CEO Series

Relax, According To This Expert In M'sia, Robots Ain't Replacing Us Any Time Soon

  • Cytron Technologies, founded in 2004, is a designer and manufacturer of components for robotics and advanced electronics, with their products being sold through their online marketplace, one of the biggest in Malaysia.
  • In an interview with Mileiniu, co-founder Tan Eng Tong shares his thoughts about Malaysia’s robotics and hardware startup sector, including why cheap labour is a stumbling block to the growth of the scene and what Malaysia needs to do to be ready for Industry 4.0.

In the third installment of their series focusing on Penang-based startups and companies, business content creators Mileiniu sat down with robotics and mechatronics components supplier Cytron Technologies, who are based in Bayan Lepas.

Founded in late 2004 by five University of Technology Malaysia (UTM) alumni, Cytron now designs, manufactures, and sells a large variety of components for robotics and other advanced electronics, including a highly popular educational robotics kit called RERO that is used to teach students of all ages about building and programming robots.

RERO is used as a tool to teach students about robotics and programming / Image Credit: RERO

Sitting down with Cytron co-founder Tan Eng Tong, Mileiniu managed to get his thoughts about the robotics ecosystem in Malaysia, and what he feels the local industry needs to become more competitive.

1. Cheap labour hinders progress.

Speaking on the robotics industry in Malaysia, Eng Tong opined that the growth of the scene locally has been somewhat hampered due to cheap foreign labour.

“If you want automation or robotics to scale fast, the cost of labour has to be expensive, then will it make sense to develop that area,” he said. “If I hire 10 workers and it’s still cheaper than buying a machine, then I’m sure that as an employer I’d prefer to hire 10 workers.”

Eng Tong also said that in order to overcome this hurdle, the Malaysian government would have to agree to curb the amount of foreign labourers entering the country.

“There are so many factories and manufacturers here,” he added. “Having restrictions will drive employers to adopt automation and robotics.”

2. On when robots will replace humans.

When asked what industry he thinks will be the first to adopt robotics on a mass scale, Eng Tong put forth the automotive sector as his answer, explaining that drivers would become the first to be replaced.

“Self-driving cars scale really fast, but the first common adoption for this tech will not happen to common people,” he said. “It will be applied in public transport—anywhere with a planned route for public transport, it will start there.”

Image Credit: Cytron Technologies

Of course, Eng Tong then also moved to address concerns regarding the complete replacement of human labour by robots by saying that robots will always be necessary as a means for helping humans perform tasks that they prefer not to do, such as digging through dirt and cleaning drains.

“Would you let your children do those jobs?” he quizzed. “No one wants to do it, so that’s why we need robots.”

“I believe that media and news outlets have exaggerated the extent of how much robots can replace humans in different industries,” he added, saying that we ultimately shouldn’t be too bothered by that prospect.

3. Industry 4.0 is still far away.

Eng Tong also touched upon the subject of Industry 4.0 and provided an alternative take to the general consensus surrounding that movement in the current time frame.

“I have different view, I believe Industry 4.0 has been exaggerated and that it’s not ready,” he said. “Some people say Malaysia is still at the level of Industry 2.0 or Industry 3.0, so how do we achieve the level of Industry 4.0?”

The interior of Cytron’s HQ in Penang / Image Credit: Mileiniu on YouTube

Eng Tong went on to share some insights gleaned from his mentor, ex-CEO of Foxconn, Terry Cheng.

“He said that instead of everyone talking about Industry 4.0, why not talk about Product 4.0?” he recounted. “Right now, we have no need for Industry 4.0. What companies need to produce is something consumers need and want.”

“Back then, products were only tools without moving components, and then they started having motion. Now there are computer components inside,” he continued.

“Product 4.0 combines both intelligence and motion, and you need to create more of these products that solve human problems.”

He then explained that once such products become more commonplace, only then will Industry 4.0 be necessary to help manufacture these products en masse.

“Industry 4.0 is actually all about how your factory works,” he explained. “Factories used to have lots of workers and production lines.”

“With Industry 4.0, everything is automated, with all the information coming from end-user behaviour.”

Watch the video below to take a tour of Cytron’s HQ in Penang and see how their products are made:

For the full interview with Eng Tong featuring his thoughts and insights, watch the second part of the video below:

  • To know more about Cytron and what they do, read our previous writeup of their journey in this article, or visit their website and Facebook page.
  • You can check out other content created by Mileiniu by visiting their Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Feature Image Credit: Mileiniu

 

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