Thursday, 15 August 2019

Malaysia gearing up for technological success

LAST week, the International Trade and Industry Minister announced the company that will anchor the national car project.
DreamEDGE Sdn Bhd was appointed as the anchor company, and will receive support from Daihatsu Motor Corp in Japan to develop an advanced technology vehicle that can maintain a long term relevance, given the fast changing automotive and mobility ecosystem.
There has been substantial coverage, dialogue and polemics since the announcement. While some are relevant to the technical direction of the project, others took the discussion sideways to address administrative issues.
Moving forward, let me first explain the criteria to decide the anchor for national car, and then explain why this criteria makes the national car unique.
The facts are straightforward — the new national car is expected to be a B+ segment car, and will be designed, built and equipped with advanced technology and will be affordable to Malaysians.
As the project would be fully funded by the private sector, the details of the project are expected to be revealed in due time based on the anchor company’s business plan.
However, what makes a national car, national?
First and foremost, a national car must have a majority equity that is Malaysian, for obvious reasons.
Second, is that there must a high localisation rate, with at least 75 per cent of parts used in the vehicle supplied via a local value chain.
Third, the talent working within the company must be at least 98 per cent Malaysian, to ensure meaningful participation in the local automotive ecosystem.
Fourth, the car must be aligned with the definition of Next Generation Vehicles (NxGV). In simple terms, NxGVs are vehicles that use advanced powertrains (Energy-efficient ICE, hybrids, electric vehicles, etc) combined with technology related to autonomous or automated connected vehicles.
These vehicles are categorised by its five levels of autonomy, and the national car is expected to achieve higher levels over a specified period.
Fifth, the project must demonstrate a high percentage of research and development for all its parts and components. The only exception would be the vehicle platform, the standard practice for global original equipment manufacturers to share to ensure economy of scale.
Finally, the national car must be fully funded by the private sector to ensure a balance between successful business case and furthering the national industrialisation agenda.
I believe there is no disagreement that Malaysia needs a catalyst to spur the next “S-curve” to drive Malaysia through the phase of industrialisation
It is very clear that in order to achieve meaningful participation of Malaysian businesses and talent in advanced technology, we must take the bold, often unpopular steps in creating the new national car.
The criteria mentioned above clearly defines the government ambition to meet the people’s aspirations, and the new national car project is the best balance to achieve our goals.
In the meantime, the most damaging thing is when meaningful dialogue and opinions are drowned out by misrepresentation, cynicism, and misdirection of the real issues.
I implore Malaysia to keep the discussion on the national car going but ensure the dialogue reflects who we truly are: a nation geared for technological success.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Expanding parts and components value chain

THE term “manufacturing sector” often leads the laymen to imagine vast factories with long production lines, droves of workers and robots putting pieces in place to build products.
While that’s the literal definition of manufacturing, it is not limited to the downstream activities on the production line alone, as capabilities of manufacturers also lie in key upstream activities in the design and development of products, tooling, and processes.
While the majority of Apple products are assembled in Asia, the sub-components are sourced around the world from the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Their research centres are also just as scattered around the globe, but the ultimate depiction of the Apple brand is their headquarters in Cupertino, California.
The location of its headquarters gives it that definition of Apple being a true American brand.
The bulk of their gross profits benefits their research and development (R&D), marketing and communications teams while possibly a smaller portion of the revenues goes to the manufacturing line and materials costs.
The point is this — the success of the manufacturing sector is not only dependent on lean production systems and strict quality control.
It also culminates from the abilities of manufacturers to develop products that meet consumer demands, are highly manufacturable and is designed with in process quality built in at the conceptualisation stage.
The automotive industry in Malaysia is well aware of the importance of such upstream activities, and the government is working closely with all stakeholders to develop industry capabilities in these upstream areas.
On a side note, the learning space for capacity building of the entire automotive value chain was the main reason behind the government’s creation of the automotive industry, to begin with.
Nevertheless, such awareness is not just the work of the industry, but rather the mindset and understanding of the nation as a whole, as we are aspiring towards full industrialisation.
This realisation is important for two main reasons.
Firstly, the mechanisms to encourage capacity building must be understood by all stakeholders.
Financing systems, policy makers, educational institutions, and regulating bodies must create the necessary structural framework to allow new investments, human capital supply, and business operations to flourish towards a more conducive ecosystem for upstream activities to take place.
Secondly, it becomes challenging for the mechanisms above to be implemented when it often goes against public opinion.
While constructive criticism is important to ensure a competitive market, the perception of “us versus them” may lead to difficulty in establishing the needed environment for meaningful local capacity development above the line of manufacturing activities alone.
It, therefore, is key that public clarity and understanding of issues, such as education policy, regulations and use of public funding, are established to allow a path of less resistance and increased interest and participation to strengthen the local industry, instead of purely taking the consumer position.
Understandably, the debate for R&D investments lies on the balance against production volume.
In the past five years, the exports of automotive parts and components have risen tremendously, demonstrating the growing confidence of the global markets in local parts and components manufacturers.
However, for us to progress even further, an increase in exports must also translate to higher margins that are accumulated through an increase in higher value, upstream activities that benefit local businesses and the talents what work within them.
To this end, the next phase for the government would be the introduction of future-proofed policies and roadmaps that address the large scale ecosystem which connects the various sectors that affect not only a more integrated technology ecosystem but also a more integrated consumer demand in the future.
In the meantime, the industrialisation of Malaysia is not a government agenda but a national agenda. Therefore, all of us are responsible to ensure that we support the local ecosystem and its products, and create the critical mass we need to spur the economy.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Automation journey can begin with cobots

