Published 07. Feb. 2019

From Digitisation to Mass Customisation: Manufacturing at Industry 4.0

Join Wilson Deng, Chairman of The Singapore Manufacturing Consortium (SIMCO) in the Smart Manufacturing Uprising event to gain more insights on the industry, it’s entire ecosystem and factories of the future.

With over 10 years of professional experience in the industry, Willson Deng, Chairman of Singapore Manufacturing Consortium (SIMCO) strives to break new grounds and spearhead the best solutions to one of the world’s transformative nations.

With a keen eye on Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing Transformation and Advanced Manufacturing, Deng has helped SIMCO assemble some of the most advanced solution providers in Singapore.

We have interviewed Deng and discussed pressing issues on customer-centric manufacturing, the key to becoming a one-stop shop manufacturer, and the road ahead for Singapore in Industry 4.0.

Willson Deng


Management Events: How do you define customer-centric manufacturing?

Willson Deng: Traditionally, mass manufacturing has always been about simply producing to specifications. These orders are given from some customers, and the job of the manufacturer is to build to that blueprint. Customer-centric manufacturing involves getting in touch with the final user of the product that you’re producing for. This is to understand not only the requirements, but how these requirements may change during use, which parts break down most often in the field and what can be added or expanded for the next product iteration. Gone are the Ford car days where anyone can have a car as long as it’s black.


ME: Historically, manufacturers have left most of the consumer-oriented marketing to their retailer and channel partners. As Chairman of The Singapore Manufacturing Consortium, how do you eradicate this routine in order to achieve customer-centricity?

WD: The role of retailers and channel partners are quite important and will still play a significant role for manufacturers into the foreseeable future. From supply chain management, customer relationship management, marketing, sales, etc., retailers and partners help to channel information and reach a broader audience that even a fully digitised and e-commerce enabled manufacturer will have difficulty achieving on its own. Therefore, it’s more of a matter of finding new ways for these groups to work together when data from a product that is at the consumer’s fingertips can be funnelled back.

Retailers and resellers have the support teams to address and see new product designs and requests across many different product lines. This will provide a manufacturer with insights that they alone would not be able to achieve. Likewise, data from an end product can also be used to perform maintenance or usage as a service providing revenue streams for both parties; allowing the retailer or reseller to focus on product support, while the manufacture can use the data to improve on new product design.


ME: Do you agree that customer experience is the new battlefield in the manufacturing industry? Why or why not?

WD: This Industry 4.0 transformation is a global competition happening on multiple fronts. It starts with digitisation, and then moves to mass customisation, low volume mechanical automation, analytics and AI, etc.  It continues onward from where the raw materials are gathered, to the consumers to refine the product while it’s in the field to recycling when its life is near the end. Industry 4.0 is kicking off the start of a true circular manufacturing supply chain. Therefore, manufacturers having direct feedback on the products will be a must as consumer tastes continue to evolve and intensify in frequency. Hence the consumer experience is and always will be a key fighting area for manufacturers to compete to provide the most cost effective, highest quality, and fastest to market products.


ME: How do you get to know your customer if you sell exclusively through distributors or retailers?

WD: If the only channel for a manufacturer to reach the end customer is through distributors or retailers, then, the relationship between these two groups must be very strong in order to maintain competitiveness. E-commerce solutions with ratings and customer product reviews are a first start in efforts to rapidly decrease the distance between a manufacturer and a consumer. However, a traditional retailer or reseller can still provide significant value by being able to see first-hand how servicing, support and requests from customers can help shape new product iterations and ultimately help a manufacturer improve and quickly supply new solutions into the market.


ME: Are manufacturers disadvantaged by being disconnected from their consumers?

WD: To a certain degree, yes; hence retailers, distributors and resellers do have a more direct connection to a customer compared to manufacturers. However, what we would also need to consider is that having the right manpower and talent to deal with direct customer reactions as well as feedback along with product design and iterations is an expensive and costly affair. For certain manufacturers, it may still be worthwhile to maintain retailer relationships, but the relationship needs to evolve to incorporate data sharing and customer reaction/preference sharing to make their relationship more symbiotic compared to the traditional buy, sell, and resell approach.


