Manufacturing in Thailand has been reliant on this country’s own resources and manpower over the last ten years, both of which are now reducing rapidly. Industry is going to have to respond by looking to the benefits automation.


The Federation of Thai Industries is responding to these issues by exploring what modifications and developments the manufacturing industry can make and what resources or support it needs from government as the sector looks to embrace the automation of fourth industrial revolution, industry 4.0.


Industry 4.0: The future of Thai manufacturing

We have to get this concept of industry 4.0 across to our members as it’s not easy. I’ve been talking about it since my first day in office. There is more awareness now, however a lot of people remain unconvinced by the benefits.


Many people picture Industry 4.0 and see robots, automated factories, and concepts they can not relate to very easily. This is a misconception and we have to reiterate to industry that you don’t need a robot in your factory to be part of industry 4.0.


We feel that mass customisation, using flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output, is the answer for the industrial sector to Thailand 4.0. In Thailand 4.0 you’re talking about using creativity, using technology and using innovation to create higher value-added products. That’s how we cater to this government model. As the manufacturing sector we feel we have the answer to the government’s question.


The simple message is; with automation you can gain more income and profits from your operation. Many manufacturers have some degree of automation or some degree of auto-manufacturing and don’t see much benefit in moving to full-fledged digital manufacturing. Our role is to work with them to change this mind-set.


The opportunity

One good example is the garment industry. There’s a garment factory in China that produces thousands of pieces, but they intend to make shirts or trousers for each individual customer. So they go about the city and enlist the help of tailor shop to get each customer’s measurements sent to the factory. They then feed this data into their production line, which can make pieces individually, according to that information, for each customer. These clothes were still being made by people sat at a machine but the process is digital and it was implemented in a way to make mass customisation happen. This is an example of having no robots but catering to each individual customer’s need.


I’ve visited a number of factories that are very close to industry 4.0 already. One is in a cement business, Siam City, they have implemented automentation as part of their manufacturing. They have implemented it in the maintenance of their equipment and will introduce it to the production as well. One aspect they’ve introduced is the use of the internet of things (IoT) to their daily walk-by inspection of the machinery. This involves engineers doing a round of the factory, writing down anything that isn’t quite right. The process would take two or three hours, now they do it with a tablet, which communicates directly with the office and they get the problem sorted in about five minutes, reducing all the loss and waste that could’ve happened in the correction process. It increased productivity hugely.


Educating for the new skills required for industry 4.0

Addressing the skills we need from young people coming out of university is something else we need to do. We should start with a wish list of certain skills that we need from our workforce, then explore how those skills can be imparted to young students and workers who’ve just come out of school. For this we can do several things. Firstly, we put more emphasis on vocational training than the normal tract of education.


One thing that we have done now is go to vocational departments to talk to them and tell them what kind of skills we need from vocational schools. A joint government and private committee has been set up to address this problem. We sat together with them and designed the curriculum and the courses necessary to make the graduate from the school be very compatible to the work they’ll face in the industry.


This effort began five or six years ago and is starting to bear fruit. Some of the graduates from the vocational programmes have been very successful working in factories. With that track record we’re trying to expand this cooperation to other vocational schools as well. Previously, we were doing these programmes in the central part of the country, in Bangkok and outskirts, but now we are expanding to the eastern seaboard. This also serves as a model for other parts of the country and we expect it to grow and to expand all over the country.


That’s at the vocational level. When we talk about the graduate level we also created an initiative with the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT). We sat down and created a programme for auto-parts manufacturing. This is strictly for manufacturing. They were focused on raw material, production processes and the type of auto-parts that we are manufacturing. We created this programme for about 40 students. The four years of study would include a year spent in the factory just like any other worker and the results were quite remarkable. The curriculum was designed by the people who use these skills, which is exactly what we need. This has been a very good pilot project so I suspect this will be expanded to other universities as well.


We also had a meeting with chairman of the rectors of every university in Thailand and we had a lengthy talk about how we will iron out all the differences we have regarding what the universities teach their students and what industry really wants. We’ve set up a regular meeting between five representatives from the company consortium and five representatives of different universities. This will be a working committee to iron out differences and improve the curriculum of each university. We also have to talk to the professional associations, like the council of engineers but that will be a further step. Building this channel of communication between industry and education is vital.


International co-operation on developing automation

As we look at the status of Thai industry we realise that if we want to transform towards digital manufacturing it is very important that we have the people, the human resources, to help industry convert. They can’t do it by themselves, they need someone to guide and introduce them to certain manufacturing techniques that rely more on digital technology.


We are building international partnerships to assist in our mission. We talk to the Taiwanese, the Japanese, and Austrians who know the details of how to turn an ordinary factory into a digital one. I was talking to Israelis who are also very interested. They have a very strong start-up sector, which is mainly based on the digital sector and they said they are ready to help implement industry 4.0.