January 23, 2020
Technology is progressing at an unprecedented rate and disrupting the way we work and live. How can companies keep up with the ever-changing needs of the market and remain globally competitive? Innovation.
There has been a rise in the number of innovation labs set up in Singapore, across both fintech and deep tech sectors by corporates, learning institutions, government organisations and more.
These labs may be an extension of the organisation or a newly formed entity, and they are usually run independently. They provide end-to-end support for startups and innovators to prototype and test their creations to bring their products and services to market. They will get access to research facilities and equipment, co-working spaces, expert knowledge and network of partners.
Being physical testbeds for startups, such labs can bridge the “death valley curve”, defined in the startup world as the period between the beginning of operations and revenue generation.
At Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) x Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) 2019, we toured innovation labs all across the city, to showcase how these labs bring ideas to fruition.
We got a glimpse behind the scenes of these deep tech labs and participants too discovered potential collaborative opportunities they could pursue.
As part of the tour, these labs also showcased products they have launched and introduced their facilities and workrooms. Some of them offer engineering and design expertise, while others focus on innovating and improving existing manufacturing processes.
Our first stop was Innosparks, an Open Innovation Lab under ST Engineering, an integrated engineering group headquartered in Singapore. Head of Innosparks Gareth Tang shared that the lab was set up to spearhead co-creation, collaboration, experimentation and launch breakthrough concepts to market.
It is located in JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, where many of Singapore’s startups reside. Innosparks houses over 40 resident designers and engineers from four disciplines, namely Mechanical and Control, Electronics and Electrical, Material and Chemical, Software and Design.
There is also an in-house design team that specialises in design thinking, making new products that look good while solving real-world issues.
Startups usually face the challenge of turning prototypes into commercially viable products. To address this, Innosparks houses multi-disciplinary hardware and software capabilities in a single platform, from design and concept to build and launch. This allows for rapid iteration, tight feedback loop and helps to bring the products to market much quicker.
For instance, the Air+ Smart Mask was one of the first few products developed in Innosparks. It was conceptualised, tested, and commercialised in just 18 months. The secret behind this speed? Their in-house prototyping lab.
There were over 100 prototypes designed for the mask, and the prototyping process would have taken over two years if outsourced.
Access to experienced, quality engineers is also a practical issue often faced by startups. Many of them would be working in established companies, with few willing to venture into new enterprises. It is also costly to engage a few specialists at a time.
At Innosparks, startups can work with engineers of different expertise for the term of the project. This allows for greater flexibility and stability with the experience that these professionals bring.
With a key focus on smart cities and healthcare, startups in these sectors can partner with Innosparks to bring their ideas to life.
ADVANCED REMANUFACTURING AND TECHNOLOGY CENTRE (ARTC)
Led by the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in partnership with Nanyang Technological University, the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) is a contemporary platform built upon strong public-private partnerships to translate research to industry applications.
Manufacturing makes up 20 to 25 percent of Singapore’s yearly gross domestic product. As such, deep tech capabilities and innovation are crucial to stay ahead of the curve.
Startups and corporates looking to adopt Industry 4.0 in their businesses can co-innovate with ARTC through research and application of new technologies such as Additive Manufacturing, Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT), Robotics and Intelligent Product Verification. And in turn, create a factory floor of the future.
How will these technologies help manufacturers? Let’s look at the Virtual Manufacturing Lab as an example. ARTC developed The Virtual Manufacturing Lab to create digital twins of manufacturing processes.
Companies can adopt this technology in their workshops to observe their machines and even train operators to operate their equipment in a safe environment, without the need to halt production.
Industry players can now plan the positioning of their machines in workshops, prior to the factory even being built. This allows for greater efficiency and more informed decisions in workshop arrangement.
ENVIRONMENTAL & WATER TECHNOLOGY CENTRE OF INNOVATION
Set up in 2006, the Environmental & Water Technology Centre of Innovation (EWTCOI) is a joint initiative between Enterprise Singapore and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It focuses on applied research and technology enhancement, to translate ideas into solutions that address industry’s problem statements.
Corporates and startups looking to co-innovate on environmental solutions can tap the centre’s specialisations, namely, Water Technology, Sustainable Materials Technology, Energy Efficiency Technology and Membrane Technology.
EWTCOI has led about S$20 million worth of projects since its inception.
One such project is the carwash wastewater recycler. A typical car wash uses 100 litres to wash just one car, so EWTCOI partnered with Hock Cheong Automec, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) to develop a compact and low-cost system to treat wastewater. The recycler helps reduce water expenses and cut down the water consumption per car wash.
During the tour, we visited the 15 laboratories and workshops that house comprehensive equipment for continuous experimenting and prototyping. Its Membrane Technology team, for instance, makes and tests finely-constructed noodle-like membranes for their ability to filter water impurities.
VERIZON INNOVATION COMMUNITY MANAGED BY JUSTCO
Launched in 2018, JustCo was appointed by Verizon Innovation Community to manage its innovation-community space in Singapore. Startups from highly specialised fields such as CyberSecurity, FinTech/Blockchain, Digital Media, Internet Of Things (IoT) and Robotic Process Automation/Artificial Intelligence can be connected to a vibrant tech community at Verizon’s first-in-Asia initiative.
Silver Wings, a startup that creates virtual and augmented reality tools is a member at the Verizon Innovation Community managed by JustCo. They work with companies from different industries like tourism, real-estate and manufacturing to address real-world problems with customised immersive technology solutions.
During the innovation lab crawl, we got to experience the artificial worlds that such tools create, and how these worlds can impart knowledge in a fun and engaging way.
These immersive technology tools no longer come in just the form of a headset. They have evolved to be more user-friendly, with a wider range of options for end consumers to choose from.
This 3D visualisation technology is being increasingly used in education. For example, geography teachers can use their mixed reality tools to offer students a glimpse of how the Jurassic world would have looked like in real life.
Startups looking to be plugged in to the tech ecosystem can join the Verizon Innovation Community managed by JustCo to collaborate, learn and network with the closely-knitted community in the city centre.
Technology innovators from the Infocomm and Media (ICM) industry, including e-sports, immersive experience and online content creation can work with PIXEL to create customer-centric digital experiences for the future.
With shared production facilities, incubation and hotdesking spaces as well as Immersive Experiences and Usability Testing Labs, startups can access the facilities they need to at PIXEL to testbed their technologies and solve industry pain-points.
Participants at the lab crawl got to experience the visualisation of big data using Magic Leap One, a spatial computer and an untethered multiplayer Battle Royale laser tag game.
All of which were made possible with PIXEL’s support, that includes project-based coaching and one-to-one sessions to build capabilities with a dedicated consultant.
Turning ideas into reality is a path often fraught with challenges, with many entrepreneurs ending up with stalled projects, because they lacked funding, guidance, or the right equipment to get started. Startups and corporates can collaborate with innovation labs in order to grow and to remain relevant.
From designing and fashioning prototypes, to tapping the right expertise, to improving manufacturing processes or to introduce digital elements into their business, innovation labs are indispensable to a company’s growth journey.