Just like any other technology, automation technology has gone through the same revolution in terms of application, user-friendliness and reduced installation times, leading to cost reduction and ease of use for businesses.
For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), embarking on automation may seem a daunting task, with space limitation, skilled manpower, and investments being the top concerns.
The perception that robots are needed in the dozens and used only in large automotive assembly plants or high-precision electronics plants is long gone.
The emergence of robotic technology that can be programmed easily and saves space does not require heavy investments.
Enter the new age of collaborative robot, or cobot, a game-changing robot designed to work with humans in a shared workspace. Although the cobot was invented in 1996, the maturation of such technology was only seen in this decade.
In principle, cobots can safely work with humans, taking over repetitive tasks in the production cell while humans handle the more complex tasks where value is added.
Due to the increased accuracy of sensors and cameras, the risks of occupational hazards and human injury are almost eliminated.
With intelligent technology, cobots are easy to set up. Leading cobot manufacturers claim that the unboxing and setup experience is now reduced to half a day, where most of this focuses on the teaching process to allow the cobot to perform the intended tasks.
Cobot technology has also evolved to become more user-friendly, reducing the burden of expensive labour in small businesses. Cobots can be programmed to do more advanced tasks. If you can work with a smartphone, there is very little learning curve needed to program a cobot.
Interestingly, this is a potential solution to the issues surrounding our workforce.
Cobot technology not only increases the accuracy and productivity of businesses but also reduces barriers for careers in automation. If technology such as this can be easily learned, it will create more access for entry-level skills-based career routes, and allow business owners to eliminate menial, repetitive tasks that are highly-dependent on unskilled labour.
Perhaps the major barrier is the upfront investment for such technology. The government is working closely with financial institutions to allow businesses to embark on Industry 4.0 technologies.
By the time this article is published, the three-day Malaysia International Robotics and Automation Technology Exhibition and Conference would have entered its second day at the Setia City Convention Centre.
This would be an opportune time for businesses to explore new automation technologies, speak to experts and seek advice from the government on how they can quickly implement automation strategies.
From the government’s standpoint, automation is not designed to eliminate jobs but create opportunities to enrich businesses and talents so that they can become part of a higher value economy in the global market.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Integrating cybersecurity into business strategies

It is clear that with the advent of Forth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), businesses are expected to move many of their operations into the cloud domain.
While the technology becomes more affordable and competitive, there is an urgent need for stronger cybersecurity.
Such urgency arises from the need to not only protect one’s data but also data that belongs to other parties, including clients with strong non-disclosure agreements.
The lack of cybersecurity systems within a business may become a liability should there be a data breach or leakage during the order of business.
It is therefore important that businesses understand the scope of cybersecurity measures that must be in place along the business growth cycle.
Technologies pertaining to cybersecurity are getting more advanced and affordable, and can cover basic requirements of businesses.
Advances in cybersecurity are driven not by internal innovation, but rather by the innovation from cyber attackers who pose threats to businesses.
Therefore, cybersecurity strategies are unique, in which the vigilance and discipline of protection must come through consistenly from the top management down to the operational floor.
To start, there are similarities that can be drawn in comparison to conventional security practices. It is common that employees are told to keep doors locked and appliances switched off at the end of the working day.
In the case of cybersecurity, the same overtness must be carried out. Businesses should start the deployment of cybersecurity with the basic issues, such as the installation of updated anti-virus and anti-malware systems (which often come bundled as complete packages these days), regular backup systems and basic safety practices to prevent attacks or information leaks through online communication channels.
As the business grows in data complexity, new technologies can be deployed, including advanced hardware authentication systems, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and advanced cloud-based crisis management systems.
As we speak, new cybersecurity concepts are being developed, seen through the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning, leading to new innovations such as cognitive security, a holistic system that automates many of the processes mentioned above, making it more timely, accurate and less dependent on human awareness.
Another interesting approach worth mentioning is data anonymisation, in which data is made “invisible” instead of requiring protection.
As we progress into the age of connected mobility, it is obvious that businesses should develop awareness within their organisations and deploy the necessary levels of implementation to secure their data from potential threats.
Moreover, the advantage of becoming the first movers in the region not only protects the interests of our businesses and the value chain we depend on, but also creates new opportunities in businesses and jobs that require skills in coding, programming, networking and other sectors.
In conclusion, the importance of integrating cybersecurity models into business strategies cannot be overstated.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Encouraging SMEs to adopt automation

