Interview : How A-Plus Automation enhance competive edge during the pandemic



Mr Rodney Ham, Managing Director, A-Plus Automation Pte Ltd​​​​

Quote to the industry:

“ Focusing building core competencies in present time and create new capabilities for tomorrow”

Rodney Ham, Managing Director, A-Plus Automation (S) Pte Ltd


Company Profile:

Established in 2010, A-Plus Automation (S) Pte Ltd reflects a long history in the automation industry through its specialized services provided to a plethora of distinct clients. A-Plus provide turnkey solutions include designs to the manufacturing and installation of automated material handling system to various industries in their materials management.



Q: Can you share some challenges your company faced in the second year of the pandemic?

A-Plus: The pandemic has impacted us on the many fronts, but the most significant is the on-site installation and commissioning of the equipment supplied to customers. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of our trade, if borders are closed and our engineers are unable to go to the site, we are not able to install and commission the system. The labour is another challenge faced; we were unable to employ overseas candidate eg Malaysia due to the travel restrictions. Thus, we have to look into the local pool of engineers to fill our needs. But for SME company like us, it is an uphill task to attract good engineers who are willing to join a small firm. Our local pool of engineers tend to take up a job in MNC and it is a big challenge to compete with the MNCs for talent.

Q: How did your company cope, and overcome these challenges?

A-Plus: Through this episode, we learnt to redesign our equipment in modular system and pre-assemble as much as we can in our factory. We also got our local partners in the respective countries to assist us in remote assembly of the system and support the commissioning the equipment via conducting the testing remotely from Singapore. The pandemic has sped up our design standardization and systematically produce our equipment in modular to minimize the impact during site installation. The quick adoption of the digital platform in communication has also helped us tremendously, as many of us worked from home and regular meetings over zoom enabled the team to make progress our execution, however, nothing can be compared to a face-to-face meetings, which can quickly settle the work-related issue on the spot. We also adapted to the new ways of organizing work process and expand our local (Singapore) market reach for automation projects. These has helped us stay afloat and keep our work force engaged. We find new projects in waste management treatment plant and medical distribution centre to diversify our revenue.

Q: What advice do you have to share with other SMEs on growing their business in the face of an ever-fluid pandemic?

A-Plus : It is a tough question, as I can’t advise others how to run the business effectively, since in every business they is certain unique attributes that make their business tick. What I can share is my experience in operating under the very difficult pandemic environment of our business. Firstly, one must hold tightly onto the cash flow management of the company income and expenditure to have sufficient funds to operate and tie through the slow business grow. Secondly, build up inhouse capability and adopt new ways of executing the work in preparation of the upturn. Thirdly, look into the customers and the industry as whole, for opportunities to help the customer to improve the operations process to gain productivity and improve performance. In a slow economic environment, generating constant stream of revenues is of utmost importance for a company to survive, if the pre-pandemic way of generating revenues is difficult and is no longer sustainable. It is time to pivot and move on to other sector of business where the inhouse production are able to manufacture and generate revenues. The pivot must be in line with what the company capability to handle and produce, a total switch to new business from what one does can be very risky.

Q: What direction is the company headed in the next 3-5 years? And how is the company preparing itself for this future?

A-Plus : We believe we are moving in the right direction in focusing on the logistics/ e-commerce and food production. E-commerce is growing at exponential speed and demand for automated materials handling equipment is at all-time high, we foresee the next 3~5 years there will be business that we can pick up. The challenge is on how A-Plus organize herself to be effective and competitive in pricing the product in competition with the Chinese equipment manufacturers. The steady grow in the food production sector will also provide many opportunities for us to supply the materials handling equipment for the improvement of the production process of customer in their productivity drive. Our engineering team will need to gear up our knowledge and skillset to be able to creatively design and find better processes enhancement in our design capability to compete with the Chinese vendor. Knowing the market demand and customer needs, we have to quickly formulate and find a strategy to market our product to compete effectively. To compete with the other suppliers, we have teamed up with a Chinese partner, allowing us to access to the Chinese-make equipment, enabling us to compete on equal footing with the Chinese competitors. Our edge is the local knowledge and the network we built over the years across S.E.A and the ability to give the after-sales service support to the customers. The assurance of the total product life cycle support can help us in a keen competitive market environment. To ensure the business continuity and sustainability, we are constantly engaging in the new product development and market penetration to provide our customers with innovative solution and equipment with dependable functions. The drive for establishing our regional network of partners in sales and after sale service support will reinforce our competitive edge. The other important event is to put in place the succession plan for the younger generation to take-over the helm in running the company. The younger generation will bring new perspectives, ideas and energy to chart the new course of the automated equipment business.