While a developed nation is measured by sovereign or per capita income levels, it is also common to look at the industrialisation level and infrastructure within a country to gauge the status of development.
More often than not, developed nations are characterized as having a strong critical mass of creativity and innovation. While some flaunt the abilities to reach outer space or develop culture changing telecommunication devices, other industrialized nations boast the ability to produce world class education or globally exported quality agro products.
Regardless of core industry, businesses and professionals within these advanced ecosystem tend to have full control of their creative processes – they are able to innovate and bring in solutions to their internal problems, and have the capacity to design the processes, equipment and materials needed to implement those solutions.
Since gaining independence two weeks short of 60 years ago, our nation has seen tremendous economic development. It is safe to say that in comparison with many of our counterparts in the region, we have developed a comfortable middle income economy and a track record of participation in higher value activities. We are blessed with business and job opportunities that provide us the power to gain upward social mobility.
It is now the era to breach our glass ceiling and aggressively participate in more upstream activities. The simple truth remains – the wages of the few individuals whom design the world’s smartphones are a significant portion of product costs, and the remaining are distributed among the thousands that assemble those phones.
Malaysia has embarked in domestic vehicle production for more than three decades now. However, we are still in our teens when it comes to product design capabilities, perhaps slightly wiser in process development.
Proton’s first in-house model, the Waja, was only introduced in the year 2000, merely 17 years ago.
While we have seen some success in the full-fledged design capabilities of our national car project, we have also learned that design capabilities are not a function of individual creativity alone, but also business scale and human capital depth.
Here is the catch – having design capabilities is not as simple as purchasing computer aided design software. It is not just for the designer to draw his dream, and give his team a nightmare.
Design is a mental and physical process and methodology. It requires understanding of mechanical, electronic and chemical function. It requires knowledge or materials, manufacturing process and cost efficiency. Most of the time design teams comprise of people from a large array of disciplines. At the same time, it is also important to procure prototyping capabilities for physical models to be developed, and to better visualize the designed products.
Naturally, the investments involved in setting up design capabilities are massive. Apart from workstations, automotive design requires a large selection of specialized equipment to perform testing and validation of the materials, parts and components developed.
With this in mind, developing design capabilities are a risky venture, not just for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), but even more so for the hundreds of automotive parts and component manufacturers that exist in our ecosystem. It is noteworthy that these companies also happen to be small and medium enterprises, with limited resources.
I hope this industry conundrum will see the beginning of its end this week. Last Monday, Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) launched the MAI Design Center (MAIDC), located in Rawang, Selangor, and it was purpose built to address this very issue. The centre is established to cater to six of the nine core thrusts of MAI’s Industry 4.0 implementation plan for both OEMs and vendors within the automotive industry.
The MAIDC, a collaboration between MAI and Perodua, is fully equipped with 65 workstations for product, tooling and engineering design and simulation. The centre also boasts large surface plates, milling gantries, clay ovens and spray booths to facilitate full scale clay model fabrication. There are also a full range of different sized 3D printers and will soon see a Virtual Reality (VR) design system in place.
Above all, the MAIDC is an important milestone to create higher value careers and job opportunities within the automotive industry. It is time for us to take the next step towards braving the frontier of the fourth industrial revolution.
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive Institute.