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04 Apr 2021 Updated 06 Apr 2021

1,000 food manufacturers to receive digitalisation guidance: Low Yen Ling

The Business Times Elysia Tan

 MOS Low Yen Ling at a visit to Tiong Lian Food for the launch of the Food Manufacturing Industry Digital Plan

Minister of State Low Yen Ling at a visit to Tiong Lian Food. PHOTO: Enterprise Singapore

ABOUT 1,000 food manufacturers and over 50,000 workers will be supported by the new Food Manufacturing Industry Digital Plan (IDP), said Minister of State Low Yen Ling at its launch at Tiong Lian Food on Thursday.

Jointly developed by Enterprise Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, the three-stage industry roadmap lays out a guide for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt digital solutions and technologies based on their stage of business growth and digital maturity.

SMEs can also take advantage of an online self-assessment checklist to better understand their digital gaps and capabilities.

The IDP helps to chart solutions for SMEs in the food manufacturing sector to support their growth, and also their manpower skills, said Ms Low. The proposed solutions can aid food manufacturers in aspects such as streamlining operations, accessing new markets and strengthening their competitive edge.

The food manufacturing sector contributed S$10.7 billion output in 2018, according to Ms Low. "Going digital enables our SMEs to move competitively, to face off disruptive challenges, to respond to evolving market demands, and also to capture new opportunities," she added.

The minister announced the IDP's launch on a visit to Tiong Lian Food's recently relocated facilities for a tour of its production lines.

In the last quarter of last year, the pork processor moved into a five-story building and integrated digital solutions such as a continuous deboning line, automatic storage and retrieval systems, inventory software tools into its operations.

Totalling in at S$7 million, incorporating these large-scale digital solutions did not come cheap. However, the investment has seen positive results, bringing about manpower savings, increased productivity, greater accuracy, and a greater appeal to workers, said managing director Benson Teo.

At its deboning line, deboners make one cut into a pig carcass before placing the pork onto a conveyor belt, which brings it to the next deboner. At full capacity, a team of 10 to 12 deboners will be able to break down between 60 sides of pork in an hour.

Kelvin Teo, assistant operations manager at Tiong Lian and the son of its managing director, said that running on a conveyor system, the meat is returned to storage in about five minutes. It thus faces less exposure and an optimum temperature can be maintained.

Before the implementation of new solutions, workers would need to toss the pork to each other while cutting it down, he added. The physically taxing process meant that over time, productivity would decrease as deboners got tired.

Another solution that the pork distributor has adopted is an automatic storage system, which uses automation to track crates of fresh pork, recording components such as the cut and weight to take stock of its supplies. When workers move a crate of pork out of the storage area, they scan a barcode, which updates the inventory system.

Prior to its installation, the meat would be hung onto tiers of hooks attached to overhead railings, and workers would need to manually push the meat to retrieve or count them.

Thanks to the digital storage system, Tiong Lian has seen about a 50 per cent increase in time savings, said Mr Kelvin Teo. And though efficient, the technology is not difficult to use, he added. Someone who is able to operate a computer would be able to master the software in a day.

The company now employs more than 180 people, compared to about 140 before its relocation. Mr Benson Teo added that by easing the strain, Tiong Lian has been better able to appeal to local and elderly workers.

The next step, he said, is to continue to develop and increase the usage of the company's mobile app, which will auto-generate sales orders, to replace the traditional calls and manual entries.

Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.