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E-Engineering for an Infocomm Knowledge-Based Economy

Dr Brian Chen, Chief Technology Officer, IDA Singapore - Keynote Address IHPC's Inaugural HPC Symposium, Shangri-La Hotel

Dr Brian Chen, Chief Technology Officer, IDA Singapore - Keynote Address
IHPC's Inaugural HPC Symposium, Shangri-La Hotel

Singapore, 31 March 2000


1. In the last decade of the 20th century, the onslaught of electronic technologies has swept us like a whirlwind. So pervasive is its swirl, that almost every aspect of our social, economic and political spheres have been and are being shaped by its blitz. The advent of the electronic technologies or "e-technologies" in short, has transformed our daily lives, changed the way businesses are conducted, created new implications on our legal system, warped speed of commercial and trading deals, opened up new mass entertainment and education avenues, and more acutely, intensified global economic competition - clear indications that our lives have changed and will never be the same since. The drivers of such pervasion are none other than the advent, proliferation and convergence of the Information and Tele-Communication Technologies, or "ICT".

2. If we evaluate the present scenario from a historical viewpoint, we will soon realise that we are living in exciting and opportune times. The "e-Revolution" arising from ICT represents a period of revolutionary changes, brought about by the advent and proliferation of digital technologies, very much similar to the period when steam engine was invented. During the late 18th century, the invention of the steam engine sparked off the industrial revolution that resulted in the industrialisation of the manufacture of mass produced products. At the same time the Telegraph, a new communication medium was invented. This made communicating much faster. During that period of time there were also many socio-economic, cultural and political upheaval.

3. It seems that history is repeating itself, and will show us that in our current window of change, there are only two outcomes - either we embrace it or be swept by the changes that are currently taking place. The latter leaves us to the whims of the revolution, while the former promises new opportunities, new business paradigms, new rules which translates as unexplored prosperity and benefits. The key to reaping the prosperity and benefits lies on how the present changes are embraced and harnessed fully.

Info Communication Convergence & the Knowledge-Based Economy

4. Along with the vast potential prosperity and benefits of ICT, comes the impending threat of severe and intense global competition. The pervasion of ICT makes knowledge and information readily available through the convenience of telecommunication means. The old economic paradigm that was based on the premise that knowledge and information are power and strategic, no longer holds as knowledge and information can be readily available to the masses by ICT.

5. The new paradigm of an ICT economy is one that hinges on the ability to generate new ideas and knowledge, and to do so on a continual basis. To keep ahead of competition, the process of producing these new ideas and knowledge must be more efficient and forthcoming than that of our competitors. This new economy of the ICT era is also synonymously known as the Knowledge Based-Economy or KBE in short.

6. In a KBE economy, national boundary and natural resources are no longer the limiting factor to economic success and competitiveness. The two most important resources of a KBE are human and intellectual property, i.e. HP and IP in short. Human property refers to knowledge workers having relevant domain expertise, capable of generating new ideas and knowledge - or IP. IP here relates to copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and etc. Or in layman's terms, IP may be understood as the ability to produce new ideas, knowledge and information that constitutes the invention of new designs, products, software, hardware, firmware, services and etc.

7. The onset of a KBE has many implications, since natural resources and land are scarce in Singapore. Essentially, Singapore's economy must transit from mere selling and buying of products and services based on IPs generated by others to an economy that is sustained by the continual generation of indigenous IPs, with the world as our market. It also implies that the successful transition of Singapore's economy to that of a KBE is critical to the competitiveness and long-term success of Singapore.

Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)

8. It is with the same acute awareness and urgency that the convergence of the ICT necessitates the formation of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, or IDA in short and the development of the Infocomm 21 blueprint.

9. Infocomm 21 is IDA's blueprint for harnessing ICT for national competitiveness and improving our quality of life. The blueprint articulates the vision, goal and strategies that would facilitate the development of our infocomm industry over the next five years, and move Singapore into the ranks of 'first world economies' of the Net age.

