Future-proofing Malaysian manufacturing operations with AI: CEO insights

future-proof manufacturing Malaysia
Image by World Image | Bigstockphoto

Industry leaders are using various steps to address the challenges of surviving and thriving in the coronavirus pandemic. One recent example of a move to future-proof manufacturing operations with AI-driven automation in Malaysia is the collaboration between speciality memory and storage manufacturer SMART Modular Technologies (SMART) and multinational technology company IBM.

SMART’s memory components are embedded in systems that face some of the most demanding physical conditions, from military and aviation to outer space applications where extreme quality is a truly critical performance benchmark. 

Vejay Kumar, general manager of SMART explained that the company’s manufacturing operations in Penang, Malaysia is the key supply chain operations centre for Asia’s demanding electronics market and is also a centre of excellence for transformative product manufacturing for SMART’s global business.

SMART will deploy IBM Maximo Visual Inspection integrated with AI-powered collaborative robots (COBOTS) to develop innovative manufacturing solutions while empowering its workforce with the latest technology skills.

Vejay Kumar & Catherine Lian

This move will enhance and automate one of SMART’s core specialities – that of examining memory chips under a microscope for defects such as cracked solder joints, damaged components, or any other kinds of defects in a traditional manufacturing process environment. These manual inspections require highly specialised experts and are time-consuming. The prolonged process, in turn, leads to production delays. “We are gearing up the implementation of Industry 4.0 to future-proof our businesses,” said Kumar. “A highly digitized manufacturing operation is instrumental in enabling us to be highly productive, boost efficiency and product quality, as well as collaborate with an upskilled workforce. We expect the automated inspection process will help increase our production yield by 10% while increasing overall production throughput by 20%.”

SMART is to receive all the requisite tools and training from IBM to adopt and utilise the emerging technologies through a series of enablement and design thinking workshops on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Hybrid Cloud and IoT. 

Industry 4.0 technologies in the pandemic

“Manufacturing is becoming increasingly more efficient, modular, and automated,” Catherine Lian, managing director, IBM Malaysia, commented during the announcement. “To reach its full potential, it is imperative for the industry to continue to embark on futureproofing measures by incorporating Industry 4.0 technologies in their digital transformation.”

Speaking later to Disruptive.Asia, Lian went into further detail on state of automation in Malaysia.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation. Having a strong digital foundation is no longer just seen as a source of competitive advantage, but an existential priority,” she said. “Organisations are seeing the value of an open hybrid platform, deploying AI and automation to make critical business processes more intelligent and responsive. No matter what business disruption might come their way.”

Catherine Lian

The IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV) 2021 CEO Study revealed that 39% of Malaysia’s CEOs surveyed recognised AI as one of the top technologies that will deliver benefits for them.

Indeed, 60% of the CEOs surveyed trust that Cloud will be the key enabler of agility. However, while adoption is poised for growth, the Global AI Adoption Index 2021 found that some businesses are still facing many challenges when it comes to adopting AI. In addition, persistent barriers across markets and industries highlight the need for continued focus on addressing skills and solutions gaps.

Lian also cites the recent Malaysian government’s MyDIGITAL, which refreshes plans to accelerate Malaysia’s progress as a technologically advanced economy through the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint. 

“The combination of 5G capabilities with latest technologies such as AI, machine learning, advanced analytics and blockchain will support the digital transformation of many Malaysian industries and drive Malaysia’s future growth trajectory,” she said.

“AI is slated to unlock $15.7 trillion in productivity by 2030; it has the potential to not only boost economic growth but improve the livelihoods of millions around the world, including Malaysia,” Lian continued. “As Malaysia plans to move towards a digitally-driven, high-income nation and a regional leader in the digital economy, we are eager to see Malaysia continue to push this transformation forward.”

Potential impact

Taking the tie-up with SMART as an example, Lian believes Asia’s electronics market will be among the immediate beneficiaries of the IBM-SMART collaboration.

“As you know, SMART’s manufacturing operations in Penang, Malaysia, is a key supply chain operations centre for the Asia electronics markets as well as a centre of excellence for transformative product manufacturing for their global business,” she affirmed. 

“Leveraging IBM Maximo Visual Inspection integrated with AI-powered collaborative robots (Cobots) will help SMART to develop innovative manufacturing solutions while empowering its workforce with the latest technology skills.” 

Collaborative robots (Cobots) present an optimistic future in manufacturing. However, Cobots show that AI and automation aren’t made to replace human jobs, Lian explained.

“They’re made to work with employees to create products faster and with more precision. They also utilise smart technology, with downloadable applications that make it easy for someone with little to no programming experience to develop a set of commands for their bots with just a few taps from their tablet or smartphone.”

“Some units are also extremely mobile and can adapt to different types of tasks,” she added. “It’s this combination of collaboration, versatility, and accessibility that make Cobots appealing to manufacturers and investors everywhere. With the industry’s value continuing to rise, cobots may become a staple in every manufacturing firm’s production floor.”

“Since SMART’s product offerings are designed for diverse applications ranging from IIoT, Networking, Industrial, Data Centre, Point-of-Sales, Transportation, Military, Aviation to Outer space, the collaboration with IBM will certainly benefit these industries as well,” Lian explained.

She also pointed out that manufacturing is one of the key pillars of economies in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, including Malaysia. According to GlobeNewswire, APAC is the largest general manufacturing market globally, accounting for 43% of the global market.

“With the advent of the IR 4.0 revolution, the world’s largest manufacturing hub will experience significant shifts as connectivity becomes the backbone of next-generation factories, where AI, machine learning, cloud computing and IoT are being embraced to unleash technology-driven smart manufacturing.”

“The collaboration between IBM and SMART will also support Malaysia’s agenda for IR4.0,” Lian concludes. “In order to achieve these development objectives, technology implementation such as AI, big data analytics, Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality is the way forward. The infrastructure provides cloud-based tools for creating smart solutions, services and applications, through enabling smart devices and sensors in a simple and standardised manner.” 

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