Rise of robot co-workers as new tech transforms factories

Workers in factories here are increasingly being trained to work alongside robots, in line with a wave of new technologies sweeping across the manufacturing sector.

Companies told The Straits Times that workers who are well versed in emerging skills such as data analytics are in demand, especially as firms fight to maintain their edge amid shortening product cycles and stiff global competition.

These comments came as the Industry Transformation Map (ITM) for electronics manufacturing was unveiled yesterday. The road map includes plans to help electronics manufacturers diversify into new growth opportunities, transform existing factories and deepen workers’ skills. It aims to create $22.2 billion in value-add and 2,100 jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians by 2020.

The ITM includes a Skills Framework for the sector listing the skills needed and relevant training programmes. Skills in demand include those related to artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, data analytics, robotics and automation.

These are in line with emerging sources of demand, said Mr Russell Tham, regional president for South-east Asia at semiconductor equipment supplier Applied Materials, who added that “emerging transformational technologies are heavily reliant on innovations in advanced semiconductors”.

Mr Tan Yew Kong, vice-president and general manager of semiconductor company Globalfoundries, said the moves announced under the ITM will equip the workforce with industry-relevant skills.

“When people join the sector with structures already in place to train them, it makes it easier for companies like us to grow our business. It is a win-win situation,” he said.

Globalfoundries was among the first in the sector to incorporate a mobile robot in its factory, he said.

“To be on the shop floor, not just with other workers but with a robot running around, is something workers need to be familiar with – dos and don’ts, what to do when the robot malfunctions and so on,” added Mr Tan.

Mr Ajayan Ramachandran, regional head of people development at Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific, said: “We are eliminating the low value-added jobs and bringing in robots. Workers will increasingly have to work in an environment where they collaborate with robots.”

Chia Yan Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline ‘Rise of robot co-workers as new tech transforms factories’.