Can Singapore seize new manufacturing technologies?

The above picture represents a revolution. It is also a window to fresh ideas about the economic directions available to Singapore.

As most Singaporeans may recognise, the picture is of a board at a bus stop listing the route details of buses that call there. Almost all bus stops in Singapore have boards like that. But did you realise that no two of them are the same? Every bus stop has a different set of route listings, with details commencing from that particular bus stop. Thus each printed board is unique.

How is that revolutionary? 

To do the same 20 years ago would have been considered madness; individualised printing was simply uneconomical. Then, high quality printing was done in big factories that first produced offset plates – one for each colour of ink – which were mounted on huge machines that churned pages out by the thousands. Many sheets of paper were wasted in the initial test run just to get the alignment of colours right. The set-up cost was so high, it was necessary to commission print runs of a few thousand in order to get unit costs down to manageable levels.

Even black-and-white printing based on the centuries-old type-setting method required at least 100 square metres of industrial space to house machines that were the size of small trucks. As a boy I used to marvel at these machines in my uncle’s shop, ever careful not to get ink on my clothes.

Today we print not just ordinary pages, but full-colour posters, from desk-top printers – and with a print run of exactly one piece because that’s all we need. Economies of scale have shrunk, they are now immaterial.

Three things made this possible:

  • a revolution in information and imaging technology
  • engineering advances in producing small printers with superb sharpness
  • advances in materials science, creating new inks, etc.

Similar advances are going to revolutionise more and more sectors of manufacturing.

* * * * *

The news story about expanding the Financial Scholarship Programme (I hadn’t known that one existed) said it aimed to develop “skills in specialist tracks, such as quantitative finance, risk management and specialty insurance.” (Straits Times, 23 May 2012, Grooming S’pore talent for finance, by Yasmine Yahya)

My first thought was: Here we go again, generals planning to fight the previous war. Has not fancy financial engineering been discredited already?

Perhaps I was being uncharitable. The fact is, Singapore has long been a financial centre and will likely remain so. We need to hone our skills.

However, we also need to take a salutary lesson from London (and Britain generally), where, in the last few decades, the financial industry came to dominate its economy. Yet, by its very nature, it’s a volatile industry, highly prone to excess. It’s also been widely blamed for creating huge income gaps, though I think it’s too simplistic to make a direct connection like that.  When the subprime crisis in the United States  began to spread globally, the UK trembled and fell into a recession (now a double-dip one). Manufacturing powerhouse Germany on the other hand didn’t suffer as much. My concern is that as we continue to be dazzled by the financial industry, we neglect other potential avenues of development.

The other thing about the finance industry is that it can entangle us in serious diplomatic difficulties with our neighbours. Perennial complaints that Indonesian cronies and Burmese generals are parking their ill-gotten gains in Singapore should validate my point. Moreover, in many ways, it is an extractive industry, drawing profit through cleverness. ‘Derivatives’ for example, is now spoken with a sneer. And since nobody likes to have his wealth exploited for others’ profit, it will always be skirting controversy.

That said, this is only one side of finance. The other side is that, firstly, it helps people safeguard their wealth, and more importantly, it can help create the financial wherewithal to grow a business.

* * * * *

I want to draw attention to manufacturing. I think it’s a sector that we risk neglecting.

Partly it is because we still see manufacturing in 20th Century terms, with assembly lines manned by lots of cheap workers. When we saw the Chinese juggernaut coming 30 years ago, our first response was the ‘Growth Triangle’ (does anyone even remember the term?), the plan being to move the dirty and labour-intensive industries out to Batam and Johore. That didn’t go very far, mostly because (oh, what a surprise!) the Indonesian and Malaysian governments didn’t wish to learn from Singapore. Our second response was to focus on process industries such as petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, which rely much more on capital investment than on labour. But this also kept us highly dependent on inward investment by foreign multinationals. How much of the value-added actually accrue to Singapore?

Now, however, new technologies are about to change the nature of manufacturing, where scale is no longer a critical factor of success. The chief input will be knowledge rather than land space or labour hordes. I think there is an opportunity to seize the initiative and make Singapore a manufacturing centre again. However, for that to happen, we must first stop being dazzled by finance.

