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Building an indigenous 'CNC' machine


MOST metalworking machinery, including simple equipment like grinders, bandsaw and drilling machines, used by factories here are imported. Even basic manual machinery like lathe, milling and shaping machines are bought mainly from China, Taiwan and Japan.

While there is some local capability in the manufacturing of simple metalworking machines for metal folding, shearing and stamping, the perception here -- especially amongst management -- is that there is no single company in Malaysia capable of undertaking the manufacturing of complex and sophisticated machinery.

A company based in Ipoh is determined to change this perception.

According to Digital City Sdn Bhd managing director Dr KH Goh, there is sufficient local expertise and capability to build complex machinery in Malaysia.

``Often, these are untapped and go unnoticed. Local industries tend to take the easy and expensive route by importing,'' he says. ``Furthermore, this problem is compounded by the myth that imported goods are better.''

He adds that trading companies are more than happy to comply with that request because of fast margins.

``In the end, `indigenous' machine building capability never takes flight,'' he says, reiterating that local companies like Digital City can produce machinery suitable for various production applications.

Light in darkness

Goh believes the current economic downturn may be a blessing in disguise. ``It might change management's thinking about buying imported machines, which is now the last option in their minds,'' he says.

He cites statistics which show that local companies spend an estimated RM38.1mil annually to purchase computer controlled machinery -- also known as ``CNC machinery'' for some obscure reason.

Given the current climate, the prices of imported machinery have shot up due to the exchange rate.

Goh also reckons that prompt and quality after-sales service would also be hard to come by, given the current economic condition.

He adds that locals do possess the skill and knowledge to design and make quality machines.

``Customers must start believing in local capability and know-how. The Government must do its part to help and nurture these capabilities,'' he says.

Naturally, the development of machines takes time and costs money. But bankers and financial institutions must support these OEM operations to help develop the industry, he says.

Goh believes that computer controlled machinery is the heart and soul of any industrialised nation.

``If we make these machines here, we can reduce the drain on our foreign exchange and develop the foundation in high-tech design-and-build capability,'' he adds.

Doing his bit

Meanwhile, the company is not waiting for handouts, or for the industry to multiply. Instead, last year he started an automation business using computer aided design and integrated manufacturing techniques, with the aim of building high-end machinery locally.

The company has secured a feather in its cap by securing a RM350,000 deal to build a complex computer controlled machine. The deal, with a local company, involves designing and building the machine with a built-in robotic handling system.

Digital City will also develop the complex software to drive the high-tech machinery, says Goh.

He adds that the company has also succeeded in designing and building a high-speed electronic servo-controlled packaging machine for the local and overseas markets.

``This machine can pack a variety of products, ranging from chocolate bars and razor blades, to bread and non-foodstuffs,'' he says.

The hi-speed electronic servo-controlled packaging machine, complete with touchscreen technology, will be launched in a few months, he says.

``The touchscreen can be mounted on the machine as an option to set the machine and process parameters. It will also enable a single packaging machine to be linked as a Scada (supervisory control and data acquisition) machine to allow supervisory control and monitoring of the production process,'' he says, adding that a modem link will allow remote interrogation and monitoring of the machine.

Guidelines and step-by-step training on the setting up of machine can also be displayed as a computer video on the screen, he adds.

Digital City has also built equipment like an automatic multipurpose silk screen printing machine, flow packaging system, glove stripping machine and bulk packaging machine.

Each piece of equipment is built from scratch according to customer specifications, Goh claims.

The company hopes to debut its flow packaging machine at the Packaging Fair in Hannover in September.

For Goh, it has been a learning experience. ``It has taught us to be self reliant on in-house expertise, including the expertise required for this CNC project,'' he adds.

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