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  Spurring Members to Adopt Technology
For years the PCM companies have been asked to mechanise. By replacing men with machines, the industry can tick many of the boxes – increase productivity, improve safety, reduce manpower and ensure better finishing – and lower the industry’s dependence on manpower, mostly foreign. Until recently, the industry has been slow to adopt mechanisation, as there is the usual resistance - if it is not broken, why fix it?
Things are beginning to change. “What we have done for the last two years is to create a lot of awareness on the tech solutions that are available in the market for adoption. To be honest with you, we do see more and more companies acquiring new capabilities that not only make the work safer, but also improve productivity,” said Mr Chua.
It is not just digital solutions, but also hardware such as equipment and robotics solutions. “We understand that some companies have also started collaborating with both local and overseas tech companies to bring in some of these latest technologies to Singapore,” he added.
Surmounting hurdles to adoption
In the past mechanisation was a bigger challenge for companies. CYC International for which Mr Chua is the Managing Director had to develop its own robots from scratch as none was available for tank cleaning. It required quite a bit of effort. Working with an Italian manufacturer in robotics, it took a year of going back and forth from manufacturing to commissioning before the first robot was completed.
As Mr Chua so vividly recalled, “I remember before the robot was ready, I was going around with a sandbox made of wood to provide a
three-dimensional kind of thing. I presented it to customers in order to assure them that ‘we know the robot can work, will work, we’ll make it work and whatever modification that we need, we are prepared to go for it’. It took a number of months of travelling to and fro, talking to the clients and understanding their requirements, and then in the late evening, we would go back to the European counterpart because of the time difference and then share with them. ‘This is what the clients need. They would say, ‘No, no, it cannot be done this way. How about I give you another idea.’ And the next day, I would go back to the clients again. So it’s a lot of selling and trying to solicit the kind of interests.”
Introduced in 2014, it was the first of its kind in Asia. It can crawl into the tank, suck out all the sludge, and at the same time is able to wash. “So effectively the robot does exactly what the human does inside the tank,” Mr Chua noted.
With the robot, only three workers are required to set up and operate it, with none working inside the tank. It would have required six to 18 workers, depending on the size and complexity, to clean a tank manually.
Apart from having to overcome technical issues, companies also had to deal with customer resistance and the occasional regulatory roadblocks, which could easily deter some companies from even trying. There is the moot issue of safety, and the experience of FRP Products is illustrative.
FRP has used centrifugal wheel type blasting machines for surface preparation since the mid- 90s. They are a cut over using hand powered tools as the machines not only remove rust, mill scales, paint and other surface contaminants, they also vacuum up the debris on completion, saving manpower and time, including hours spent on housekeeping.
But as the machines are being deployed at customers’ facilities, FRP must first get the clients to buy in, that the machines benefit them. It was not always easy. In the early days it was against the law to use the machines because the power capacity exceeded the legal limit of 110 volts. Centrifugal wheel type blasting machines have 400 volts.
“You got to convince not only the client but MOM. MOM would want to know more details before they could say yes or no,” said Mr Loh Lock Mun, Director of FRP Products.
Every time FRP had to use the machine for blasting, it had to apply for permission as approval was job specific. “There were a lot of challenges, so small players may not want to spend that kind of time,” he noted.
The process is a lot easier today on the regulatory front. “Nowadays they say everything you can do but tell us your integration procedure, how are you going to take care of the high risks. It is an easier process. It comes down to whether you want to do it, rather than you want to do it but face a lot of hurdles,” said Mr Loh.
Lowering bar for adoption of new technology
In more recent years, mechanisation has gained added currency as machines are more easily available at lower price points. The cost of not employing machines has also become more prohibitive. Apart from the ever-increasing FWs’ levy, companies also face difficulty in getting workers, which will adversely affect the ability to secure contracts.
To help industry members mechanised, the Process Industry Productivity Council’s Mechanisation Workgroup has scoured the world to compile a list of relevant tools and equipment which companies can adopt to mechanise

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