ICT Status in Singapore

10. A quick assessment on the e-initiatives of Singapore-based companies naturally reveals that "e-Commerce" or EC is the top interest of businesses and companies transiting to the KBE. The networking infrastructure of Information Technology or IT has made the Internet a cheap and pervasive tool for communication, marketing, commerce and business dealings (either B2B or B2C). The entire world is undergoing a major business paradigm shift to embrace a new way of doing business in this interconnected world. In order to survive in this Internet age, businesses have to leverage leading edge ICT to reach out to the vast Internet consumer community. Experts stressed that businesses have to prepare themselves adequately to meet EC challenges or be left in the sidelines.

11. While many EC initiatives in the retail, financial and banking sectors are well established and understood, the engineering and manufacturing sectors are relatively less matured in leveraging on the opportunities offered by the Internet. Interestingly, the very sectors that have conceptualised and engineered the Internet and its supporting technologies into being, is slow to leverage the "business or commercial" opportunities of the Internet with regards to engineering and manufacturing interests.

12. It is in this light that Singapore needs to move swiftly to position itself and capitalise on the use of ICT to fortify her services in engineering and manufacturing. In the new KBE business paradigm, the rule of winner-takes-all applies, examples being Microsoft and Creative Technologies to name a few. Winners to the new game often become market leaders setting industry standards, and capturing the bulk of the world's market for their respective products and services. Similarly, Singapore will be in a good position to influence or perhaps direct the use and proliferation of ICT for engineering and manufacturing services in the global market, if our companies can be there first. EC is to businesses what ICT is to the engineering and manufacturing services. This use of ICT in the engineering and manufacturing services is known as "e-Engineering".


13. This topic on e-Engineering is timely as it affects companies large and small, just as the onslaught of Internet technologies has moulded and is still shaping the future and survival of businesses. For the engineering and manufacturing sectors to fully embrace the challenges of a KBE and the opportunities of Internet technologies, organisations need to have two-pronged strategies.

14. The first strategy is to encourage the engineering and manufacturing to move up the product development or manufacturing value chain. This can be achieved by taking on higher value-added engineering and manufacturing activities, such as design and development of new products or manufacturing processes. The ability to design and develop new products or manufacturing processes essentially constitutes the creation of new and novel IP, which typifies a true KBE. The high-end manufacturing activities of the new products and/or processes can be undertaken in Singapore, while the rest of the low-end mass manufacturing and production can be done elsewhere where the production cost criteria is most favourable.

15. Moving up the value-chain of product or manufacturing process requires knowledge workers and the advanced simulation technologies to shorten design and prototype cycles, reduce cost and time to market, and help enhance functionality, performance and quality of the end product or processes. Such knowledge intensive engineering know-how and tools are encapsulated within similar engineering concepts such as High Performance Computing (HPC) based Engineering (alternatively known as Virtual/Digital Product/Process Development (VPD) or Simulation/Maths based Engineering). The use of HPC technologies essentially leverages on the progress of advanced IT technologies and know-how such as HPC software and hardware, knowledge workers and advanced 3D immersive and interactive visualisation.

16. One may ask, how are HPC technologies related to the ICT we are so familiar with today? A check on the history of computers will reveal the fact that High Performance Computing (HPC) or SuperComputing (SC) technologies in the past, e.g. CRAY and etc, paved the way for the PC technologies that we use today. HPC/SC technologies were mainly used in a few research labs and universities, and were restricted to the simulation of defence related phenomena arising from the cold war scenario that led to the arms race and subsequently nuclear test ban treaties. The situation led to the demand to simulate advanced and complex physical and chemical processes and phenomena.