What is this manufacturing revolution? Actually, it’s not that new. In specific sectors, it has already arrived, e.g. printing, as discussed above.

Particularly exciting is the advent of additive manufacturing. This is a process by which a product is made by printing many layers, slowly building up a three-dimensional object. Items of very complex shapes can be produced thus. If software can describe the shape, it can be made. An entire gearbox, water faucet or air compressor can be made thus, where presently, we need factories to make molds in order to cast the various parts, and then another factory to fit the parts together. Once we do away with mold-making, economy of scale is undermined. The same thing happened once we did away with offset plates.

Beyond hard objects, the same principle can be applied to bio-engineering. We can create proteins, antibodies and other biological products by stitching molecules together. And once this can be done, we may be able to print a kidney, thigh-bone or inner ear layer by nano-layer.

If you’re a subscriber to the Economist magazine, there is a feature about the new frontiers of manufacturing in The third industrial revolution, Additive manufacturing, and about manufacturing returning to rich countries. The magazine describes the new age as that of mass customisation, succeeding the age of mass production.

Simple things that should, even now, be within technological  reach include:

  • a new, complete set of teeth customised to fit one’s jaw;
  • perfect shoes customised to fit one’s feet;
  • plates, bowls, cups and fluted glasses that match the existing set in use;
  • door handles and lock assemblies made to customers’ own designs;
  • small medical devices from catheters to heart valves.

The new age does not depend on vast supply of land or labour. Imagine a place that makes things in relatively small factories or workshops, each highly automated with little need for humans. While this means that our physical limits are no barrier for us, they are no barrier to other places either. Things will be made locally, individually or in similarly small batches, in hundreds of cities around the world. The worldwide supply chains that so characterise our age may eventually become a relic of the past, and seen for what it is – a huge environmental disaster in the way it used fossil fuels to move things all over the globe.

However, Singapore can either be an importer of such technologies, or be among the creators of them. To be an importer is an economic dead-end, because when similar things are made locally elsewhere, using the same franchised technology, there is no export potential for what we make.

To ride the new wave means we must be creators of the knowhow. Hence, we will need the critical skills of the new age, which, as mentioned above, are information technology, materials science and engineering (for both the final products and the robots needed to make them). Add to these bio-engineering and product design. Not only will we need to invest massively in such education, we’re also talking about very high level, cutting-edge skills: People who wade into the unknown wrestling with ideas and innovations others might dismiss as utopian.

What Singapore will export is knowhow. We invent the new products and we create the technology to make them. We may make a few prototypes locally, and a few more to serve our domestic market and maybe neighbouring countries, but the larger value comes in marketing that knowhow further afield.

Ah, but the rub lies in the need to generate “cutting-edge knowhow”. For Singapore, there may well be an invisible barrier. If we have a culture that fears the unknown, dismisses experimentation and penalises those who would rock the boat, then we are adverse to a critical factor for success. How does an economy seize the opportunities presented by disruptive technology when politically and culturally we are acculturated to fear disruption?

39 Responses to “Can Singapore seize new manufacturing technologies?”


  1. 1 Ben F 3 June 2012 at 22:38

    Yes. I read about 3D extrusion “printers” as well. Fascinating stuff. One wonders the limits of the technology. Individual empowerment to manufacture on one’s own terms, place and design? Not sure how it would be more economical than mass-production defined “economies of scale” though.

  2. 2 Sprechen Sie Singlisch? 4 June 2012 at 00:59

    I believe that these ideas are already in play in Singapore but under the radar. In the age of “mass customisation”, there will be increasing emphasis on design. What graphic design is to 2D printing, industrial design is to 3D prototyping. Singapore has already been doing stuff in this area with both design centres in Polytechnics and even a new University dedicated in part to it.

    As for tissue engineering, we have a number of R & D labs doing that for a bit, especially in Biopolis.That’s where quite a bit of those financial taxes are going.

    In terms of industrial policy, I find it hard to criticize the Government. On the other hand, one can only excel in theses areas with increase loosening of thought space.

