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Leading automation companies in ASEAN give their thoughts on the challenges, trends, and opportunities in the year ahead as the world begins to emerge from a global pandemic.


Allied Vision Technologies

Chris Zou, senior manager – Marketing Asia Pacific, Allied Vision Technologies

Q: What market challenges do you foresee in 2021?

2020 has not been an easy year for all manufacturing companies. With the continuous impact of pandemic, we think that 2021 would be equally challenging and companies are expected to battle under an uncertain market environment. 

Most companies have to change their business operation models, make sure to introduce innovative products to stay competitive, but at the same time to prepare for possible market recovery.

Q: What is your strategy for market growth in 2021?

Under an uncertain market environment, we will first ensure to protect our current client base. Meanwhile, we must see what improvements and business models we can bring to better help our clients to succeed in the coming year. We will leverage more digital tools to enhance interactions with our clients as well as to develop more potential new customers. 

Product-wise, we will focus on providing cost-effective products and solutions to our clients so they can minimise their overall system cost to gain more profits. Helping our customers to get through the difficult time is the priority and it can secure our business too.

Q: What market and technology trends from 2021 onwards do you expect will have the biggest impact on your business? 

Challenges always come along with opportunities. We believe that the pandemic will speed up the upgrading of industry automation. More machine sensors will be introduced to further automate the manufacturing process and thus to decrease the dependency on human workers. 

Many companies will be ‘forced’ to upgrade their manufacturing processes to embrace real upgrading to automation. Artificial intelligence, 5G, blockchain technologies will apply more in the manufacturing processes, out of which machine vision is a very critical part. As a leading player in the machine vision industry, we will definitely benefit from such trends. 

Q: What bright spots and opportunities for growth do you see in 2021?

Machine vision is the ‘eye’ of industry automation. Together with logic control, motion control, data acquisition, communication network and other functions, machine vision can achieve high precision image recognition, detection, visual positioning, object measurement, sorting and many other manufacturing tasks. 

However, conventional machine vision applications based on PCs have its drawbacks and limitations due to bigger size, higher cost, and less intelligence. Thanks to the development of embedded technology and artificial intelligence, typical machine vision applications like defect detection, dimension measurement can be easily achieved with embedded vision, which is much smaller, cost- effective and more intelligent. 



Mr Lim Khay Guan, CEO and MD, Endress+Hauser Singapore

Q: What market challenges do you foresee in 2021?

The Covid-19 pandemic will continue to weigh heavily on the economy with uneven impact and recovery even if the vaccine becomes available in 2021. 

The US-China tensions, the rise of unemployment and the deep global recession will continue to inhibit demand. The scarring of the economy due to the pandemic will take several years to heal. Curtailment of capital spending and deferment of investments due to the sharp decline in oil prices will continue to dampen market growth. 

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) forecasts the global GDP growth to return to trend during 2022 but from a lower end-2021 level, on a permanently lower trajectory. The three worst hit sectors (travel-related, consumer-facing and construction) will continue to rebound but will remain substantially below pre-Covid levels. 

These domestic-oriented sectors generate significant negative spillover effects on the economy because the loss in final demand creates ripple effects in the supply chain and weakens wages and household consumption.

Q: What is your strategy for market growth in 2021?

As a family-owned business, Endress+Hauser takes an organic view that is based on long term sustainable growth. Even during economic downturns, we remain robust and resilient due to our diversity and focus. 

We serve seven diverse industries which have different economic cycles and dynamics. Our twin engines of Project and MRO sales teams ensure that we are structured to stay focused without compromise on both long and short sales cycle activities during good and bad times. 

Our ONE Business Process Management (BPM) approach guided by our Lean Culture will reduce waste and break silos, delivering a seamless customer experience from end-to-end. We grow through customer retention and increase in share of wallet through value optimisation of their production assets. 

We increase market access with new channels in segments like OEM and system integrators for both domestic and export markets. We innovate with new solutions and collaborate with tertiary institutes, government agencies and industry partners to promote Industry 4.0.

Q: What market and technology trends from 2021 onwards do you expect will have the biggest impact on your business?

Covid-induced accelerated digital transformation and the deployment of 5G networks may open new opportunities to deploy new cyber-physical systems. 

