Engineering greater efficiency

WHEN Lucas Fong joined Lingjack Engineering Works in 2010, the firm's engineering department was undergoing a modest change: switching from 2D drawing software for product designs to digital 3D modelling.

Mr Fong has since risen from being an engineer to becoming Lingjack's senior engineering manager - and has overseen a much more dramatic transformation.

In 2016, Lingjack moved towards automation. The idea was not to overhaul the entire approach, but to replace specific manual processes.

These included simple, repetitive tasks such as transferring materials from one machine to another; spray-painting the fully-formed cylinders; or lifting empty extinguishers into place to be filled.

"All these repetitive jobs can be done by robots," says Mr Fong. Fourteen robotic arms were thus added at various points in the production line.

Other tasks that were particularly suited for automation included those that required precision. Lingjack therefore invested in automated machines for laser-cutting and bending metal sheets.

The firm has benefited from the resulting rise in accuracy and quality, and is better able to tackle ad hoc specifications or new orders.

Lingjack's workers, too, have gained. Previously, they had to manually cut and bend metal to meet various product specifications, and move stacks of material or half-formed products.

Now, with the laser-cutting and auto-bending machines programmed accordingly, they can stand back as robots do the heavy lifting. The robotic arms have also taken on dangerous tasks such as welding.

Not only has this made workers' jobs safer and less tedious, it has also increased their skills and hence their value, says Mr Fong: "The workers can concentrate on doing more important work."

Lingjack's production workers went for training to learn how to program the robotic arms - a big step up from their previous manual jobs.

The change was not necessarily easy. Many workers are old hands at the job, averaging more than 10 years with the company, says Mr Fong: "They know the process well."

But that is precisely why it was time to go one step further, he adds.

For their part, Lingjack's engineers learnt how to configure the automated machines and troubleshoot.

Speaking for both himself and the engineers in his team, he says: "It feels great to do more challenging work."

But just as satisfying for him was Lingjack's brave choice to transform: "Of course it felt great. It is the correct vision for us to go forward."

Brought to you by The Future Economy Council