    • 3 Mary 4 June 2012 at 16:25

      I have never seen a single patent or invention from these ‘labs’ become a big hit or even make a decent amount of money, 10 years after they were created. For $12 billion dollars you’d think the money would be better spent on lowering housing prices, cost of goods -> increased free time and lowered risk in starting businesses.

      • 4 Mary 4 June 2012 at 16:34

        The state betrayed a basic lack of knowledge about how r&d and industry works. You can’t import it, just like you wouldn’t foster a vibrant journalism scene just by inviting bbc to set up office here, but rather by having a free media. Like hongkong, we’ve bred a bureaucratic, or mnc, or trading mentality far too long among our children.

    • 5 honeypotraider 5 June 2012 at 07:24

      I am a design engineer myself, I design integrated circuit, and I don’t think Singapore or Singaporean foster any esteem toward working in fields of career in science and engineering, there’s also an inferiority complex amongst graduate of local universities, remember test-tube washer? However, one consolation is the absence of glass ceiling for women pursuing a career in these fields.

      Sadly, Singaporean also does not value creation of ideas as much as the measure wealth as the currency of success.

      Anyway I am not as impressed compared with Alex’s awe of those route directory, I think they are easily done with current printing technology, who wouldn’t? Considering PAP town council fondness for those giant head posters. Maybe they should put more effort into designing the bus stop.

      Recalling a conversation between a layman and a scientist, both trying to identify a fish, while the layman recognised it look like a fish and thought so, the scientist took an agonising 15 minutes to confirm it is a fish by distinction of its anatomic features.

  3. 6 Anonymous 4 June 2012 at 06:48

    Alex,

    Good write-up but the new manufacturing will never happen in Singapore. Game changing technologies and breakthroughs require people to think of ‘madness’. Who would have thought even 5 years ago that a printer can be invented to mold 3D objects?

    Back in about 2003, there was a concerted effort by the Singapore government to teach and nurture creativity in the civil service. (Innovation Circle anyone?) I know cause I was there. Even Karpal Singh of SMU (not sure if I got his name right) admitted that even you need to attend a class to learn creativity, You have already failed in that department.

    Until the Singapore government realizes that controlling everything is counter-productive to Singapore moving into the advanced manufacturing and advanced knowledge based economy, I really worry for the future direction of SIngapore’s economy. (Haven’t they already made their intention clear by saying: ‘cheaper, better, faster’?)

    • 7 octopi 4 June 2012 at 11:55

      I first heard about 3D printers in the book mentioned above which came out in 2000, but at that time it was still research.

      The problem is not that Singaporeans are not creative. The problem is that the bosses in Singapore are inherently suspicious of young turks with bright ideas. Creativity is a fig leaf, something bosses talk about to absolve themselves of their responsibility for being too thick to think.

      The other enemy of creativity, other than stupid bosses, is performance metrics. Performance metrics puts a lot of emphasis on quick wins and low risk activities and neglect longer term projects that can achieve a breakthrough. It is not that Singaporeans don’t want to be creative. It is that people are reluctant to put in the time and energy required for these new ideas to bear fruit.

      • 8 Poker Player 5 June 2012 at 11:27

        The problems you mention exist in more or less the same degree in countries with a lot of technical innovation too. Office politics driven by insecure bosses, quantitative approaches to management – what can be more global?

      • 9 Poker Player 5 June 2012 at 11:54

        And this fetish for “metrics” as a way to manage things is carried to its extreme in the country we admire the most for it creativity – the US. They horrified the world with the “body count” in Vietnam,

        The problems you mentioned are not just not unique in Singapore, they may actually be milder than in many technologically innovative countries,

      • 10 octopi 6 June 2012 at 06:22

        Do you have any examples which are 1.) from the private sector and 2.) recent?

        There are big US companies which have their own corporate research labs: Google, Yahoo, IBM, Xerox PARC. What are the Singaporean equivalents?

      • 11 octopi 6 June 2012 at 07:45

        There are better examples of organisations who fail to innovate due to bureaucratic incompetence. The US military is one of the great technological innovators in the world! The US military is not the same as the one during the time of Vietnam.

