Thursday, 31 January 2019

Continuous Innovation: Paradigm Shift in an Automated World

Hollywood has long been the inspiration for future technology. Since television reached the masses beginning around the 1950s, series like “Buck Rogers” and “Star Trek” sparked the imagination of future applications of visual teleconferencing, high-speed engineering calculations, immersive automation and human travel.
While many of these “dream devices” are still considered scientifically impossible, many – merely deemed as science fiction at the time – have become a large part of our lives.
The point is – the human race has an innate resolve to improve its lifestyle, today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems and we continuously innovate to make life easier.
Today, the science and engineering romanticized in the films above have started to take shape – particularly in automating our lifestyle and work.
Since the introduction of the smart phone, many apps have been developed to centralise our daily needs into one device, from the simple calculator to the more complex circuit design and experimentation.
The growing financial technology (fintech) industry has also rolled out numerous applications that have automated many processes in the financial world.
The development of smart manufacturing systems has created flexible robotics systems that have the speed, accuracy and precision that would be impossible for the human hand to cope with.
Throughout the centuries, invention and innovation have changed world paradigms – in a sense that they result in a crossroad between human needs and human livelihood.
 As consumers, we are spoilt for choice in the range of applications today. However, we must also be wary that for every application developed, there is a business or individual that has been replaced with technology.
The digital “swiss army knives” that we now hold in our hand has affected sales of numerous profitable businesses of the past – calculators, rulers, cameras, and many other household tools have required innovation of their business model.
They have displaced the skills required to produce them, and have created an urgent need for skills retraining – most importantly bridging technological anxieties and fear in career development in an automation-based paradigm, and providing access to the necessary learning curves needed to establish a critical mass for the industry demands.
As a developing nation with a dependence on manufacturing and services, the innovation of business models must be facilitated.
To achieve this, the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) is in the process of developing several centres to facilitate the needs above, not only in automated production, but also in products that serve to automate our lifestyle.
Firstly, a robotics academy will be set up along with a robotics development facility, housed under MARii’s Robotics Center (MARoC). This centre will address both human capital and business development needs for the industry in ensuring that their processes can undergo a transformation towards smart automation, while ensuring talent substitution can be controlled and higher value jobs are created for Malaysians.
Secondly, to create the necessary talent to spur the development of upstream careers in product and process design, the MARii Virtual Center will be established to allow increased Malaysian participation in virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) based design processes, expediting lead times and validations costs, as well as increasing efficiency and accuracy at upstream stage of manufacturing.
Thirdly, the Autonomous Vehicle Test Bed is currently in the works, not only as a facility to test autonomous vehicles but also for all businesses in the mobility ecosystem to collectively design and validate their products in a single location, in collaboration with all members that contribute to the design pool for autonomous driving.
Most importantly, the milestones above are designed to look at the issue of automation as a whole. At the end of the day, technology must be beneficial to mankind at all levels – the guiding principle in governing the economy must strike a balance between making products that improve the quality of life, with economic participation for Malaysians to afford such quality of life.

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

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Riding on advanced robotics, IoT applications

Last week, together with the International Trade and Industry deputy minister, we presented the overview of the automotive industry for last year and the government’s plans to elevate technology adoption within the local ecosystem this year.
Despite a challenging automotive policy implementation this decade, a changing face of globalisation as seen in the economic outlook of global superpowers and stiffer competition within the region, Malaysia’s main technological community yet again demonstrated its resilience.
Exports of vehicles, parts and components and remanufactured parts increased to RM2.08 billion, RM12.1 billion and RM523.1 million, respectively.
More than 60,000 new jobs were created with a huge rise in the volume of a highly skilled workforce in product and process design, data analysis, design validation, etc.
A larger number of Malaysian parts and component suppliers are now applying best manufacturing practices and reducing waste through the implementation of Lean Production Systems throughout their operations, with a significant number of businesses now fully equipped with in-house product and process design capabilities.
We should be proud that our domestic automotive ecosystem has risen in strength through localisation by all brands operating worldwide.
More than 62 per cent of new cars are now energy efficient vehicles, and more people have participated in safety and inspection campaigns as well as motor shows organised throughout the automotive event calendar.
However, for me we are only as good as our last success.
While we acknowledge our current foundations, we are quickly looking to move to the global stage. The government’s call for a meaningful participation in science, technology and engineering is key to moving our society as a whole through higher levels.
There has been resistance, more in the form of scepticism among those who feel our dreams are too big for our own capabilities. My answer is simple – the creation of top level participation, be it through public or private ventures, creates the necessary trickle-down effect to elevate the poor to satisfactory, the satisfactory to good and the good to excellent.
If it is true that resources are limited, they are channelled to create activities of the technology chain in order to create opportunities for those at the bottom tiers. Then, when the bottom needs a push forward, they already have the demand created for them and all they need is the means to start and operate.
This year, the ministry, through Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) is taking this exact approach to spur the elevation of the automotive industry towards connected mobility and the adoption of robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) throughout the local value chain.
In the areas of technology, new programmes are being implemented in areas such as additive manufacturing and generative design, augmented reality, digital engineering and prototyping, artificial intelligence and telematics.
This is through many turnkey projects undertaken by MARii in the fields of lithium ion batteries, electric mass transportation and manufacturing system integration.
The adoption of technologies will be paired with human capital readiness with latest MARii’s Industry Professional Certificate and Automotive Industry Certification Engineering (AICE) programmes to allow for the reskilling and knowledge enhancement of graduates.
New academic programmes will develop graduates in Industry 4.0 through advanced diplomas, associate degrees, masters by research through a MARii Industry 4.0 Academy.
Many of these programmes will be implemented not just in the Klang Valley, but through established MARii satellites that will be strategically placed nationwide.
The implementation plan is designed to cover all areas of technology adoption, and ride on technology adoption of advanced robotics and IoT applications within the automotive industry and mobility as a whole.