In 2017, in an article published by ARK Investment Management, it forecast the average cost for industrial robots to be less than US$11,000 (RM 45,320) by 2025. The figure was US$131,433 in 1995.
The sharp fall in automation cost, driven by higher demand increasing efficiency, and precision of manufacturing makes it reasonable for small and medium businesses to invest in Robot Process Automation.
Automation strategy can be an essential part of modern enterprises’ growth.
The increasing flexibility of robotics design and construction, coupled with new breakthroughs in technologies such as artificial intelligence, computer vision and human-robot collaboration (termed collaborative robots, or cobots), make it easier to cater to volume-based demand.
A report in 2017 placed Malaysia’s industrial robot adoption at only 45 units per 10,000 employees, or less than half of the global average of 85 units.
In 1938, the Konrad Zuse Binary Computing Machine was introduced using the binary code system seen in today’s modern computers.
However, the widespread use of these machines in personal and business domains was only seen half a century later as the invention of microprocessor was made possible through advancement of transistor technology to bring prices and sizes down – leading to the new business and job markets in the information-technology sector.
The major historical point was the development of graphical user interfaces, including the introduction of Microsoft Windows. This innovation in user friendliness unlocked computers for the masses, removing the need for specialized skills in disk operating systems. The Internet revolution at the turn of the 21st Century changed the way we conduct businesses forever.
Automation is today going through the same revolution – interfaces are becoming more user friendly and hardware becoming highly affordable – which is seen through exponential sales growth of industrial robotics in the last five years.
While the hype created may not be accentuated by a household name such as Microsoft or Apple, it doesn’t discount the fact that the global business ecosystem has placed necessity on robotics adoption at all business levels.
Business development programmes must instill automation as an essential tool at the core of strategic planning and business modelling at all levels of businesses, be it micro enterprises or large conglomerates in Malaysia.
The Malaysia International Robotics & Automation Technology Exhibition & Conference (Robotex) will be the first-of-its-kind robotics exhibition in Malaysia, to be held at the Setia City Convention Centre from July 31 to August 2.
The conference, co-organised by Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii), Malaysia Robotics and Automation Society (MyRAS) and One International Group, will allow participants, especially among small and medium enterprises, to explore emerging robotics technology in various areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing and Internet of Things (IoT) and their applications towards the development of automation-infused operation models, including methodologies in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in the education sector.
MARii and MyRAS will also host a continuous seminar on the adoption of automation of robotics in the automotive, mobility and other relevant sectors. The first seminar, featuring cases of automation from South Korea, will be held in MARii’s headquarters in Cyberjaya next Thursday.
While programmes such as these are becoming more common, the private sector is also reducing barriers for Malaysian businesses to adopt them.
ABB Group, for example, announced the opening of its first robotics Digital Operations Centre in Malaysia recently, catering to the needs of industrial robotics and digital manufacturing, and applying Industry 4.0 compliant technology within the business development process.
While this may just be a start, it shows the tremendous potential for all levels of business to access and unlock avenues for new business thinking and the creation of a critical mass of professionals that have the needed capacities in the smart digital manufacturing age.
Most importantly, they are enablers that convert imagination into business strategy.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Learning and mastering skills in industries

THE famous Hollywood movie, The Karate Kid, ended with the smaller, more innocent boy delivering a powerful blow to the bigger and stronger opponent, who had continously bullied him. –

It was a dramatic ending to a competition where the winner was completely unknown and inexperienced.

For me, the story was more about personal development. All great martial art triumphs began with the first step of developing strong foundations. The teacher teaches the basics of his craft by strengthening the student through simple daily chores such as waxing cars, painting walls and washing windows.

