THE GOVERNMENT has set an ambitious goal to raise the contribution of SMEs to 50 per cent of GDP from 36 per cent, under the 13th national social and economic development plan (2021-25). Currently there are three million SMEs comprising 99.7 per cent of Thai businesses, employing 10 million people.
However SMEs face challenges in regional and international competitiveness largely due to a lack of knowledge of how to use advanced technology to increase productivity, efficiency and scalability. Those with some knowledge are in the dark on how to begin automating their businesses. Recognising a need to strengthen the country’s competitiveness, the government has identified automation and robotics as key players in its national Thailand 4.0 strategy, allocating significant investment to help SMEs apply advanced technology and upgrade their capabilities to compete globally.
Thailand 4.0 aims to future proof the local workforce and industries with the goal of becoming a high-income nation. The strategy is centred on nurturing innovation for 10 key future-focused industries, improving existing areas of strength like automotive and electronics as well as next generation industries like aerospace and robotics. This has led to the development of the US$ 45 billion (Bt1.5 trillion) Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) encouraging greater investment from foreign companies with expertise in hi-tech industries. Adoption of advanced technologies and know-how of foreign firms could help Thailand overcome its skill shortage.
The Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) also announced incentives for business activities related to the robotics and automation industries and technologies. Incentives are also available for new and existing investments aimed at increasing current production efficiencies.
Among these robotics technologies include collaborative robots (cobots) – robots designed to work side-by-side with people. Cobots are valuable automation tools, helping businesses increase productivity and product quality without high integration costs. Unlike traditional robots, cobots have enhanced inbuilt safety features, making it safe for people to work in close proximity with the cobots, even without a fencing (subject to risk assessments). Their ergonomic design also makes them lightweight and compact, and enable cobots to operate even within small and confined spaces.
Cobots are user-friendly, easy to program and easy to use. Cobot’s intuitive interface simplifies programming so that even low-skilled employees can easily use them.
There are also many policies to assist SMEs, including a wide range of tax privileges and financial support. For instance, the state-owned SME Bank is offering Bt8 billion in cheap loans for SMEs planning to adopt automation, robotics and online systems to boost capability.
Contributed by SHERMINE GOTFREDSEN, General Manager at Universal Robots, SEA & Oceania