        This is the organisation which invented the internet, the stealth bomber (which was widely criticised as a big waste of money until people saw how effective it was), the predator drone, amongst a whole plethora of innovations which not only encompasses hardware but also processes in conduct of battlefield operations. That is how they became the most powerful military in the world, at least against any other national army. (Against guerillas or nuclear powers, it’s another story of course.)

        There will always be black sheep in the US industry. In fact one of the most infamous black sheep is Xerox PARC, where the bosses were sitting on the invention of the mouse until Steve Jobs came in and stole the mouse from under his noses when he was putting the Mac together. Which goes to show you that in innovation, not only the technology part is crucial but also whether the bosses are visionary enough to know how to use it. (Or Creative, where the bosses were good enough to invent a good MP3 player, but not good enough to design a killer product around it, as Apple eventually did.)

      • 12 Poker Player 7 June 2012 at 11:04

        You seem to be changing the subject. You attempted to give reasons for Singapore’s failures in technological innovation. I pointed out that the reasons you gave exist also in technologically creative societies and are worse there. None of your replies is a response to that. My objections are still spot on.

      • 13 Poker Player 7 June 2012 at 11:06

        “The US military is one of the great technological innovators in the world! The US military is not the same as the one during the time of Vietnam.”

        Are you making two separate points here? Or is there a relationship between the two sentences?

      • 14 octopi 7 June 2012 at 13:00

        Singapore’s problem is not the presence of companies with a bad innovation culture. They are the absence of companies with a great innovation culture. The fact that these problems exist in other countries is irrelevant.

      • 15 Poker Player 8 June 2012 at 10:19

        “The fact that these problems exist in other countries is irrelevant.”

        Even when these countries have good innovation culture? Now you are being incoherent.

  4. 16 Stef 4 June 2012 at 07:46

    Which I think that was why the Singapore University of Design and Technology was set up. But the level success very much depends on whether if the environment is conducive, like what you mentioned. Or it may go down the path of the biomedical industry just because the state is overly focused on making economic gains while neglecting the basis and principle of how the industry works.

  5. 17 CafeSolvere Cognose 4 June 2012 at 13:20

    Dear Yawningbread,
    as a retired Minister of State shared with me” “the situation is so clear, how come he (the PM) still cannot see it?”
    i have been feeding him on how we can compete, regain competitive edge, we must first identify what advantageous we have, even in Manufacturing.

    We must see what we can do with immense investment we put into Biotech.

    Can a leader made the following comment?
    “We have made significant investments in time and resources. We have to get the most out of what we have put in.”, when LKY commented on his daugther’s comment on Biotech.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Yeo

    Or a leader need to do the following:
    We must try to identify what we can do in every thing we have committed, everyone we have, every way we have available to attain greater ability.

    Singapore is a tiny island with dense population all over (ALL OVER THE ISLAND) the island, so every, road, train, fibre optics, highest tech instruments serve more people than any where else in the world, Silicon Valley, Shanghai. *(they need to serve low density peripharal, without a clear border…. i.e. no clear ending of bus routes, fibre network…. that serve fewer people).

    Singapore has highly educated workforce, except recent gluttony of migrants of all classes.

    Singapore can run 7x24x365 without scorching summer, chilling winter.
    Even on Christmas, not everyone need to go on leave.

    As the leaders are not providing solutions other than burdens and subsidies B & S.
    May we work to create, examine ideas to resurrect Singapore?

    20110423 Singapore Unsurpassed Advantage

    http://bettersingapore.blogspot.com/2011/04/20110423-singapores-unsurpassed.html

  6. 18 Chow 4 June 2012 at 14:01

    I would like to say that such technologies are not new. I first learned about them (and used them) in the early part of the millennium. It is just that such technologies are maturing and becoming more widespread due to the demand for them as customization and quick turnaround is a key part of a company remaining relevant these days. I may be overly optimistic, but I would think that as businesses/manufacturing here begin to adopt these on a wider scale, the processes will change and so will the mindset.

