SMEs urged to embrace new technologies to gain a competitive advantage
DIGITAL technology has changed the industrial and manufacturing world. The convergence of the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and robots, among other technologies, has enabled smart factories and the quantum leap into Industry 4.0.
As Malaysia braces for her own transformation in manufacturing, various ministries and government agencies are paving the way to establish a foundation that will push the nation toward a technology-driven economy based on the progressive ideals of Industry 4.0.
Their collective effort is all-encompassing and cuts through all socio-economic borders.
“To remain competitive, we have to embrace new technology such as automation. Industry 4.0 will be a total transformation of the economy. Whether one chooses to embrace it or not, it is inevitable. We need to organise ourselves to participate in and make plans for it,” says Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau.
According to Madius, all government ministries and agencies have been tasked to identify their own niche and roles in ensuring the success of Industry 4.0 in Malaysia.
“For Mosti, we are leveraging on our niche in science and technology and will try to introduce our efforts to the industry. Sirim, one of our agencies, is leading this move,” he adds.
Over the past two years, Sirim has been focused on meeting the needs of the industry through a collaborative programme with Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer Institute.
Fraunhofer is one of the most successful institutes in the world in assisting German SMEs in embracing research and technology and in the process, become world-class companies.
Under the Sirim Fraunhofer Programme, the Sirim Industrial Innovation Model was implemented to assist local SMEs in embracing technology processes and technological management to increase productivity and competitiveness. This would lead to more global champions.
Over 500 SMEs have benefitted from this programme through technology audits, innovation management workshops and industry network groups.
Nonetheless, Madius acknowledges that there are challenges to implementing Industry 4.0 in Malaysia.
“The first challenge would be in the training of talent for the new economy. We have to relook into the learning methodologies and the pedagogy for creating the talent for this new era.
“The human resources manager of the new economy must be someone who is agile or adaptable. Talents must be re-trainable to adjust to changing job and economic landscapes,” he says.
Additionally, convincing parents to encourage their children to take up science and mathematics is an uphill task, he says.
“As of now, only an estimated 20% of students are taking up these subjects. In an Industry 4.0 economy, mathematics and disciplines such as algorithm and coding are crucial for the development of the right talent,” he says.
Another challenge is to transform Malaysia’s economy from being a consumer of technology to a producer of it.
There is a need for collaboration to develop technology for Industry 4.0.
Obtaining the right certification and meeting standards will also be crucial in a virtual economy.
“As we transform ourselves into this new economy, everything else will be transformed such as security.
“This new initiative will also present new service opportunities for Sirim, such as training in the implementation of cyber-defender technology. In the next three years, we have set a target to produce 10,000 certified cyber-defenders,” he says.
Another challenge for the Government in taking on Industry 4.0 is changing the mindsets of the industry.
Madius notes that some of its efforts have been met with scepticism.
“We recently tabled the National Space Policy.
“Unfortunately, this was met with resistance from certain quarters. They have questioned the wisdom of pursuing this agenda, pointing out that there should be more efforts to tackle more ‘down-to-earth’ issues.
“What they don’t understand or realise is that we are increasingly using everyday products that are the result of space technology such as smartphones.
“Some say the Government should focus on building better roads. But the construction of roads can benefit from space technology.
Just imagine, with the use of satellites, the builder does not even need to be physically at the site as most tasks can be completed by using mobile devices to survey and map out the area for the eventual building of the said road,” he explains.
New technology can help manufacturers be more cost-effective, efficient and produce products of better quality, he emphasises.
While many people have expressed concerns that the Government is abandoning traditional agricultural and natural resources industries, Madius counters that new technology will enhance the industry.
“An ongoing issue in the industry is the shortage of foreign workers. The solution to this is to embrace automation.
“For example, there are efforts being carried out to produce a mechanical harvester for the oil palm fruits,” he says.
Madius urges SMEs to adopt new technologies to grow at the risk of remaining stagnant.
He notes that Malaysia has seen a number of innovative individuals who are moving in the direction of Industry 4.0 and are benefiting from it, particularly in the tech start-up sector.
“Some of the richest people in the world have fully embraced Industry 4.0. These are the people who are literally making money in their sleep.
“In this country, there is a good example of innovative individuals who are moving in the direction of Industry 4.0. There is an individual who has developed an app that enables people to get their meals delivered to their doorstep.
“They have various restaurants as part of this network where individuals can order food online from an establishment and it gets delivered to the customer’s location,” he relates.
Nonetheless, companies should also obtain the necessary certifications and adhere to standards to ensure the quality of their products and services.
With the right quality, manufacturers will be able to build better rapport with consumers and penetrate new markets locally and internationally.
“There should be trust and confidence in bodies such as Sirim to assist them in improving the way a company does things, to embrace new technologies and to pave the way to bigger and further markets for their goods and services,” he says.
At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping it simple for individuals or companies to innovate and for ideas for new services and products to flourish, and this can be facilitated via the support and expertise from agencies such as Sirim.