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

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Towards meaningful adoption of technology

Meaningful implementation of technology penetration is a multi-tiered challenge for any organisation, but discussion often revolves around anxiety with regards to its huge investments.
Recently, this column addressed this anxiety in relation to investing in technology to improve organizational efficiency.
From a financial standpoint, investing in emerging technology requires sound planning to balance risk versus rewards.
Technology is not just a means of staying ahead but also staying afloat. It’s use not just in high volume industrial applications, but also includes highly-affordable cloud-based tools that improve efficiency of small businesses in inventory management and tracking, financial reporting and monitoring as well as creative production. These avenues are where organisations, small or big, should start instilling technology culture.
Subscription-based models are fast becoming a popular offering for business owners. Gone are the days when you had to purchase expensive software only to later realise it only added to depreciation costs (and depression costs). Today, you can simply lease software that you need for as long as you need it, with very little risk to the businesses’ financial commitments.
This same concept is the basis of numerous Malaysia Automtive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) productivity nucleus programs, such as Additive Manufacturing, Digital Engineering & Prototyping (DEP), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) and High Performance Cloud Computing server.
These services are positioned to accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies within all levels of businesses, across the entire automotive supply chain. Instead of absorbing all risks involved with technology procurement, automotive businesses now have new avenues to test the waters for the technology areas they intend to implement.
Coupled with MARii’s human capital development programmes, industry players have access to a one stop centre for technology based solutions under one roof, allowing them to focus on their core function – sustain a competitive business model which in turn brings the obvious benefits to the economy, and the country as a whole.
For example, MARii’s High Performance Cloud Computing system is capable of helping businesses drastically reduce computing, calculation, and design lead times for applications such as crash simulation, big data analysis and management, telematics, even 3D animation rendering.
Companies need only to lease the use of the computing power at their desired stage of their projects, either by temporarily seconding their design team on site (office space is provided), or transmitting their data directly via the cloud.
While risks associated with technology investments can now be better mitigated, the key management aspect is getting the whole organization to be invested in technology. Any transformation from labour intensive processes towards technology infused workflows require instilling the right discipline to continuously use the new platforms available, by all members of the organization.
Obviously, the first step is top management buy-in – and the next step would be a holistic realignment to educate the workforce out of technology averseness. Company policies must be redefined to incentivize the use of productive technology platforms, while providing the necessary training and mentoring, engagement and follow up beyond one-time introductory sessions merely driven by a few individuals.
As new technologies emerge on a daily basis, it is easy for us to be apathetic due to an inability to keep up with the technology options available. To address this situation, technology decision makers within the company must, above all, champion technology solutions that cater to problems faced by their teams and avoid hard sell approaches without buy in from their employees.
In a global economy that is rapidly encouraging the formation of global value chains, interactions, workflows and processes between business organisations and individuals need to be quicker and more effective, i.e. will likely depend on solutions provided by disruptive technology. The only way for us to remain competitive is to find solutions to match the speed of such technology disruptions – we must ensure technology literacy reaches all levels of our workforce.

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

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Holistic strategies towards economic resilience