    The same goes for the current mindset of fear and fear-of-change. As more and more of the population begin to demand for change and challenge to status quo, those least willing to change will have to slowly begin to let go or quickly become irrelevant or forced out. The key thing is whether mechanisms are present within our society that enable such a change to occur without triggering a massive power struggle or push-back and I think we are equipped to handle that.

    I don’t expect them to give in without a fight, but the polls are the way in which we tell those in charge how much we want change. If the the prevailing ground opinion is against a political party, that party will change if they want to remain in power. The deeper and more entrenched issue is “what if the Civil Service and ruling party have become so intermingled that it is no longer possible to distinguish one from the other”? In that case, we will have a knottier problem to solve.

  7. 19 ape@kinjioleaf 4 June 2012 at 14:02

    I’m not sure how my comment is going to fit in to this topic but I’ll give it a try.
    No doubt Singapore’s industry have improved a lot to rely on machines that are cheaper, better and faster, the labour force appears to be lacking in catching up. Production plants may be less reliant on operators with more automations but we need better trained and equipped technicians and engineers to service the complex machines. This (training and revamping of maintenance management) appears to be the area that is lacking. Many of the ‘old school’ engineering staff somehow finds it hard to fit in with technologies. It’s not about the lack of good attitude to learn the new stuff. A few I spoke to lamented about management giving opportunities to younger staff or employing young graduates who have been trained. Simply put, little emphasis is placed on recurrent training and upgrading for existing staff. A bigger problem is the lack of commitment to review and revamp work processes to match up with new technologies.

    • 20 octopi 5 June 2012 at 15:58

      I concur. I worked with a firm that won an award for IT in the 1990s. They haven’t kept up: they are still using 90s technology. Maybe the management thinks that if they revamp to a new technology that they aren’t familiar with, they will be undermined?

      • 21 ape@kinjioleaf 7 June 2012 at 18:31

        That’s not what I meant.
        Companies do upgrade the equipment but failed to upgrade their staff and work process. If I may use the case of printing to illustrate. The old method requires mostly mechanics to maintain and repair the press. And a few more staff in the operations line. (Sorry. I’m not familiar with printing production) With technology and software, it appears that the mechanics and operators are made obsolete. Is that so? The operators will be replaced by the graphics designers instead of training them to be graphics designers. The mechanics will be retrenched since the impression is that all computerized, no repair needed. Really? You’ll need technician now right? Instead of employing fresh IT graduates, why can’t we retrain and reskill existing staff? That way they’ll still b e working in a familiar environment but different methods.

  8. 22 Fox 4 June 2012 at 14:24

    It is going to be difficult to develop our high tech manufacturing industries because private investors are generally reluctant to put money into these things when one can get safer and better returns in real estate and labour-intensive industries. The impetus to innovate in other counties is usually a result of manpower shortage. The Koreans and the Japanese do it not because they are in love with technology but because they have no other choice. On the other hand, Singapore has access to plenty of cheap unskilled foreign labour…

  9. 23 Erica 4 June 2012 at 19:06

    I’ve seen these printers working, and they are impressive, producing 3d objects from ribbons of plastic. Virtually any object is scanned then reproduced, so it’s like a 3d photocopier, reproducing even the little cogs inside objects.

    But as it makes it so easy to reproduce articles, which is already done in China with little concern for copyright, I wonder if the design aspect you promote will really be the moneymaker you imagine?

  10. 24 Tan Ah Kow 4 June 2012 at 19:27

    I remember back in the very late nineties, I had noticed, when I visited friends, in “backward” Northern England, the bus route were already printed starting from embarkation point to the endpoint. Anyway nitpicking aside, it is worth noting that small batch manufacturing technologies and techniques are nothing new.

    Back in the eighties, when Japan, as China is now considered, to be the power to take over the world, you had Just-In-Time (JIT), Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) and crucially, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM). CAD/CAM was the technology to realise JIT/FMS. JIT/FMS were the philosophical under pining to achieve small batch manufacturing and the holy grail was (still is) batch of one. So in technological terms, not much has changed in terms of delivering a “manufactured” product from design to end-product. 2D/3D printing technology is in essence a evolutionary change in technological terms.

