The Changing Face of Manufacturing
By Melissa Joan Leong

Singapore's manufacturing industry has evolved from a labour-intensive to a research and knowledge-based one, steadily increasing its GDP contribution and generating more jobs.

The manufacturing industry contributes significantly to the economic growth of Singapore; about a third of the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP). In January 2008, manufacturing showed a promising 11.7% growth and is expected to grow 5% in 2008.

Electronics and precision engineering are the industry's most established sectors. Electronics is the largest manufacturing contributor, while the increasingly diverse precision engineering sector accounts for one out of four jobs.

Electronics generates an annual total output of S$75 billion, employs 90,933 workers and contributes about 7.15% of Singapore's annual GDP. Key electronics sectors here include:

Singapore is an important destination for all major global semiconductor companies. From R&D, manufacturing, supply-chain management, logistics and distribution to HQ activities, Singapore offers a comprehensive environment for players in the semiconductor industry. There are 14 wafer fabrication plants, 20 assembly and test companies, and about 40 Integrated Circuit (IC) Design centres here, which all make use of advanced manufacturing equipment. Solar energy and photovoltaic technologies are emerging growth sectors.

Computer Peripherals
Over a span of 30 years, the computer industry has grown greatly, producing PCs, servers, computer peripherals and point-of-sale products. The sector grew by 14.1% year-on-year in February 2008. Some of the world's top Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) companies are located in Singapore, engaging in operations such as design and regional management. Key players include Flextronics, Venture, Sanmina-SCI and Celestica.

Data Storage
As early as 2005, Singapore already accounted for 25% of the global market share for disk media. In recent years, Singapore has achieved a leadership position in manufacturing hard disk media, a key component of hard disk drives. Companies like Seagate and Hitachi Global Storage have major investments here.

Info-communications & Consumer Electronics
As consumers become more techno-savvy and willing to spend on luxuries, the demand for digital media products such as flat panel TVs and DVD recorders has grown. Singapore's aim to be a media hub has also led to a greater need for info-communications technologies. Due to the established full value chain of services for manufacturing, more global companies have been attracted to Singapore to tap on the growing consumer electronics market.

Precision Engineering
The precision engineering (PE) industry is growing fast in Singapore. Output in 2007 was S$24 billion, and is expected to reach S$28 billion by 2018. The value chain of the industry covers the design and manufacturing of systems, precision modules and components that are needed for the end products of various industries. Currently, Singapore PE companies serve 70% of the global market for semiconductor wire bonder units, 60% for auto axial insertion machines and 10% for household refrigerator compressors.

Major semiconductor and industrial equipment manufacturers are located here, as Singapore offers cost-effective manufacturing solutions for a wide range of applications. In an effort to improve the quality of the PE workforce, the Singapore government has also launched a $76 million PE Manpower Initiative. It will be carried out over the next 5 years to train and upgrade 2,000 professionals.

Up-and-Coming: Solar Wafer Mannufacturing
In March 2008, a S$20 million Solar Capability Scheme was introduced to encourage businesses to diversify their energy sources. Helping to promote the use of solar panels for new buildings, the scheme is a huge step forward in developing Singapore's solar energy industry cluster.

Moreover, NorSun is investing US$300 million into a new solar wafer factory here, which will be the Norwegian company's largest production centre in the world. The factory is expected to produce 120 million mono-crystalline wafers a year, which can generate up to 350 megawatts of power.

The high-end solar wafers will be the first of their kind in Singapore, and the first phase of the new plant is scheduled for completion in the third quarter of 2010. For this phase alone, about 300 people will be hired. Following the Renewable Energy Corporation, NorSun is the second solar wafer manufacturer to set up operations here, a testament to how Singapore continues to be highly competitive in complex manufacturing activities.

Exciting Developments
Other recent developments and international collaborations have cemented Singapore's position as a sustainable world-class manufacturing hub.
In April 2008, Panasonic Factory Solutions Asia Pacific Private Limited (PFSAP) transferred the latest Surface Mount Technology (SMT) machine, CM602, to Singapore and launched a new Auto-Insertion (AI) platform. This is a milestone for Singapore's capabilities in complex equipment manufacturing, and demonstrates the trust that international companies have in the industry's research and development capabilities.

Earlier in March 2008, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) set up its first R&D pilot plant in Singapore. Meant to support the company's expansion into Asia, the S$116 million plant now hires a team of 45 scientists and technicians from Singapore, the UK and US. GSK is looking to recruit up to 20 more synthetic chemists for its only R&D facility in Asia. German electronics company Rohde & Schwarz has also set up its first regional headquarters in Singapore, and hopes to double the number of R&D staff it employs.

Singapore has become the choice destination for high-value manufacturing investments because of the emphasis that the country has placed on manufacturing innovation. Singapore's target is to increase R&D expenditure to 3% of GDP by 2010, or $7.5 billion per annum, with two-thirds of it being private research. With such a conducive environment for manufacturing research and international collaborations, Singapore's reach as a manufacturing hub is set to expand even further.

Job Opportunities
Currently, major employers include Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, Infineon Technologies, Rockwell Automation, Solectron Technology, United Test and Assembly Center, Amtek Engineering, Fujitec Singapore and Yamazaki Mazak Singapore.

As the manufacturing industry gets increasingly diversified, the number of jobs available for global talents will also grow exponentially. Whether you are an IC designer or a wafer fabrication engineer, the career options open to you in manufacturing here are vast. Emerging sectors like solar energy and the arrival of global companies also point towards sustained development in the industry, which will create long-term job prospects in Singapore for manufacturing talents from all over the world.