Helping SMEs enter Industry 4.0 era

IMAGINE digitalising your factory or even your fish farm or padi field.

Then your production equipment will interact with each part without human intervention.

Your fish farm will tell you when conditions are most ideal to feed the fish and your rice field will let you know when the soil is short on certain nutrients.

Such technologies are not new. They are established in other countries but small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia have yet to adopt technologies of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 which may seem too lofty and overwhelming.

Technology powerhouse Siemens Malaysia with a reputation for building state-of-the-art systems for power plants, hospitals and airports, is on a mission to help SMEs take baby steps towards digitalisation.

“It doesn’t take much to begin the journey of digitalisation.

“You can start with improvement projects of just RM10,000 to RM20,000 to reap the results of the enhancement and then take the next step,” said Siemens Malaysia president and chief executive officer Indranil Lahiri.

Indranil and his team were in Penang for the Siemens Digitalisation Expedition at the SPICE Convention Centre.

SME owners and managers were invited to view technology system demonstrations for them to incorporate into their business processes.

They were then invited to discuss their ‘pain points’ or problem statements with the Siemens Malaysia team to identify how to take the first step towards digitalisation.

“Industry 4.0, in a nutshell, is a technology level where your machines talk to each other and function without the need for humans.

“At the advanced level, the machines can even have autonomous functions and make decisions themselves,” Indranil explain.

He said Malaysian SMEs need to take a page out of Germany’s journey into Industry 4.0 that began in 2011.

“Germany’s SMEs, called Mittelstand, were the ones that started the wave of digitalisation.

“Large established corporations tend to be slower. SMEs go digital out of necessity,” he said, adding that German car makers stuck with conservative methods while suppliers such as makers of the felt lining of car interiors quickly embraced Industry 4.0.

Funding for larger upgrades, said Indranil, was not a problem in Malaysia because government agencies such as the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority provided matching grants for SMEs going digital.

“We have two food manufacturers as clients. One has 40 production lines and wants to upgrade all of them at once.

“Another has 25 lines and is looking at upgrading one line first and then using the realised profits to upgrade the subsequent ones.

“We are happy to work on both terms,” he said.

Indranil encouraged SMEs to speak with his team to work out the challenges they face.

He said Siemens Malaysia was ready to turn digitalisation projects of SMEs in Penang into incubation hubs, invest the conglomerate’s technologies into the projects and promote them as showcases for other SMEs to emulate.

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Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who visited the expedition, urged SMEs not to waste time but to quickly embrace Industry 4.0. He said the manufacturing sector contributes 23% of the country’s gross domestic products.

Also present was Northern Corridor Implementation Authority business system director Jariyah Hashim.