    In the Singapore context, I believe training in the use and potential of CAD/CAM was already quite advanced some 30, if not 20 years, ago. I remember visiting UK academics were marvelling at how our polytechnics had training aids that were more advanced than their institutions. It is also worth noting that we once had a thriving mould making industry — an industry where manufacturing batch size of one is very common. So if the potential of those technologies were not exploited to fashion an industrial based more suited to our constrained resources, why would that changed with the advent of “new” manufacturing such as 3D printing?

    One area of technology where it had tremendous potential to build a suitable “industrial” based is the Internet. Remember some 20 years ago, if not earlier, we had the IT2000 initiative. Question, where are the Singapore’s Google, YouTube, Skype, Facbook, etc?

    As for Financial Services, whilst I agree that it is unhealthy to be reliant on such a skittish based, I don’t think that the kind of Financial Services that we have now are kind you will find in London and New York or likely to derived from formal training.

    I suspect that kind of financial services that are currently based in Singapore are largely transactional types — i.e. take someone’s money and hand it over to London to do the “wealth management”. In other words, many of those companies don’t invent financial “products” in Singapore. Transactional stuff are easier to tax so it would make sense for those to be based offshore in tax haven like in Singapore. Manufacturing financial “products” — i.e. coming up with smart algorithms, etc – and selling the products can stay in the London or New York.

    It is also worth noting that all these complex “products” are often developed not by people going through formal financial services training but from people stemming from other disciplines or people (often with no degrees) working from the ground up — i.e. highly motivated entrepreneurial and high risk taking types. Whether Singapore has the DNA for such types remains to be seen. One things for sure, in this industry, a “scholar” tag is not going to get you anywhere, so anyone wanting to purse such a degree, beware that at the end of it you may not be guaranteed a job!

  11. 25 walkie talkie 4 June 2012 at 20:50

    Offset-printing is still the main way of doing mass printing today as it is the cheaper than digital printing for large quantity. It is also of a much higher quality than digital printing (e.g. in terms of position-accuracy). So for huge quantity (e.g. 1000 cps or higher), offset printing is cheaper in price (be it unit price or total price) and better in quality.

  12. 26 Anonymous 4 June 2012 at 21:52

    Hi Alex
    It seems to me that the new manufacturing industry will not employ as many people as the traditional manufacturing sector, but the pay and working conditions for the jobs in the new technologies sector will be better. This, to me, is good, but raises the question of whether we should try to increase the population in singapore. It is unlikely that we can create enough jobs for a larger population, even if we are successful in setting up the new technologies sector. To me, we should be looking into growing this new technologies industry and at the same time, stablise the population rather than try to increase it further. The end result would, hopefully, be better jobs with good wages for Singaporeans and a Singapore with a smaller population that puts less strain on our resources and infrastructure. Unfortunately, our government seems bent on growing our population further, rather than entertaining the possibility of a Singapore with a smaller population in which the average guy is better off.

  13. 27 Anonymous 4 June 2012 at 21:59

    nike has a new series of shoes that is customised and manufactured in the retail shop. i can see the end of sweat shops making branded sports shoes.

  14. 28 Luther Blissett 4 June 2012 at 23:11

    In Singapore, Engineers are rewarded with low wages and job competition from Pinoy, PRC and Indians. Some end up jobless after the age of 40.
    The top local talent are lured by high return from the finanicial sector. They are more interested in splitting the cake than to bake it.
    A good example is SMRT. They should be an Engineering company and sell our technical and operational know how to other countries to generate more income.and keep the fare low. Instead it has become a low value landlord..

    • 29 CK 5 June 2012 at 11:06

      The reason for the so-called job competition from foreigners for engineering jobs is because no Singaporean want to be an engineer anymore.

      I work in the electronics industry and have attended numerous jobs fairs at our two local unis, and 9 out of 10 students who visit our booth are foreign students.

      If we cannot even attract our local students to study engineering what hope do we have that we can build on the new manufacturing technologies relying only on foreign talent?