The ability to harness data as an asset underpinned by advanced analytics, cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence will be decisive.

Q: What bright spots and opportunities for growth do you see in 2021?

We anticipate that the life science industry and the water/waste water industry will remain bright spots in 2021. 

The de-carbonisation drive to transform Singapore into a ‘Bright Green Spark’ would provide opportunities for participation in the value chain from generation to storage, transportation and end use of green energy alternatives like LNG and hydrogen.



Carsten Haecker, head of Asia Pacific, igus Singapore

This time, it is different, it is difficult — a somewhat overused phrase I have heard many times in recent weeks and months but truly it is. Though we have seen some recovery from a global impact none of us would have imagined 12 months ago, we are clearly in for a bumpy ride in the quarters ahead of us.

We are in the midst of a services-led recession; we are experiencing mild inflation, despite being at the edge of an economic contraction; and global government debts are rising at a pace that would be unimaginable just a year ago.

The continued need for social distancing measures and pandemic countermeasures to businesses will keep a lid on operating capacity, which will likely translate into further job losses and hurt aggregate demand. 

Geopolitical tensions continue to escalate globally, and there is a pretty decent probability that they have not been fully captured in the current market scenario yet.

The recent presidential election in the US which displayed a divided country will not help the economy either — it will be a recipe not only for more gridlock and ineffective governance but also for economic harm to nearly all people and places, globally.

In light of the desperate need for a broad, historic recovery from the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic, sustainable economic policies, fair global trade and open economies should be placed at the top of the agenda.

It is widely expected that the future US government, led by incoming president, Joe Biden would see benefiting the healthcare and medical sector, semiconductor and technology segment in general as well as renewable eco-friendly resources, eg: solar, e-vehicles etc.

In the igus group, we were not spared from the pandemic and the respective impact on our businesses.  However, the situation also proved our drive for flexibility, our spirit and our global initiative for our products; tribology engineered plastics for moving applications.

Literally, within days we managed to adopt new concepts, new working environments, changed ways of communicating and the new normal of doing business. 

In igus, we see challenges as opportunities. We, in general, are confident for 2021 and beyond as our diversity of tribo polymer products – lubrication and maintenance-free – literally find an application in any industry, from health care to agriculture, from machine tools to large scale projects.

We have enhanced and developed our online tools which allow our customers to completely configure the products based on their requirements online, including a fully functional online experience, delivered in 24 hours.

Furthermore, we continued to extend our low-cost automation range of products; igus robolink, delta robots and portals with complete software solutions which can be directly downloaded free of charge from our web page.



Joe Lin, General Manager, NexAIoT

Q: What market challenges do you foresee in 2021?

The uncertainty of China–US trade war is expected to last more than 10 years. The global manufacturing company should double invest in China and Non-China to make the tariff and other trade barrier impacts as less as possible.

The business will suffer from the impact of Covid-19 until 2021. The market rebound in 2020 Q4 will not be sustainable and the global economic outlook is still pessimistic. 

There has been a surge of system component prices since the epidemic disrupted the supply chains in China in the beginning of the year. Even if many factories in China have resumed production, there are still problems such as the shortage of raw materials and the possibility of shutting down factories due to employee illness. The manufacturing business owner is facing the challenge of cost passthrough and shipping order uncertainty.

The business operating models, too, have come under pressure at companies facing great uncertainty. What is needed are new enterprise architecture designed to cope with the unprecedented conditions of 2020 and beyond. The business owner is in a dilemma of extra investment in embarking on a true digital transformation and sustaining current employees.  

Q: What is your strategy for market growth in 2021?

The market growth will be mainly in the Smart City and Smart Manufacturing market. 

The solution of NexAIoT in smart transportation including IP camera, NVR(Network Video Recorder), IoT Edge Gateway and health care equipment in medical solutions are expected to be in high demand globally. 

Besides, the uncertain impact of US and China trade war will accelerate the factory migration to US and SE Asia to serve the strong economy regions directly. The reshape of geographical-distributed supply chain and agile manufacturing will make the digital transformation booming. 

