1,000 SMEs and 50,000 workers in food manufacturing sector to benefit from new digitalisation boost

SINGAPORE – It used to take six people at Tiong Lian Food an hour to cut through and process 40 sides of pork, but thanks to a new automation system, they can now break down 50 to 60 sides of pork, which is between 25 and 30 whole pigs.

Managing director Benson Teo said it cost about $7 million since 2018 to purchase and incorporate the conveyor belt system, and its other digital tools.

But the new process has helped boost productivity and reduced manual labour in other functions such as stocktaking.

Mr Teo, 58, visited other food manufacturing facilities in countries such as Australia, Germany and Thailand before investing in these new tools.

While it has only been a few months since the firm incorporated these digital solutions, Mr Teo said they have already seen visible benefits.

During a visit to Tiong Lian Food’s facility in Pandan Loop on Thursday (April 1), Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling announced the launch of a new industry digital plan to help firms in the food manufacturing industry develop digital capabilities and improve their processes.

Around 1,000 food manufacturers and more than 50,000 workers in the industry will benefit from it, she said.

Under the plan, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food manufacturing industry learn through a step-by-step guide on digital solutions.

There will also be training programmes available for their workers.

Ms Low said it is intended to help more food manufacturers reap productivity gains and streamline their operations, as well as lower costs and expand revenue channels, through digitalisation.

This industry plan will help firms identify their digital gaps and chart solutions suitable for their growth needs, she added.

Noting that Tiong Lian’s automation solutions have also allowed for the redesigning of jobs, which makes some of the roles less labour-intensive, she said: “I think this makes the job position more attractive to younger people, and also to some part-timers, because it actually lowers the barrier to entry into the industry.”

She added that this would also help SMEs recruit and retain talent, as employees would have the confidence that the firm would invest in them.

Ms Low Yen Ling (far left) during a visit to Tiong Lian Food’s facility in Pandan Loop on April 1, 2021.  ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Under the plan, employees can learn about social media marketing strategies, automation and digitalisation in food manufacturing, and robotics applications.

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In a joint release on Thursday, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said more advanced skills are also available to other employees who use more sophisticated technologies in their work, such as developing chatbots and cloud computing.

Firms can also look to adopt digital solutions which can help them in product authentication and the maintenance of machinery.

The plan was jointly developed by ESG and IMDA, following consultation with early adopters of digital solutions, as well as industry partners such as the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and the Food Innovation and Resource Centre.

The digital roadmap for the industry will be updated over time as new technologies are introduced to the sector.

ESG assistant chief executive Dilys Boey said: “The food manufacturing industry must accelerate its pace of digitalisation to deal with challenges, such as changing consumer preferences and disruptions to supply chain.

“By making use of digital tools to reap higher efficiencies, optimise resources and access new customers, our companies will be able to raise their competitive edge and scale up.”

Mr Kiren Kumar, deputy chief executive of the IMDA, added that the food manufacturing plan is a practical resource for food manufacturers to use digital tools to ensure food safety and traceability, as well as automate labour-intensive tasks and access new markets.

“It is essential that SMEs in this sector build their digital capabilities, given the shifts in today’s operating environment, with consumer preferences for sustainable products and online purchases, as well as employee demand for upskilling and higher value-added jobs.”

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