      • 30 Poker Player 6 June 2012 at 11:03

        Really? Ask parents of children who had to go overseas for an engineering education after poly because the government decided that 25% tertiary educated citizens is the upper limit (the shortfall they can get from job fairs in China and India) who had to deplete their savings.

        In the 80’s and 90’s a Singapore engineering poly grad was UK plate glass University standard. He/she just had the misfortune of having parents who voted for a govt that decided they wanted a big “upper” working class.

      • 31 ingénieur 6 June 2012 at 21:33

        Will engineering or manufacturing technologies be an advantage inherent to Singapore? Icelanders can harness geothermal energy and probably become technological leaders in that aspect. Without either inherent cost structure (geysers everywhere!) or first-mover (I got to the geyser first!) advantage, it can only be a sisyphean task of incubation via targeted spending. Case in point, the German solar industry, initially subsidised heavily by the government, being outmanipulated by dumping-priced Chinese produce. The former may have the systematic know-how to approach any new technology, but the cost structure of building it in Germany will surely not outlast the long lifespan of hot Chinese subsidies.

        Can we converge material streams through Singapore to manufacture something that the world wants (product margin and quantity),
        at a cost structure that is sustainable in all aspects (labour, land, R&D, material, energy, etc.),
        and is not reproducible elsewhere (monopolistic advantage)?

        Seems like our high land and COE prices are the only things non-reproducible and relatively sustainable, which led us to the present convergence of capital streams.

  15. 32 cwk 4 June 2012 at 23:17

    im from the media industry,but if the rest of singapore is anything like the media industry here, chances are that singapore will never own any patent for theses technologies, and likely chances are that foreign cooperation will enjoy the various funding, while employing singaporeans in entry level positions.

    Im not trying to flame any anti foreigners sentiments, but we all should know by now about how conducive singapre are to singaporeans

  16. 33 qjb 6 June 2012 at 22:42

    I am completely ignorant about industrial technology or manufacturing. But I have been looking at Russia (IT wizards; and industry of counter-hacking and anti-virus protection) and China’s tech research (trying to duplicate entire high-tech industries down to building whole cities aimed to produce the next latest trend and the fact is that Singapore is not hungry at all in the same ways that these developing economies are. I don’t think that there is an attitude of going to work every morning trying to think of a more intuitive/efficient way of doing things with technology (Apple’s success) or for example, looking at a 3D printer for the first time and brainstorming for all the possibilities that could come out of it like in the Scandinavian countries for example where design is a huge thing. I think on one hand the MNC culture plays a large part; but also Singaporean firms are limited by the market, they can’t really produce trivial stuff in large volumes and hope that it sells somehow like China can? It seems more cost effective to just be part of the production line and reap average rewards rather than innovate.

    • 34 octopi 7 June 2012 at 12:57

      Singapore is trying. Next time take the MRT to one-north and you will see: Biopolis, fusionopolis, similanjiao polis. Whether or not they succeed is another matter. The fact that you haven’t heard about them is not good news.

      You all can say what you want about Apple, but a good innovation culture is something that takes a long time to develop. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Bill Joy all have one thing in common: they were 20, 21 in 1975, which is when the first PCs were made. That’s how long these companies had to develop their innovation culture.

      Singapore’s bureaucrats, if they want to only look at short term performance measures, if they want to keep on having turf wars and refusing to collaborate with each other (a very negative trait in research), they will get fucked. Singapore has to go through a long process of older leaders with bad habits getting fucked and replaced by people who can foster an environment that gets you results. You cannot understand how great Apple is today without understanding how screwed up it was in the 90s.

      This is true for our bosses, and also true for the Singapore govt: we can tolerate them making mistakes, but we cannot tolerate them not learning from their mistakes.

      Building a great company in Singapore is crucial. Mediocre companies will eventually die, and then Singapore will be screwed. If we don’t produce world beating innovation, nothing will support our high cost of living.

      China and India can get their big labs from Google / Microsoft. They just have to say, “you want our markets, transfer us some technology in exchange”. Singapore doesn’t have that leverage. However IBM is setting up shop in Singapore and we’ll see what happens then.