The precision-forecast of orders, fast-responding supply chain, low inventory and quick-shipment cycle will be the key factors to profit, therefore a digital operating HQ and Intelligent Operation Centre are mandatory to integrate the enterprise and manufacturing operation in real time managing and strategic action.

Q: What market and technology trends from 2021 onwards do you expect will have the biggest impact on your business?

5G IoT will be a key enabler for manufacturing to undergo a major generational shift to Industry 4.0. considering many of its technical capabilities have been designed with Industry 4.0 applications in mind. 

Besides. a full-blown pandemic in 2020 is forcing countless businesses to shutter and the global smart retailing market is still in downturn in the future two years. The service robot and industrial robot deployment in public areas and factories are expected to be on the rise since robots do not need masks, can be easily disinfected, and, of course, they do not get sick.

Q: What bright spots and opportunities for growth do you see in 2021?

Corresponding to the above answer, the industrial robot deployment in factories is expected to be increased. The impact of the US-China trade war and pandemic will accelerate the boundless digital operation of global business. 

The requirement of integration of OT and IT system, causing the surge of gateway & edge computing deployment. 

In addition, an enterprise war room is essential for the management team to do the decision making for the global business. 

NexAIoT is committed to assisting companies in digital transformation and providing one-stop industry 4.0 services, including industrial Internet of Things and automation products, industrial computers, Gateway, and Industry 4.0 customer system integration projects.


Schneider Electric

Tommy Leong, Zone President, East Asia & Japan, Schneider Electric

The past year has challenged communities, governments and businesses, large and small. At Schneider Electric, we are committed to deploying digital tools to support the resilience of our partners and clients’ business as well as our own, to help Asia’s economies rebound and reaffirm the region’s role as the world’s industrial powerhouse.  

Q: What market challenges do you foresee in 2021?

Across the region, the global pandemic has altered consumer behaviours and demand patterns. And while some businesses have been forced to transform to survive, others now have less capacity to evaluate or invest in new digital business models. 

We know 2021 will continue to challenge businesses as they adapt to an altered business landscape. Alongside the current economic uncertainty comes an increased pressure on budgets, so there will likely be a hesitation among some companies to invest large amounts of capital in new digital tools. 

Our aim is to present a compelling case for transformation, and demonstrate how digitalisation can make a profound difference to business resilience and growth, helping businesses to optimise efficiency and resource use and positively impact their bottom line. 

Q: What is your strategy for market growth in 2021?

We have a clear vision for Asia’s industrial sector and how it can build resilience, boost productivity and attract the best talent. This involves five key actions: rethinking and optimising operations, increasing agility, optimising supply chains, increasing cybersecurity, and operating ethically. 

Digital transformation is central to all, while also helping achieve sustainability goals, drive innovation and empower people and teams. Digitisation is our strategy for promoting resilience, to improve efficiency by enabling remote operations and management, and when combined with electrification and decarbonisation it can improve sustainability. Digitisation is central to how today’s businesses must work. 

We are on the ground, working with our customers across the region to kick-start and support their digital transformation journeys.  

Q: What market and technology trends from 2021 onwards do you expect will have the biggest impact on your business?

We expect to see more investment in the infrastructure needed to drive automation. The thinking about the future of work is evolving quickly due to the pandemic, but there has yet to be a wholesale transfer from man to machine. 

In Germany and Japan where they have the highest levels of industrial automation and deployment of automated robots, they have some of the lowest levels of unemployment. 

The pandemic will speed-up the adoption of automation in a range of business contexts including hospitals, offices and factories, enabling better training, remote monitoring and control of operations. It will also allow people to perform more rewarding, high-value tasks. 

We are also seeing the rapid emergence of smart factories, fundamentally changing the structure of value chains and manufacturing. The turbo-charged effect of smart technologies means factories can produce more while lowering their overall costs, reducing waste and increasing circularity. 

This is hugely important for the region given the impact Covid-19 has had on our industries, and we are excited to help businesses reap the benefits of smart factory technology. 

Q: What bright spots and opportunities for growth do you see in 2021?

We see digital solutions as not just the solution to business resilience, but as a business leveler. They enable small businesses to compete and collaborate with large organisations while enabling larger companies to incorporate a more bespoke approach. 

