision of boosting local SME capabilities, SIAEC sharpened its competitiveness with a selection of quality local suppliers available in Singapore.
2. Feinmetall Singapore: 10 years of partnership
If I bring a problem to SIMTech, I am not just tapping the team of researchers that is already helping us, but the entire knowledge base of the institute.
Mr Sam Chee Wah, General Manager, Feinmetall Singapore
In 2007, local precision engineering SME Feinmetall was only a team of five without resources for innovation. Today, it has invested more than S$1.5 million in research and development, and seen its revenue grow six-fold. The company also successfully grew its staff strength from 31 to 60 in three years and achieved annual average growth rate of at least 30% for the past five years.
All this was made possible through a decade of close partnership with A*STAR SIMTech. SIMTech researchers were seconded to the company on five occasions since 2012 under the Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading (T-Up) programme. The company also tapped on technology solutions offered by SIMTech, including technologies offered under A*STAR’s Model Factory initiative. In addition, consultancy rendered through A*STAR’s Operation and Technology Roadmapping (OTR) programme helped the company in its business expansion in 2016. This subsequently led to the company’s decision to invest in a new S$6 million digital manufacturing plant with its own R&D facilities.
3. Inzign: Going-to-market
Inzign was an established local contract manufacturer of more than 30 years. In 2014, A*STAR’s commercialisation arm ETPL and SIMTech approached Inzign to be their mass-scale manufacturing partner for a new medical diagnostics solution (based on microfluidics technology).
Labelled “Lab-on-a-Chip”, the solution provides diagnostics services at the point of care (for instance, by dropping patient’s blood on a tiny piece of plastic to conduct blood tests on the spot).
We saw that this is the future where diagnostics can be conducted at the point of care. We felt that this is the direction the industry is moving in, so we decided to work with SIMTech to build our strength in microfluidics.
Mr Phua Swee Hoe, Managing Director, Inzign
Going to market together is a new model with SIMTech. We have not done this with other companies. But we are confident the market is really there.
Dr Wang Zhiping, the lead SIMTech researcher on this project
Inzign leveraged the potential of its microfluidics device-manufacturing capabilities to list the company on Hong Kong’s Growth Enterprise Market (GEM) stock exchange in January 2018, under the name IAG Holdings.
4. Component Technology: From Distributor to OEM
We reached a turning point in our journey. It was getting increasingly difficult for a distributor to survive. So with SIMTech’s help, we transformed from being a trading company to an original equipment manufacturer.
Mr Berne Chung, Founder and Managing Director, Component Technology
Component Technology was a distributor of bonders and X-ray inspection systems for 20 years. However, in 2005, the company sensed that its distribution business would be disrupted and sought to evolve from its position as a distributor to an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
SIMTech worked with Component Technology to enable this transition. What was born was a first-of-its-kind automated 3D wire bond inspection machine for the semiconductor industry. This was far more superior compared with traditional 2D solutions. Component Technology went on to sell more than 400 systems, and continued to work with SIMTech on 15 industrial projects.
Component Technology subsequently invested $2 million in an R&D company, which was helmed by four technical teams. Today, Component Technology has internationalised their business and established offices in many countries.
5. Tunity Technologies: Harnessing the potential of a single technology
Tunity’s journey began with a vision of providing Singapore and ASEAN countries greater access to Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies. After a decade, growth was challenged as each solution had to be customised to each customer, adding to their costs.
In 2013, Tunity adopted SIMTech’s RFID Item Management Tracking System (IMTS) - a plug-and-play technology. This critical move allowed it to be more efficient and cost effective to deploy RFID solutions. The result was a proliferation of solutions, for various industry verticals from tracking sushi plates, personnel, laundry, inventory and assets. The automated tray-return system developed for Timbre+ food centre was one excellent example which helped improved labour productivity by 63%.
With this single technology, Tunity has since completed over 50 projects worth around $550,000 in revenue.
This plug-and-play RFID system developed by SIMTech made it easier for smaller companies to adopt it.
Ms Lim Peck Hui, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Tunity Technologies
In today’s competitive world, innovation is no longer a “nice to have”. These five companies have demonstrated the various ways companies can move forward with innovative solutions through collaboration with SIMTech and A*STAR. Sometimes, all companies need to lend an edge to their innovation journey is simply to reach out, forge partnerships and collaborate.