Thursday, 29 August 2019

Opportunities, considerations in new mobility models

JUST like how the Internet has changed snail mail to email and Internet-based messaging such as Whatsapp has replaced short-message-service (SMS) as technology, market forces determine our relevance and have the power to change the conventional labels.
When transportation is connected to the Internet, new business models are created and begin to break into the market. They offer unique and niche solutions to specific problems that we didn’t realise were problems before.
Today, new types of ride-hailing services are constantly introduced to the Malaysian market, with niche solutions emerging to challenge norms of the automotive, transportation and mobility sectors.
This column has discussed in depth transformation of the automotive sector into the mobility sector, in which mobility-as-a service would be at the core of the evolution.
The recent discussion on the introduction of motorcycle based ride hailing was met with both support and criticism.
While the main intention was to offer more choices for the end users, and create new job and business opportunities, many argued that safety and socio-economic concerns must be addressed.
Thus, we must set aside our prejudice and dissect this issue with the appropriate nuance on the issues at hand.
It is worthy noting that some facts are important in forming a basis for our opinion on the matter.
Firstly, it has been made clear that this is not a monopoly, but it is open to both local and international players.
Secondly, the use of motorcycles for Internet-based commerce has gained popularity in Malaysia for a while now, and the issue at hand is — should we extend this service to ferry commuters, instead of only goods and other services?
Concerns of safety, security and “social decorum” create new opportunities themselves, thus providing secondary job and business opportunities that address those problems.
While safety of passengers has been a top concern, it opens the way for discussion towards better safety regulations and the introduction of technologies that have been long overdue to improve the two-wheeler safety, such as ABS braking, blind spot detection or even road maintenance standards.
Concern for the safety of female passengers is not limited to motorcycles, but also in car based ride hailing. Viewed positively, it creates new niche markets for “female-friendly” ridesharing services.
Most importantly, it adds a new range and dimension to the existing choices in public transportation, particularly last mile connectivity.
While the government and private sector can easily build the main network lines for rail and bus transportation infrastructure, ride-hailing caters to the intricacies of last mile connectivity to different localities, terrains or urban configurations.
The immediate consequence is that as motorcycle usage rises, so would the number of casualties, if an increase in road safety awareness among Malaysian riders is not implemented.
While we should not make blanket statements about all motorists, the general view among Malaysians is that driver’s attitude is not at an ideal point. More needs to be done to curb dangerous behaviour on our roads.
Most importantly, it is a serious issue that must be tackled not just for the introduction of different ride-hailing options, but also to ensure more connected mobility services are introduced globally.
If we look at countries within Asean that have achieved a significant penetration of motorcycle ride hailing — Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia — they are all within the top 15 countries with the highest motorcycle fatalities.
In Malaysia’s case, let’s look at the overall picture — with or without the introduction of new transportation and mobility models, the issue of road safety must be a top priority for the nation. Otherwise, global trends will leave us behind.

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

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Staying relevant through technology adoption

ONE of the key milestones the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) has reached this year is the establishment of capacity-building programmes and events that expand beyond the automotive industry into the fields of advanced manufacturing and the Internet of Things.
As we rebrand from the Malaysia Automotive Institute, our scope of work is primarily about shifting our fundamentals to the adoption of automation and connectivity in our daily lives and business operations.
Apart from the intervention programmes for mobility-related business and to enhance capabilities and capacities in automation and “IoT-isation”, the foundation begins with creating awareness levels for the adoption of technology — not just awareness of the availability of technology, but also its accessibility to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as entry level workforce.
To ensure that Industry 4.0 is implemented successfully, our target group includes SMEs.
There are more than 900 thousand SMEs in Malaysia, or 98.5 per cent of the Malaysian economy, contributing 37 per cent to the gross domestic product of the nation.
Some 5.3 per cent of the SMEs are in the manufacturing sector and 89.2 per cent in the services sector. Only 34.5 per cent of the businesses are located in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
We have to be mindful that as technology advances, the lines of manufacturing and services would become blury.
There were many examples illustrated in this column, one of which is the evolution of the automotive manufacturing sector into Mobility as a Service (MaaS).
It indicates that manufacturing and services would converge hand in hand with business models changing as we progress further.
When it comes to the adoption of advanced technologies, not only the 900,000 business owners must gain awareness of technologies, but they must also be willing to accept that a transition towards Industry 4.0 would be unavoidable in the near future.
The implementation must spread to all corners of the nation to ensure the local market stays relevant to global trends.
Businesses must understand that technological implementation is not as daunting as it seems as the true technological breakthrough seen today lies in the ease of use and built-in adaptability factor.
If you can operate a vehicle or a smartphone, it is enough to build technology into your business operations.
When the thinking of top business levels shift, those working within the business would also shift their thinking.
If the majority of SMEs move towards Industry 4.0, it would be the first — yet major — step towards transforming the economy into higher value and income.
The main and true purpose in maintaining relevance of our capabilities is to stop depending on others.
However, the dependence is not equal to inter-dependence.
Inter-dependence refers to our ability to contribute equally to a market of ideas, products, technology and services.
Dependence means an over-reliance on the capabilities, on technological commodities of others and becoming pure consumers instead of creators and innovators.
While it is natural for technology to replace jobs, they are not meant to replace humans.
We have to stay relevant, adapt to new jobs and businesses created through the advancement in technology and enrich our lives by increasing the valuation of our contribution to the global market.
Staying relevant is at the core of the numerous capacity building, training and awareness programmes developed and implemented by MARii.
For those intending to begin their technological journey, get in touch with me or my team.
For those who have graduated through our modules, more advanced programmes are being developed and will be announced soon to enable and unlock more opportunities for Malaysian businesses and talents.

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

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)