  17. 35 PAP why fails 8 June 2012 at 08:40

    The trouble of Singapore,as far as I can see,is that we love to put very self-assured Generals to be field commanders in the very specialised areas for which they have absolutely no field experience,the key word is self-assured which prevent these very brilliant minds to learn field experience.
    I had the experience of working with an ex-General with a 7A distinctions in his “O” level,and it turned out to be a total disaster.this General is still in the field now with a different portfolio at CEO level.
    Further to that,our commander in chief is one such well known General.

  18. 36 Wee Kiam Peng 13 June 2012 at 04:10

    wow. quite a bit to digest. from the article about additive manufacturing in the economist to how singapore can survive come sundown. i was trying to find hits with “3d printer singapore” in google and found this. and definitely have to leave a mark.

    we sell 3d printers in Singapore. the durbie prusa mendel and the portabee. we especially loved the portabee as we designed the portabee to relate to asian habits. portabee is the 3d printer that could be packed into a laptop bag in a few seconds. think of foldable bicycles.

    hope to share a bit of how we are trying hard to fight the war against conformism in Singapore. starting the sort of company (Engineering) has not been easy as it has been difficult to lure the ‘talents’ out of their ‘conformist’ and ‘comfortable’ jobs they hold.

  19. 37 R 26 June 2012 at 05:25

    This is a late comment, but I want to talk about my experience in Singapore and what I know about it.

    I work in this field (interaction design, physical computing and maker-tech) and the sad brutal truth is that Singapore will never leap at it because it cannot grasp the idea that science is not “elite”. My background is in philosophy and art history, and later I self-taught myself new technologies as part of creating my own artwork. One of the places I seek funding was in SG but they refused to fund any of my work or research citing that I didn’t have the proper credentials.

    The problem that Singapore doesn’t recognise – new technologies like makerfaire and pcomp and openframeworks AREN’T in the domain of “science” or “arts” or “design”. They reside in this weird space of “both” where anyone and everyone is capable of learning, creating and making WITHOUT requiring a paper qualification. You don’t need to be a computer scientist to make interactive design or immersive projections; nor do you really need anything else besides an idea and a healthy dose of determination. I managed to get meetings with One North and other government officials but they didn’t understand the value of the work and/or were trying to severely underpay my services by citing “patriotism” (would our ministers take a paycut for the sake of the country, as they tried with me?) In the end, I moved to New York city because we weren’t technologically advanced/this industry didn’t exist yet.

    It bothers me a lot because this new form of mass manufacture is very close to reaching critical mass with centers such as Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, California, RCA/London, Vancouver as large concentrations of fabrication labs. Some of these places like Amsterdam, have been investing in this technology for years and there’s no way we can ever catch up – especially since China has surged forward and poured billions doing so with Synthetic Times (biggest media show in 2000s) and Tsinghua University’s media department.

    In Singapore? we haven’t started at all. Whenever I go back home during CNY, it shocks me how much we think we’re so developed and forward when we are falling behind in terms of educating our youth about the *coming* future and technologies that are here now/will be coming soon. It kills me so so SO much to see the new Art+Com installation at Terminal 1 Singapore – done by my professors in Berlin/UdK; bought for billions of dollars and could be taught and done by Singaporeans. We could have done it. They never gave us a chance.

    • 38 honeypotraider 26 June 2012 at 20:20

      Hi R,

      I totally get how you felt, myself having grown up in SIngapore. I have since left the country, some ten years ago, the only way I can briefly say about SIngapore’s education system is that, it is a great big sugar refining factory, the end product pure as it is, is no sweeter than it will be.

      The maker movement seems real enough, and growing, I think the world’s economic recession might have precipitated it. For myself is trained in engineering but never left my interest in Art, a lot of my hobbies and craft combines both, likewise I can see the simple argument everyone should learn to program and can do so.

      Come see a small selection of my stuff I have publish on Instructables:

      http://www.instructables.com/member/Corrugator+Supercilii/

  20. 39 hayden 27 September 2012 at 13:44

    3D printing is indeed here in Singapore. www. 3dmatters.com.sg


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