Companies embrace productivity push

February 20, 201410:35 am1053 views

SINGAPORE — To improve productivity and optimise manpower, the plan of air-conditioning servicing company Atmosphere was direct yet ingenious — send one serviceman on a motorcycle with the necessary equipment to do the job of a two-man team in a van.

With the help of grants from DesignSingapore Council, Atmosphere Airconditioning & Engineering rolled out its first prototypes last year. And the result, director Frederick Ang said, was immediate.

“A typical new van will cost about S$100,000 to S$120,000 with Certificate of Entitlement (COE) included. But a bike with full modifications and COE costs no more than S$22,000. Coupled with other savings — on parking and petrol, for example — we cut our operations costs by more than 60 per cent,” Mr Ang said. “And in terms of workforce, from a two-man team in a van to one man on a motorbike, we improved productivity significantly.”


Simple ideas, big savings


As the Government continues to push for businesses to become more productive and innovative, Atmosphere is just one example of how companies have successfully upgraded themselves, in big and small ways.

In fact, starting with simple strategies can be crucial in upgrading processes and improving efficiency, said Mr Sam Chee Wah, general manager of semiconductor firm Feinmetall.

“We try to simplify processes by labelling every work station, box and cabinet with names and photographs. So, when an employee wants a document or a tool, he doesn’t need to look around helter-skelter,” Mr Sam said.

Feinmetall employs 33 workers who used to spend between 10 and 15 per cent of their time at work locating files and tools, he added.

“But with just a small improvement, they go home on time, or take part in sports activities the company organises, which have since seen a greater participation rate.”


getting workers onboard


Having employees appreciate and commit to productivity and innovation is as important as the actual investments, chief operating officer of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) Victor Tay noted. He joined Mr Ang, Mr Sam and other key business figures at a panel discussion organised by the National Productivity and Continuing Education Council (NPCEC). The discussion was chaired by TODAY’s Business Editor David Bottomley.

“Instilling the ‘heartware’ — so that every single worker understands that they play a part in this — that’s probably the last mile we’re going into,” Mr Tay said.

“Nothing beats the culture of actually wanting to improve without which it’ll be difficult to progress despite all the investments in hardware.”

Another panellist, Director of Nanyang Optical Bernard Yang, agreed, citing his experience in trying to encourage his staff to upgrade their skills and multitask.

“The key is getting the employees to buy in We’re very careful with the way our message is delivered — we take a softer approach, doing it step by step, bringing employees in for meetings and giving them the big picture of how learning more skills means a better future for them.”

Nanyang Optical, which operates 15 outlets in Singapore and three in China, is no stranger to productivity improvements.

By focusing its efforts on technology and innovation, the company seeks to stand out in the competitive and labour-dependent retail industry.

“Online shopping is prevalent today, and we’re leveraging the digital platform to create an enhanced shopping experience. So we combine our online and physical stores,” Mr Yang explained. “Online, our consumers can try our eyewear virtually, pre-order what they like, then pick up the item at a preferred store where our opticians already know what they like. This quickens the sales process.”

Better building blocks


In the construction industry — which also faces manpower pressure — firms must strive to upgrade their capabilities to become more productive, said Mr Allen Ang, City Developments’ head for green building division.

“There’s no excuse to still rely on old methods of construction — laying bricks and erecting scaffoldings like hundreds of years ago,” he said. “CDL’s message to our supply chain is clear: We must automate and move forward with the best technology. Absorb short-term pain for long-term gain.”

CDL pioneered pre-fabricated modular construction here in the early 2000s. By building parts of an apartment in a factory before assembling them on-site, “we have less workers at the site fewer accidents and higher productivity”, Mr Ang added.

The panellists believe the time is right for firms— including small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with capital constraints — to embark on the productivity journey, with ample support from the Government.

“Twenty five years ago, an SME like mine would have to struggle with every single dollar,” said Mr Gerry Tan, managing director of logistics company Griffin Kinetic.

Griffin Kinetic is implementing an enhanced resource planning system for its operations. The S$300,000 investment was made possible by government support via the Capability Development Grant, Mr Tan said.

“Obviously, there’s no single solution that fits all sectors but I see a great potential for SMEs, with the Government coming on board as a partner, ready to listen to our challenges,” he added.



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