Scheme to help supply chain sector step up tech innovation

The logistics industry's embrace of high-tech innovation like warehouse automation is well established, but it is going up a gear here thanks to an initiative announced this week.

Supply Chain Asia (SCA), which represents the supply chain and logistics industry, has launched a tech accelerator programme to drive innovation.

Around 60 start-ups will be matched with companies over the next two years, giving them the chance to test their solutions while also boosting the supply chain industry's move into the digital world.

Start-ups have already come up with ideas that can impact the sector, with innovations like high-tech vests that help supervisors track a worker's movements and productivity, and even light up in different colours depending on the job being done.

Augmented-reality headsets are also being tested so supervisors can see extra information about various parts of the warehouse or even staff profiles when they enter a work area.

SCA president Paul Lim told The Straits Times: "For the start-ups, it's not just about getting investors but also revenue. Under this programme, the companies will pay the start-ups an application fee even if the solution does not work out eventually.

"Many companies are also interested in technology, but it's about finding the right solution for them. There are many solutions out there, but they have to find one that actually works for the company's needs and can be integrated into the existing warehouse management systems."

SCA is an appointed Startup SG Accelerator under the Startup SG programme managed by Enterprise Singapore. The organisation has more than 700 paid members and over 10,000 companies in the industry that participated in its events over the past few years.

Mr Lim said: "There is the craving for knowledge in the industry, but we are bombarded by many concepts that we don't know the applications for. It's about getting companies to understand the basic logic, like how sensors can be linked to the Internet of Things and how it can work in their systems."

This is especially crucial because workers still spend 60 per cent of their time manually moving things around in warehouses, he noted.

Robotics and automation can halve that time, freeing workers to be more productive in other ways.

"Workers also start doing higher-level tasks. They deal with technology and they can troubleshoot simple robotics," Mr Lim added.

These solutions are vital in helping an important industry grow, even amid an economic downturn, he said, noting: "Trade is a necessity for economic growth, so this industry is always needed.

"With a slowdown, the industry is definitely impacted. But even with the trade war between China and the US, the supply chains will just move from China to other parts of the region. The consumer side of distribution also will not slow down. The industry in Singapore will always benefit because we are the most connected part of the world."

He urged supply chain firms not to look at Singapore alone, but also the region, in order to progress.

Mr Lim also encouraged them to think long-term: "I empathise because every bit of new technology needs money and workers need to be retrained. Technology is also imperfect, but it is a long-term investment. It is not just about the money and productivity, but also increased accuracy when technology is used."