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March 16, 2010

Special Report: Live from Singapore!

Probably one of the most amazing aspects of Singapore from a business perspective is how the country takes such an integrated approach to developing what it calls an "enterprise ecosystem." In other words, development is well planned, in advance, to the tiniest detail. Case in point: the newly built casino. It is part of a huge project that includes new highrises, housing, and lots of green parks, all tied together in a kind of a circular theme. Graceful grass-covered skyways swoop over large oval-shaped courtyards and fountains. The project centerpiece: the majestic "Singapore Flyer" — a modern version of a Ferris wheel with space-age pods in which you sit to observe the skyline as it sweeps slowly by. The flyer incorporates aspects of feng shui principles of balance — as it travels its giant arc, the financial district displays as if it were always going "up." This symbolizes and supports the country's explosive growth and its go-getter attitude. Ever mindful of its citizenry, Singaporeans are charged $100 to enter the casino, a clever way to discourage them from succumbing to gambling additions, while foreigners can enter for free. (You can even put yourself or a relative on the no-gambling list; those on it are denied access to the casino.)

  • The Singapore Flyer in the distance is a large observational wheel.

In the spirit of promoting overseas growth, International Enterprise Singapore, a governmental agency, does a number of press events throughout the year for a variety of industries. This tour is focused on exclusively on MedTech Mfg. It invited three of us U.S. journalists to check out the lay of the land, especially in regards to what Singapore offers in the way of medical-device manufacturing. The organization is promoting the country as the "gateway to Asia," linking international OEMs with Asian suppliers. Singapore has many distinct advantages, including: English is the most widely spoken language; the World Bank ranked the country as "easiest to do business with" four times in a row; there are strict laws on IP protection with very clear and enforceable copyright laws; medical-device manufacturers are sticklers on quality, following all of the applicable up-to-date international standards including ISO, CE, FDA, and others. In addition, it is cheaper to fly goods out of Singapore than China; Singapore has a topnotch airport, seaport, and a highly-skilled labor force; and it partners with institutions such as MIT and Harvard Univ. for R&D and implementing advanced manufacturing.


Apple Rubber offers expanded line of medical-grade
elastomer seals and O-rings.

In addition to popular Silicone, Apple Rubber now offers custom O-rings and seals made from medical-grade elastomers such as Viton® fluoroelastomer (FKM) and EPDM rubber. Ideal for medical applications, such elastomers feature improved chemical resistors, excellent heat resistance (400°F/200°C), and low permeability to gases. Capabilities at Apple Rubber include complete engineering support, manufacturing, quality assurance and a Class 10,000 ISO Class 7, certified cleanroom.

The two medical device manufacturers we visited today could not be more different in how they do business and innovate. Really striking was how much darn FUN everyone was having. We first toured Racer Technology, an injection molding and contract manufacturer that targets high mix (complex parts), low-volume production (in the thousands, not the millions). You have never seen a company like this in your lifetime. It has high-end, high-tech tool rooms, assembly operations, R&D, design, and prototyping operations all taking place in what looks like an eclectic museum or even someone's house. The atmosphere is cheerful and fun. CEO Willy Koh strikes one as having a brilliant mind — he is always on the lookout for the next product or the next area in which to best manufacture a component. Thus, the company also owns units in Indonesia, Taiwan, and China. It has multiple patents, and one of the investors owns the patent on the Trek 2000 thumbdrive. A few of its customers we are allowed to mention include Boston Scientific and Drager. It can do CNC prototyping in a little as a week and product development in as little as 9 months. Products Racer provides include machined drive components, high precision production mold fabrication; and cold formed fasteners to name just a few.


  • Racer CEO Willy Koh shows a company product. Behind him is an example of the company memorabilia, products, pictures, and stuff that cover the walls of the company.
  • Next came inzign, an injection-molding contract manufacturer. Its injection molding machines all sit in a cleanroom, automatically fed and run by systems and robots. The company specializes in high cavitation molds with hot runner systems that last upwards of 20 years. A company representative said one of its molds with 80 million shots is still holding tolerances of 0.001 in. High tech aspects include two color molding and in mold labeling. The latter is impressive because the labels do not rub off; they stay readable almost forever. Probably the most impressive project the company has undertaken is implementing what it calls an Information System for Injection Molding. Customers will soon be able to login to the system, see their machines running real-time on Web cams, and access real-time reports that give information such as output per machine. The company focuses exclusively on medical-device manufacturing and says it is highly accustomed to both East and West business practices.

  • In contrast to Racer, inzign is located in an immaculate manufacturing "highrise."

  • inzign personnel display the company's mold-making capabilities.

  • The automated injection molding machines at inzign reside in an immaculate cleanroom.

For more detail, please follow my Machine Design blog, Medical Manufacturing: Live from Singapore!

—Leslie Gordon, Senior Editor



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