Automation helps manufacturing firm to improve productivity by 10 per cent

Automation helps manufacturing firm to improve productivity by 10 per cent
Min Heng Swee Keat and MOS Koh Poh Koon attend a tour of the Feinmetall facility on March 28, 2016. Photo: Jason Quah/ TODAY
Published: 9:40 PM, January 6, 2017
Updated: 10:05 PM, January 6, 2017

SINGAPORE — With skilled workers hard to come by, local electronic manufacturing firm Feinmetall Singapore had to turn to automation to improve its manufacturing processes.

In 2015, it designed and introduced a machine that slashed the time taken by more than half to bend needles used in the manufacturing of probe cards. The move to adopt automated processes has proved beneficial, as the company’s productivity jumped by 10 per cent last year.

Feinmetall’s workers are also trained to do more than one task, for instance, in both soldering and needle bending, thus allowing the company to utilise its manpower effectively.

The company’s general manager Sam Chee Wah said the use of automation not only resulted in higher productivity growth, but also boosted its employees’ wages by 4 to 8 per cent last year. The firm, which was set up in 2007, employs about 50 workers.

“In light of the current economic situation, this is very encouraging. Because it is a challenge to hire skilled workers, we know that using automation is the way to solve this problem,” said the 52-year-old.

Mr Melvin Yong, director for industrial relations field at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), noted that companies in the electronics sector are faring better when it comes to boosting productivity, with some achieving double digit growths.

However, it is a different picture for the retail, food and beverage as well as the construction sectors, which are experiencing sluggish growth due to competition from e-commerce and the labour crunch, in light of the tightened foreign manpower quota.

“There is a need for these industries to redesign their jobs and to invest in productivity initiatives,” said Mr Yong, who is also a Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Calling for more support to be given to these industries in the upcoming Budget, NTUC on Friday proposed that existing schemes which enable companies to introduce innovative practices to grow productivity, such as the Capability Development Grant, should be tied to wage increases and upskilling opportunities for workers.

Mr Yong said that this will ensure that the productivity gains will not only benefit the companies but workers as well.

He also suggested introducing initiatives similar to the Singapore Bus Academy — launched in October last year — so that resources can be pooled to train workers from companies producing similar products or services. For instance, a centralised kitchen could be set up for workers in the food and beverage sector to acquire new skills.

To improve productivity, the Economic Development Board and the Singapore National Employers Federation could work with NTUC to identify multinational corporations in each sector to drive productivity projects within their respective sectors.