FANCY working with industrial robots and 3D printers?

Cutting-edge developments like these could very well be the future of our manufacturing sector.

The sector is restructuring and gearing itself towards high value-added engineering production, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, said yesterday.

He was speaking as the guest of honour at MTA 2015, a precision engineering industry event held at the Singapore Expo.

The event, which ends on Friday, saw 350 companies from 27 countries exhibit the latest technologies. It is expected to attract about 12,000 people.

Mr Lee also urged the manufacturing sector, which accounts for one-fifth of Singapore's economic output, to aggressively adopt new technologies and cross traditional industry boundaries.

One such technology is "additive manufacturing", more commonly known as 3D printing.

Mr Sean Looi, general manager of Singapore-based 3D-printing system supplier Creatz3D, said that companies are moving from prototyping applications to manufacturing-related ones, which can be aided by 3D printing.

However, the shift is slower in Singapore, compared with countries such as the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Mr Looi attributes this to a conservative mindset among those in the industry, which has not fully grasped the benefits of manufacturing-related applications.

"We have the skill sets, we have the people - it's just whether the business owners are willing to say: 'Let's take this.'"

He added that intellectual property frameworks are still catching up with 3D-printing technology, which may be exploited to replicate and sell products.

More importantly, concerns were raised about the manufacturing sector. The Economic Development Board stated that output fell by 3.6 per cent in February.

Mr Lee said that global trade cycles may be a partial explanation. He also called for a more holistic assessment of the sector, as current figures largely reflect merchandise exports as opposed to manufacturing services.

Firms such as ABB Group, a power and automation technologies firm supplying industrial robots, are doing well.

Mr Ang Boon Hua, local business unit manager of ABB Robotics, expects the group's Singapore office to double its revenue over the next five years.