The increased attention to digital tools is a huge opportunity for us, and something we have been championing in recent years.

There is also the opportunity for businesses to refocus and double-down on their sustainability strategies. It is vital that the industrial sector steps up to encourage electrification and decarbonisation, combined with the power of digitisation for efficiency and sustainability – both for their bottom line and for the good of the planet. Now is the moment when businesses must commit to these goals.

Rethinking industry in this new normal requires bold moves and step change. We challenge our industry partners to embrace change, adopt digital tools for resilience, and commit to a more sustainable future. We are calling on industry to transform, as we lead the way. 



Alex Teo, MD and VP of Siemens Digital Industries Software for South East Asia

Q: What market challenges do you foresee in 2021?

Decentralised production models with short time-to-market and mass customisation capabilities worked in the past, but Covid-19 has underscored how vulnerable these production chains can be. 

With customers today demanding smarter and more personalised products, manufacturers have to rely on digital tools and solutions to navigate layers of complexity and data to provide hyper-personalised offerings and quality innovations – while remaining resilient amid changing market demands.

Next, safe production processes and remote working capabilities continue to be essential to ensure the safety and well-being of plant workers.  

Lastly, despite progress on vaccine development, how quickly they can be produced and efficiently distributed to the global population remains uncertain. Manufacturers need to re-examine their production chain strategy to navigate a global supply chain that continues to be disrupted.

Q: What is your strategy for market growth in 2021?

Our priority remains in helping customers address challenges unique to their organisation, and our growth strategy is anchored to this mission. Siemens Xcelerator – an integrated portfolio furnished with solutions like Cloud-based IoT, Digital Twins, Product Lifecycle Management tool and Additive Manufacturing – helps customers create end-to-end digital threads for their product and asset lifecycle, enabling continuous ingenuity in product performance and development.

Furthermore, we have partnered with education institutions like Singapore Polytechnic, government institutions like ARTC, and Southeast Asian (SEA) government programs like SkillsFuture Singapore to enhance the robustness and vibrancy of the regional manufacturing ecosystem – through R&D collaboration, resource and knowledge sharing. 

We also joined the Global Technology Innovation Village (GTiV), a consortium set up to share Singapore’s Industry 4.0 knowledge and technology with regional governments and business leaders.

Q: What market and technology trends from 2021 onwards do you expect will have the biggest impact on your business?

With supply and demand becoming increasingly uncertain, that brings production chain resiliency up the agenda for manufacturers. Key technologies spotlighted will include: 

Cloud-based applications and collaborative tools

Real-time information sharing and analysis of digital data streams from production equipment can help businesses make decisions on process optimisation, reducing downtime and maintenance costs significantly as problems are preempted.  

AI and IIoT 

IIoT and AI will continue to lead the trend of reshaping manufacturing. Advanced Planning and Scheduling software, powered by AI algorithms, can analyse critical operation data, allowing manufactures to generate reliable supply forecasts and optimise production schedules – especially critical in times where surge manufacturing has become a norm due to global supply chain disruptions. 

Digital Twin

Digital twins have helped manufacturers successfully pivot to the production of new products rapidly. Its ability to drive innovation and design optimisation is something we are likely to see manufacturers leveraging more in 2021. 

Additive manufacturing

Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of building local production capacity on demand. Beyond its immediate applications in healthcare, manufacturers will begin to tap on additive manufacturing more strategically to enhance local production capacity.

Workplace distancing solutions

Such solutions should be deployed to capture real-time employee movements and interactions on workfloors. Utilising the collected data, new manufacturing workflows can be simulated to optimise workfloor safe distancing.

Q: What bright spots and opportunities for growth do you see in 2021?

With the Covid-19 outbreak, global businesses are further diversifying their supply chains to include emerging SEA markets like Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. 

Additionally, enhanced economic and trade integration, along with the region’s commitment to infrastructural development and digitalisation, will continue to drive the growth of intra-regional manufacturing. 

In fact, the rapid adoption of Industry 4.0 technology in SEA will see a productivity gain worth up to US$627 billion.

Despite looming challenges in the months to come, opportunities are still aplenty – if manufacturers are adequately equipped with the capabilities and technology to ride the wave of change.


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