Increasing Productivity and Enabling New Industries through Automation

The rapid advances in automation software and technology, coupled with declining costs of investment, has led to heightened interest amongst businesses around the world. For these companies, automation technology represents a potential game changer, allowing them to compete more effectively in today’s marketplace. This is largely through increasing productivity and enabling new capabilities.  

Automation Technology in Manufacturing 

Global manufacturing has been one of the key adopters of automation technology, with the latest advancements – such as sophisticated industrial sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems – helping to create breakthroughs in many sectors. The economic case has become more compelling too, with rising wages costs in manufacturing superpowers such as China, adding to the case for adopting automation. 
 
One Western company which has recently adopted automation software and technology in a big way is Adidas. The German sport equipment giant recently announced that it is set to open its first fully automated shoe factory, called “Speedfactory” in Germany, leveraging on the latest advancements in 3D printing and robotics technology. The new manufacturing facility will help design and produce custom-tailored shoe components, while bringing its products closer to its affluent Western markets. 

Increased Adoption of Robotics in China    

On its part, China is also making a push to adopt automation technology due to its own demographic challenges, such as an ageing working population. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), China emerged as the single largest market for industrial robot sales in 2014. This trend is set to further accelerate in the years ahead, with the number of robots in operation to double to 400,000 in 2017 from today’s 200,000.
 
In 2015, Shenzhen Everwin Precision Technology in China announced that it was building its first ever all-robot manufacturing plant. When fully operational, the plant will allow the company to reduce its overall labour requirements by 90 per cent. 

Japan Looking to Solidify its Market Leadership

In the meantime, Japan has also embraced robotics as a key strategy to revive its economy and solve its demographic challenges. In May 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke out, urging Japanese companies to spread the use of robotics from large-scale factories to all corners of its economy. This push is backed by the Japanese government and some 200 companies and universities, with the aim of increasing use of intelligent machines in diverse sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, construction, and health care. 
 
The country, which is already commanding some 50 per cent of the global market, is also looking to expand robotics sales from 600 billion yen (US$6.4 billion) annually to 2.4 trillion yen by 2020. In this regard, Japan hopes to fend off the challenge from China’s growing robotics industry, which threatens to erode its market leadership position. 

Software Automation in a Digital World 

The world has become an increasingly digital place, with software often functioning in the background to automate much of what is taken for granted. This digitisation has gained in pace in the last decade or so, thanks to the convergence of several trends – increase in computing power, ubiquitous high-speed internet, rapid growth in mobile devices and cloud computing technologies, as well as the nascent emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT).  
 
Experts are already predicting that the combination of Big Data analytics and AI platforms, will see digital systems taking over more of the work done by humans in areas such as financial accounting and trading markets, as well as professions such as salespersons, real estate agents, retail service officers and cashiers, among others. 

Singapore Embraces Automation and Technology 

Meanwhile in Singapore, the economy is currently undergoing an economic transformation, in which automation software and technology is set to play a greater role too. Faced with a tighter supply of manpower and increasing operating costs, more local businesses are leveraging on technology to increase their labour productivity and transform their business models.
 
Speaking at the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) Automation Technology Industry Conference in July 2013, then Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck noted the need for Singapore manufacturers to leverage on technology such as automation process optimisation to transform their manufacturing processes and move up the value chain.  Mr Teo also highlighted how the Singapore government is committed to help companies adopt these productive technology solutions, with a diverse range of support grants and schemes.
 
Another technology which offers great potential to enable greater process automation in Singapore industries is the Internet of Things (IoT). Speaking at IoT Asia 2014, Mr Teo Ser Luck noted how IoT can help businesses improve their work processes using sensors and real-time monitoring, and technology to trigger systemic responses. Such automation of functions allows businesses to better deploy scarce resources while enabling better service delivery – a definite boon for businesses in Singapore that are currently grappling with manpower shortage.
 
All of this is set against the larger backdrop of Singapore’s push to become a Smart Nation and a three-year S$500 million programme for greater adoption of Infocomm Technology (ICT) to enhance productivity and growth. With so much government support across a myriad of diverse programmes, the outlook for automation software and technology is an optimistic one for the Republic. 
 
 
 
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