DEPUTY International Trade and Indutsry Ministry  Minister Dr. Ong Kian Ming recently released a statement analyzing and addressing fears of an economic recession in 2019.
In essence, the piece challenged the over dependance on single – and sometimes misleading – indexes as a basis to reflect the state of the current economy as well as outlooks into the future.
Admittedly, numerous reports from expert analysis around the world are pointing to the sentiment of a slower economy, especially in manufacturing, fueled by the various indicators of conservative growth estimates and reduced global demands.
Indicators are what they are: forecasts based on the analysis of numerical symptoms to diagnose the future. However, economics is not always a zero sum game, and unlike medical prognosis, have higher probabilities in underestimating the strong will of the patients – the internal acumen that make up the core strength of industry players and business owners themselves.
In January 2015, a rising greenback sent out waves of conservatism among the local industry players, as costs of imported raw materials would have adverse effects on car prices. Despite this, total industry volume (TIV) achieved a volume of 666,674 in the same year, its highest ever recorded figure – demonstrating that industry sentiment does not necessarily reflect consumer sentiment.
However, to enhance our understanding of the industry scenario, it is key that we take a holistic outlook beyond domestic sales and production figures alone.
As a nation aspiring to emerge as a regional hub for Energy Efficient Vehicles (EEVs), indicators such as foreign & domestic direct investment, export figures (at all value chain levels), technology penetration, job and business creation and SME participation should be factored into our success story.
This is to say nothing of non-numerical events and activities that bring positive impacts to the unmeasurable moral and human enrichment of Malaysians.
As an industry that takes pride in overcoming problems and delivering solutions, we must lead our economy despite any sentiment, and initiate change internally to turn negatives into positives.
It is said that the higher the risk, the higher the reward. For me, as long as we can be smart enough to manage high risk, they can be mitigated to still achieve such high rewards.
In the most conservative of times, it is important to spend with prudence, but as economies are cyclical, be mindful of the long term.
For the transportation sector, the long term scenario is getting clearer – we can not run from the advent of big data, robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things. Despite conservative sentiment, long term goals must be planned and implemented above conservative risk management. There is no point holding on to investment, knowing that when the market sentiment returns, our competitiveness gap has remained the same due to our wait.
Next week, MARii will be announcing its review of the automotive industry in 2018, and also an insight into 2019. We will be continuing the tradition in introducing a holistic overview of the state of the industry, but most importantly – presenting new opportunities for Malaysian talents and businesses and exploring new avenues in overall mobility, as well as robotics and IoT as mentioned above.
The future is shaped around our attitude, appetite and ideas surrounding it. To move forward, let us push new ideas – those that will make us competitive, and remain sustainable in the long run.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of this column, which has allowed me to share my thoughts and perspectives, and address your concerns about issues surrounding the industry. I would like to thank everyone for allowing this great honour, and also hope it’s not too late to wish all of you a Happy New Year 2019.

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

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Get ready to adopt new mindset in the new year

As I browsed through the articles I have written for this column, one thing became clear – the issues related to the automotive industry had shifted drastically over the years.
From a central policy focused on energy-efficient vehicles in 2014, the industry is now speaking of high-tech investments in next-generation vehicles, intelligent transportation systems and Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) implementations. All this within the last five years.
The uncertain global economic backdrop, based on inconsistency and changing sentiments by in the world’s economic powerhouses on fundamental economic principles, has created new waves of debate and discussions on how we, as a nation, move forward as a global economic player.
While we remain vigilant on the developments in global trends that affect our export competitiveness, the continuation of developing our industry fundamentals should not cease. The scope of what is considered “fundamental” changes rapidly as well.
For example, the Lean Production – a system that reduces or eliminates different categorisations of waste to reduce production costs – was an option reserved for large companies.
Today, it is a fundamental requirement for small or large businesses in order to remain competitive.
Similarly, the application of cloud-based technology – something previously associated with information-technology companies such as Google – has become a part of any industry we see today. The utilization of technology no longer makes for a dominant market leader, but is a requirement for a market player.
As each year passes by, we must review and preview as today’s super computer may well become tomorrow’s “typewriter”. Our knowledge and skills today will also likely be obsolete in the future – in 10 years’ time, a person who is unable to use a computer may be considered illiterate.
The question is now simple – what skills, knowledge, and economic activity will make us relevant in the future?
The answers are obvious, and also found across the Internet in numerous articles written by a multitude of experts and thought leaders. As far as the automotive industry is concerned, Industry 4.0 has stated its demands for the future.
The application of robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) will clearly dominate the future lanscape. Issues such industrial IoT technology adoption, cyber security, Big Data analytics and collaborative robots will continue to grow in importance for the sustainability of the future industry.
The Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) has initiated implementations to develop the needed awareness, capacity building and development programmes to enhance literacy and competency in robotics and IoT adoption.
To start with, our stakeholders can expect numerous international seminars, conferences and dialogues on the multitude of areas of development surrounding robotics and IoT applications.
Businesses and industry players can expect assistance in accelerating the adoption of robotics and IoT through various capacity-building and intervention programmes, developed to hand-hold businesses from the moment interest is sparked to the implementation of advanced robotics and IoT within their entire business operations.
At a macro level, the industry must work within an ecosystem that is conducive to their business development – MARii is working closely with the industry, academia and government institutions to create the necessary framework to elevate Malaysia to emerge as a hub for robotics and IoT within ASEAN.
To move forward, the most important change we must recognise is the change in future currency. While we trade in the currency of our choice, the ability and speed at which we adapt to change will be the item of most value to the world.
Malaysians are known for their integrity, cultural diversity and friendliness – and we must look forward to instilling these values in our approach to nation-building, with an image of knowledge integrity, multidisciplinary culture and technological friendliness. This fundamental value acceptance will create a Malaysian economy that is sustainable and will rise above any form of disruption.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year 2019! May this great nation move forward to further embrace excellence, curiosity and strong will to lead.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).