Raising the Bar in Robotics

Starting out some 30 years ago as a family business distributing mechanical and automation products, PBA Group has now become an Asian powerhouse in advanced manufacturing.

Recalling the early days of the company’s business transformation, PBA Group CEO Derrick Yap believed that distribution wasn’t a very viable business model in the long-run as he knew that it would eventually lose its relevance in the market.

He managed to convince his father, who started the business, to allow him to try to take the company to a new level.

“At the time, we were trying to discover how we could move from the distribution business model to another business model, but we didn’t know which one. However, we knew we wanted to continue to work off the platform we had, which was automation,” said Mr Yap.

Changing Workers’ Mindsets

Mr Yap said that one challenge was changing the mindsets of his employees.

“Within the company, we did not want to make the guys who were used to the old business model obsolete. So, we helped them change their mindset and convince them of the new direction the company was heading towards. We told them whatever experience they had accumulated in the company would still be relevant moving forward,” he said.

The lack of engineering background posed another challenge for the company to move into research and development for manufacturing. To help them defray the cost of acquiring these capabilities, the company worked with research institutes, SPRING Singapore and IE Singapore (now merged to become Enterprise Singapore).

From distributing products, PBA eventually moved into component manufacturing. Mr Yap, however, felt that the company should create their own brand of components.

Today, PBA group has some 20 smaller companies that specialise in the various functions of the automation value chain. The company can now even manufacture robots that can be used in semiconductor manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 Revolution

A strong advocate for Industry 4.0, Mr Yap set up the Robotics Automation Centre of Excellence (RACE), an independent training body and think-tank focused on robotics, automation and digital manufacturing.

Through the centre, Mr Yap hopes to help other businesses familiarise with technology and hopefully be more confident in adopting automation and robotics.

As for advice to small-and-medium-sized enterprises who are thinking of transforming their business, Mr Yap said: “Persevere and don’t give up. If you do, your efforts will be wasted. My second advice to them would be to not be too ambitious. Try not to invest so much in R&D that if you fail, it will kill the company, because you will fail a couple of times before you eventually succeed.”

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