17. The collation of these advance simulation technologies in the defence applications is now used as general purpose advanced simulation tools for advanced engineering and manufacturing requirements. Just as the need for communication and access to HPC/SC resources led to the birth of the first network; the ARPAnet in 1969, subsequently the mass proliferation of its use gave birth to the Internet. The use of advanced HPC technologies in the engineering and manufacturing sectors is strongly anticipated to parallel the growth and interest of the Internet. Already, HPC/SC simulation tools are already being integrated into software to help low-end virtual prototyping of product and manufacturing processes in PCs.

18. The second strategy is to combine the Internet and HPC technologies to effect a knowledge-based, highly competitive, efficient and networked engineering and manufacturing sectors.

19. The advantages of having networked engineering and manufacturing sectors are similar to those in the commercial, business and services sectors. These include the development of new business opportunities, world wide access and interaction with customers and suppliers, lowered operation cost and allows collaborative, distributed and consultative activities, just to name a few. New businesses may also be spun-off by offering e-consultancy and engineering services to the world market in the form of e-engineering portals.

E-Engineering Portal

20. To promote the concept of e-engineering that combines the benefits of ICT, the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) is championing an e-Engineering initiative in line with the Infocomm 21 masterplan under the purview of IDA. The initiative intends to develop and deploy a well-developed e-Engineering Portal providing a comprehensive suite of services and solutions in advanced engineering analysis and simulations that will help establish Singapore as a leading e-Engineering hub in Asia.

21. The portal will provide hardware and software capabilities to help engineering firms conduct activities such as design, modelling, simulation and visualisation easily. Design and modelling are essential steps of advance product/process design and development. As technology advances, many companies will resort to HPC based simulations to shorten product design cycle and time-to-market, and to improve product quality. A natural consequence of simulation is the generation of huge amounts of data. Logically, advanced visualisation techniques are required to provide more insights into simulation results. Currently, these high-end resources and expertise are confined to a small group of organisations such as those at the research institutes and universities. Hence, the idea of making such resources and expertise more accessible to Singapore-based companies is made possible. There will be more detailed descriptions of the e-Engineering portal later in this seminar. I would like to congratulate Institute of High Power Computing for their initiatives.

22. Imagine an environment where a US-based automotive car maker puts the entire design of their next model in the proposed e-Engineering Portal. Companies in Singapore can bid to produce certain components of the automobile via this portal, conducting engineering simulations, tooling design using the IT services provided by the vendors on this portal. The Singapore-based company can then pass the tooling design of the end part via the portal to their manufacturing plan in China. The shipment of the components to the USA for assembly can be co-ordinated via the logistics arm of the portal.


23. The advent, proliferation and convergence of ICT are creating an e-Revolution that is transforming every aspect of our lives. In an ICT era, the economic competitiveness and success of a nation neither rely on natural resources nor the ability to process and manage knowledge. The ICT based economy is dependent on the ability to generate new ideas and knowledge - in short Intellectual Property (IP), contributed by knowledge workers. It is in these developments, that the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) was formed in December 1999, to harness ICT for national competitiveness and improve the quality of life for Singaporeans.

24. While the ICT initiatives for the retail, finance and commerce sectors are well underway, the engineering and manufacturing sectors have yet to fully leverage the vast potential of ICT. Analogous to e-Business or e-Commerce, the e-Engineering initiative has been proposed by IHPC in line with the ICT 21 blueprint under the purview of IDA. Under the e-Engineering initiative, an e-Engineering Portal is proposed to help Singapore-based companies embrace the ICT era and to enhance their design, engineering, simulation and manufacturing capabilities. The e-Engineering Portal combines both HPC and Internet technologies to effect a knowledge-based, highly competitive, efficient and networked engineering and manufacturing sector that will significantly enhance the competitiveness of the sectors and yield tremendous new business opportunities.

25. I would like to strongly encourage all of you as key representatives of the engineering and manufacturing sectors in Singapore to support this exciting development of the e-Engineering initiative. There will be a role for all present today. In order for the e-Engineering Portal to be realised and for it to flourish, participation from the engineering and manufacturing sectors, knowledge workers, hardware, software and service providers will be crucial.

26. Thank you.