Perspectives from ISB

At a time where many enterprises are still debating about making the move into Industry 4.0, local family business Onn Wah Precision Engineering is already powering ahead. Ambitious plans that managing director Lam Keng Yew, a second-generation business owner, has in the works include 3D printing, data analytics, and smart factories – where robots and highly skilled workers labour alongside each other.

The firm may be taking a quantum leap into the future with innovation and cutting edge technologies, but not everything has to change, says Mr Lam. Certain traditional values still prevail, and the 56-year-old company prides itself on a strong family culture where employees are treated as equals.

When Onn Wah was first established in 1961 by Mr Lam’s father, Lam Kok Luen, the business was primarily focused on producing drive shafts and propellers for small boats. He later moved on to more general engineering works. It was only around in 1985 that they started their first foray into precision parts, and semiconductors after that in 1997.

Today, Onn Wah’s three main services include aerospace, oil and gas, and the semiconductor industry, which contribute more than 70 per cent of the total revenue. Mr Lam adds that Onn Wah’s diversification enables group performance to maintain steady growth regardless of market uncertainty and the ups and downs of any industry since 2009.

Mr Lam says that the company’s biggest achievement is building a strong team of committed employees and engineers. He reveals that an internal study has found that one-third of their staff have stayed with the company for more than 10 years, with 60 per cent who stayed above five years.

Mr Lam attributes this to the positive culture of the company. “There is no hierarchy as staff are treated with respect regardless of whichever job they are doing. We have a lot of communication with staff, and we will share openly if we are doing well or not. It’s not top-down in terms of management style.”

The company is also constantly in tune with what employees want in terms of their work environment. For example, Onn Wah has a nap room for employees to have a quick snooze in the afternoon to refresh themselves, which was done based on feedback from staff.

The next step for the company is to transform itself into a smart factory, where machines, automation and data analytics come together.

“We need to go into Industry 4.0 to keep ourselves competitive, but we intend to do it step by step.” he adds. But while the future may be unpredictable, it is clear from him that the same spirit of innovation, far-sightedness and teamwork will continue to propel the business in the future, just like how it has done over the past few decades.

Source: Shiaov, Vivien., The Business Times, November 22, 2017;

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