Robots as building blocks to SME success

Robots as building blocks to SME success

Commentary by Swaminathan Vangal-Ramamurthy, General Manager of Robotics Business Division, Omron Asia Pacific

SMEs in Singapore are a key component of our economy: they contribute to nearly half of Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) and make up more than 99 percent of Singaporean enterprises. In my conversations with leaders running SMEs, I’ve learned that they often find it challenging to plan for the long term, through no fault of their own. They are frequently constrained by daily business challenges like rising operating costs and lack of resources.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine swimming laps if you’re struggling to stay afloat. However, SMEs can gain an edge by looking to innovation and technology, by seizing the opportunities available to them that can help to propel their business forward.

As a country, Singapore already understands that to truly be a Smart Nation, we need to rapidly adopt technology in every aspect of our lives, to enhance efficiency and boost productivity. To harness technology to improve our lives and create economic opportunities. That’s no different for SMEs. What is going for SMEs is that being smaller in scale they are usually more nimble in their operations and can adapt to changes faster.

Robotics as a key enabler

With the modern consumer always wanting bigger, better, quicker products and services, robotics technology may just be the game changer that some SMEs need. Across industries, robots are already helping businesses overcome common challenges like manpower shortage and resource wastage.

Robots are also becoming smarter, cheaper to install, and easier to operate. In manufacturing, robotics can potentially boost productivity as they operate 24/7, have little to no downtime, and can even aid in predictive maintenance.

More importantly, robotics, with precision technology, can offer higher quality processes and create a safer work environment. Additionally, in today’s manufacturing landscape where products are increasingly customised and regularly updated, robotics can offer quick product changeover through flexible and highly reconfigurable production lines.

But will robots replace humans?

In reality, robots can work alongside humans, giving us a better quality of life. For one, robots can take on the menial and mundane tasks, allowing human workers to focus on more stimulating work with higher job satisfaction. Human workers can also be upgraded as they get reskilled and are retrained to operate these robots.

Robots have evolved

Robots today have evolved from their complex, bulky, and highly immobile past. Many robots are now even wearable! Increasingly, I’ve encountered operators with minimal engineering or IT knowledge quickly trained to use these robots. This is fantastic for introducing robots into service sectors like healthcare and hospitality, where detailed IT knowledge shouldn’t be a prerequisite.

In today’s disruptive business environment, successful businesses will need to think on their feet to survive. Many SMEs will need to constantly reinvent themselves and adopt a business model that best works for them or be overtaken.

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