ME: How do you overcome this?

WD: Maintaining a data first policy is a critical one to bridge the gap between manufacturer, reseller and consumer. This can be the setup of a real-time data transfer between the manufacturer and the reseller to get immediate feedback and changes due to consumer tastes and requests. Building in data generating toolsets into a product (sensors, feedback tools, etc.) will allow automatic customer feedback, which will help manufacturers iterate on product designs. Emphasis from both manufacturer and reseller should always be to get the highest fidelity data on consumer feedback and from the product utilisation.


ME: Faced with changing business models and products that connect more with customers, manufacturers are now up with new challenges to support the design, development, distribution and monitoring of their products. How do you make sure that these expectations are met in your organisation? What measures do you take in order to implement these?

WD: Managing and embarking on a new customer-centric manufacturing policy is the most difficult due to one key aspect, and that’s talent. The technology to generate, process and analyse the data generated from products and consumers is available in the market. However, the necessary talent to take this data to redesign a product, interpret the next customer trends, or develop a new business model to lease instead of selling a product requires talent. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of this type of talent available currently in the market and will be a struggle for a while until academia, technical institutes and schools have adapted to this new workforce requirement.


ME: What is the road ahead for Singapore in Industry 4.0?

WD: Industry 4.0 is becoming more mature in Singapore, but this also means the same for the rest of the world. As Singapore continues to push towards the future and maintain its manufacturing sector, the key will be around hyper-connectivity of its manufacturers to be able to quickly integrate on a digital playing field with its customers and suppliers. The focus will not just be on cost and quality of a product but also on how reliable real-time data is made available in time for manufacturing or having the data transmitted in real-time to customers for audit purposes or giving end consumers the true visibility of the manufacturing supply chain so that they know they are buying reliable products that are made with efficiency and sustainability. As a small nation, Singapore is in the unique position to set an example of what this looks like and how it can drive Industry 4.0 to its rightful stage.


ME: The Singapore Manufacturing Consortium has assembled some of the most advanced solutions providers in Singapore to spur local manufacturers to become smart factories in the future. As Chairman, what role did you play in spearheading this hallmark?

WD: SIMCO was first formed when 3 companies with its unique attributes pulled together to offer joint solutions to tackle the big issues manufacturers are facing. The key driving factor for all members is centred on a data first policy. This ensures both hardware and software companies are able to fully integrate and work together properly to provide joint solutions to the end customer. This data first policy was from the start (and still is) the chairman’s main role in order to level the playing field for manufacturers to retrieve the best possible solutions by cutting away one arbitrary barrier to integration. Many of which was placed up by older companies to maintain market share and block competition by preventing access to equipment, machines, sensors, software, etc. This has created a large market of solutions providers who are jack of all trades, masters of none. SIMCO has a strong belief that the best solutions come from gathering the best of the best in their specific areas to provide the right future-proof solutions for the industry.


ME: How do you exactly become a one-stop shop for manufacturers seeking manufacturing solutions?

WD: There are 2 key things that SIMCO focuses on to ensure we can provide the right solution for manufacturers and make sure that those solutions are scalable and future-proof. First one is around the data first policy. Regardless if it is a software or a hardware company in SIMCO, the solutions provided must be centred around the generation of real-time data. The second key factor is an open data. This means that as a member of SIMCO, the solutions you provide must be open to be connected, utilised and be able to integrate with other members’ data. This ensures that solutions regardless of how disparate they are, can still easily communicate through industry standard protocols with structure and syntax that can be easily managed and interpreted. With both data-first and open-data, solutions providers within SIMCO can quickly work with other members to tackle problems raised by potential manufacturers and hence can build towards a truly one-stop shop for manufacturers.


Learn more about Willson Deng and his thoughts on what defines smart manufacturing and factories of the future in our Smart Manufacturing Uprising event in Malaysia, on the 22nd – 24th April 2019.

“I hope to share with the audience, both from SMEs and MNCs, the techniques they can leverage to drive towards Industry 4.0.”

Should you be interested to attend the Smart Manufacturing Uprising event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on the 22nd – 24th of April 2019, please contact Didi Jaafar at