There were good scenes from the movie that conveyed a simple message: while you may know the great moves from emulating the masters on the silk screen, you can only move as quickly and precisely when the basic foundation have been mastered.

Skills can seldom be taught. They can be coached to ensure proper, continuous practice. They are then strengthened through sound theory and knowledge of the art.

In developed countries such as Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom, individuals with skills and craft are revered – particularly those with years of experience, specialising in a particular area.

In the automotive sector, for example, these individuals are highly paid as the services they render are irreplaceable, even by the most precise automation.

If you go to the right places, such as the custom body shops in Ferrari, or the interiors craftsmen of Aston Martin, you’ll see craftsmen who are well respected by their peers, executives and their management for their contribution to the finesse of the brand they work for.

They set high standards in working the vision and mission of the founders and management of the firms they belong to.

The question is, how do we cultivate a skilled workforce with specialised talent, mindset and culture in our own organisations?

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has recently emerged a household name among education practitioners and industry players seeking highly skilled individuals to join their talent pool.

There are many forms of TVET based programmes, but all TVET programmes utilise teaching methods – formal or informal – that develops the required knowledge, skills and culture for students to join the workforce upon graduation.

The Malaysia Automotive Robotics and IoT Institute has implemented TVET within its numerous programmes such as IPC (Industry Led Professional Certificate), AICE (Automotive Industry Certification Engineering) and Industry Led Graduate Apprenticeship programme.

While the popularity of TVET based programmes have penetrated the education sector in an encouraging manner, the development of skills must also take place in the form of on job training, either in training centers or better still, within the industry – where the practice of such skills are in the real-time environments of the factory, in order to maximise the learning process.

It is therefore important for the industry to support the placement of skill potentials. The government is ready to support industry players that are willing to participate. In fact, the national car companies have become catalysts for the local workforce to develop their skills and work culture in real time.

Above all, the skills route must be recognised with the same respect and recognition on par with the route of university education.

We must ensure that our skilled workforce are recognised and encouraged to develop specialised skill within their industries.

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways”


The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Creating equal access to opportunities

The adage "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" - typically attributed to the more sinister side of capitalism - has some truth to it. This piece is by no means an argument on the merits or demerits of capitalism, but rather a look into the ability to grab opportunities in an "equal" world.

I am blessed that my work gives me a view of the inner workings of a massive industry. Most of all, I am honoured to meet many of the most successful people in the country, region and on some occasions, the world.

We have seen and heard the stories. Most successful personalities have the ability to break through norms and wade through gigantic hurdles to achieve the unthinkable. They reached the moon, redefined transportation and reinvented life through the game changing technology.

With there is no intention to undermine such great achievement, it is also important to spare some thought that the struggles of life are highly subjective. For some, an uncharged phone battery may cause some struggle, but for others,  a home without basic necessities can become a way of life.

Unfortunately, economic prejudice is often be dismissed as a by-product of capitalism. It is easy to judge someone as unsuccessful simply by his or her social status. They can be accused of being unproductive, uninterested or simply making wrong life choices.

For example, entrepreneurship is not something we are born with despite it seemingly considered a "sixth sense" that some may possess above others.

In this particular case, I would argue this entrepreneurship is often a product of long term conditioning. If you come from a culture, family or circle that has entrepreneurship tendencies, there is a high likelihood you will learn the trade from those in your environment.

Another example is language. Have you ever wondered why that friend you have speaks excellent Malay or English?The most likely reason is that he grew up around people who spoke these languages.

This brings me back to the subject of poverty. If you are blessed with food, shelter, and perhaps a computer and internet at home, the access to technology becomes a non-issue, allowing you to achieve bigger things. If getting food is your daily struggle, you may not find the time to even think about your choices between an iOS or an Android.

It is for this very reason that upward social mobility should be looked at holistically. For the poor, their struggles often keep them trapped in their income class, whether they are single mothers, orphans or people of disabilities.

Malaysia Automotive Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) recently launched its corporate social responsibility programme called TransforMARii.

It is a one-year programme to help underprivileged households to become financially sustainable in the future.

Through TransforMARii, these families receive assistance to improve their social upward mobility.

They receive continuous assistance through job matching, small and micro business coaching and facilitation, high value service enhancement (such as e-commerce platforms and smart handicrafts), talent development programmes and others.

As we move aggressively into the era of connected mobility, we cannot leave anyone behind.

The upcoming National Automotive Policy aims to make the industry all-inclusive in terms of opportunity. And to that end, we must truly keep to that mindset of ensuring opportunity is equal and accessible.

I hope we can make the world a better place as we move closer to becoming an advanced nation.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).