Lessons on collaboration from Singapore

Singapore’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre is a public-private collaboration led by Singapore’s A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and Nanyang Technological University.

ARTC was officially launched in 2015. It links three tiers of members with public researchers. It is one pocket within the A*Star universe dedicated to keeping manufacturing relevant.

ARTC has around 280 staff, with 55 PhD students and interns, and focusses on six technology themes. These include the industrialisation of additive manufacturing, data-driven surface enhancement, and advanced robotics.

Projects are strictly within Technology Readiness Levels 4 and 6. Projects run on a cycle between six and 12 months.

“1 – 3 is the domain of the universities, and 7, 8, 9 is the companies themselves. We focus on the commercialisation valley of death,” explains Dr Bertil Brandin, Strategic Development Director at ARTC.

“We take these technologies only if our members are interested in developing them already. We pull them. We have an end user in mind already, so the success rate is much higher than just having someone push.”

If an industrial problem needs more time, then it’s a job for another cycle, as long as it’s still within TRL 4 – TRL 6. One collaboration mentioned has been through five such iterations.

Seventy-seven multinational companies have invested in the first tier of membership, 27 solution providers/integrators in the second, and 33 SMEs in the third. Only a “very small” number of 440 projects so far have failed, according to Brandin.

Membership is not cheap. Project funding levels, depending on membership fees collected, are known at the year’s beginning. Local SMEs pay much less than Halliburton or Siemens, for examples, but have fewer voting rights on projects pursued.

“Their main incentive is to help the larger companies and then get the contract afterwards,” says Brandin of the model.

The tour includes mention of a project involving Rolls-Royce and Singapore Aero Engine Services, examining automated batch spraying of protective coating on engine fan blades. Another has applied robotics to industrial cleaning with dry ice blasting, developed with local company AmpTech Industrial Innovation.

Brandin’s opinion is that the high overall success rate is the result of manageable, short-term, well-defined projects.

“You divide and conquer to make sure you can tackle that problem; we cut it into small pieces and make sure that if we do fail, we fail very quickly,” he offers.  

This is an edited version of an article by Brent Balinski that appeared at @AuManufacturing. The original version can be read here.