MTDC's Centre of 9 Pillars™ not only space for innovation, but part of beating heart of Industry4.0

  • Co9P is more than just a space: it’s a community for nurturing I4.0 innovations
  • A place both for I4.0 solution providers and solution seekers to connect

Khairy Jamaluddin (2nd from right), Minister Science, Technology & Innovation was briefed by Co9P™ partners on the projects conducted at MTDC’s Centre of 9 Pillars™ in UPM- MTDC Technology Centre, Serdang during his visit to the Centre.

Stories of innovation and invention are often intertwined with spaces. It wasn’t just about how William R. Hewlett and David Packard founded one of the world’s leading IT companies; they had done so in the (now historical) Palo Alto garage. The first step Jeff Bezos took towards becoming the world’s richest man is at the garage of a rented home in Bellevue, Seattle. And, of course, there’s the garage where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first founded Apple.

Perhaps it speaks to certain magical properties of American garages, but truly, the idea here is that innovation can come from the unlikeliest of places. But as much as bootstrapping amidst storage boxes and old newspapers is the picture of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, it’s also something of a myth.

Wozniak himself acknowledges the romanticism of Apple’s origin story. “The garage is a bit of a myth,” he said. It did become part of the key founding myths of Apple, but only by design.

Truth is, innovation happens in spaces that allow it to happen. It can happen in garages as much as it can happen in laboratories and office spaces. Innovation flowers so long the right people come together, and are given the right tools and the right access to knowledge.

The Centre of 9 Pillars™ ( Co9P™) is striving to become one such place. Introduced by the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), the Co9P™ is located within the compounds of the UPM-MTDC Technology Centre III in Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang, Selangor. Established in 2018, the centre positions itself as a local hub for tech industry players and entrepreneurs to collaborate and solve tech problems.

MTDC's Centre of 9 Pillars™ not only space for innovation, but part of beating heart of Industry4.0  “Back then, we thought that if we can create a community that can offer our SMEs with the appropriate Industry 4.0 related solutions that can be customised to fit their needs and budget, we could be in a strong position to assist the Government in driving the Industry4WRD initiative,” said Mariamah Daud (pic), MTDC Technology Development Division, director.

“With this in mind, we reserved one building, with a vision for a brand, and conviction that there are experts within our midst that were being underutilised. We knew there was demand for academicians, researchers, graduates, small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) and communities all around the country who needed a place to find common minds.”

SCARA robots were designed to mimic the action of a human arm to automate assembly or loading and unloading tasks with speed and precision. SCARA robots are ideal for industrial operations such as food processing, pharmaceutical or electronics manufacturing and automotive assembly applications.

Common needs

The Co9P™ is a community-based centre focused on helping nurture new Industry 4.0 (I4.0) innovations, primarily in accelerating technology scaleup for SMEs. 

The 9 pillars here consist of Autonomous Robot, Simulation, System Integration, Internet of Things (IoT), CyberSecurity, Cloud Computing, Additive Manufacturing, Big Data and Augmented Reality.

The idea here is that by bringing the local solution providers together, Malaysian-centric tech solutions can be birthed. “As most of these solutions are interconnected, building a customised solution according to the need of the SME becomes easy when the solution providers are interconnected within the Co9P™ Community,” Mariamah explains.

Indeed, those that join the centre do gain access to Co9P™ partners, which are leading I4.0 Malaysian organisations. These include the Malaysian Robotics & Automation Society (MyRAS), Malaysia Internet-of-Things Association (MyIoTA) and Advanced Technology Solutions Sdn Bhd (RESPECT) of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

Within the Co9P™ are coworking spaces, meeting rooms, event space and makers’ labs, all which facilitate collaboration and experimentation. But it’s more than just facilities that Co9P™ provides.

The centre is, after all, part of MTDC’s ecosystem. Within MTDC is TENTRA, a training arm that deals with soft skills training. According to Mariamah, the Co9P provides the technical side of the training, focusing on I4.0-based exercises which are conducted at their Industry 4.0 Experience Hub. 

KSS1500 is an educational SCARA Robot where components were specifically constructed for easy assembly and disassembly, to allow students to learn about how the system works. The SCARA robots are operated by Tech Capital Resources, an MTDC Co9P™ partner.

Entering a new era

The Co9P™ ultimately serves the innovation and experimentation aspect of tech startups, as it offers access to space, networking and solutions to SMEs that may not have the resources to start big and grow bigger. It also helps businesses enter the age of digital industries.

This is especially vital during current times. The Covid-19 pandemic is shifting the business landscape, and a hub like the Co9P™ can prove valuable.

“With limited budgets, skills and access to foreign solutions, our SMEs will need to find an alternative source to support their business operations while reducing the health risk of their workers and products they manufacture,” says Mariamah.

“ Co9P™ is ready to provide them with the required I4.0 technologies, customised to their needs, without compromising the quality of the solutions.”

For instance, the centre via collaboration with private partners has expanded the machine retrofitting lab to a full-fledged centre, which will offer SMEs a programme to retrofit their existing manual machines (with the required motors, sensors and control panels) as an alternative to buying new Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, which can prove costly.

Several other companies have agreed to set up operations for Robotics, Autonomous Robots, 3D printing, Augmented Reality and Drones where each of these centres will specifically focus on providing various levels of training needs and custom-made solutions that meet the budget of SMEs ranging from micro to large corporations.

“We believe that this is a better approach to assist our SMEs during the pandemic, without putting a huge burden on their finances,” notes Mariamah.

The pandemic and the ensuring movement control order (MCO) meant that the Co9P™ has changed, too. The centre has adapted, and is now ready to offer their programmes using an online Training Management System that will be embed into an interactive virtual learning experience for participants.

As a whole, the Co9P™ serves not just solution providers, but solution seekers as well. “For SMEs looking for I4.0 solutions, we invite them to come and meet our local solution providers within the Co9P community. Our experts are ready to give advice and provide recommendations on the best I4.0 solutions (within any of the 9 pillars) to the company, customised to fit their needs and budget,” explains Mariamah.

“To add to that, they can also offer the SMEs trained talent that can be hired to operate and maintain the solutions at their premise.”

It is not all driving business results for MTDC. It also has an active Corporate Social Responsibility programme that reaches out to under privileged children and equips them with I4.0 knowledge to prepare them for the future. The programmes are conducted by its Co9P™ partners.

The people of innovation

The Co9P™ has been operating for two years now – a relatively young venture. It has already seen some successes.

“As a technology partner to SMEs, our value proposition must be kept in line with the aspirations of the Government and at the same time acceptable to the local solution providers.  We need to balance them and keep finding new ways to maintain their level of commitment,” says Mariamah.

“This has been successful so far, evidenced from the programmes that have been awarded and mandated to us by the various Ministries for the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies by our SMEs (MEDAC) and the creation of local talent and technopreneurs for Industry 4.0 based solutions (MoHE).”

For Mariamah, however, a major milestone is validation from industry itself.

“One of the major achievements of Co9P™ is the continuous support we get from local I4.0 industry experts within the community.  This is the most challenging part of all because creating a centre is easy, but having strong technical partners (in the case of Co9P™, the anchor companies within the community) is not,” she elaborates.

Yet the centre is only as strong as its community. Which is why she is calling for more participants.

“For local companies providing Industry 4.0 solutions, we would like them to be part of our Co9P™ community and leverage all the resources that we have made available such as network, training, space and to some extent, opportunities to get financing.”

“We have showcased many of our local I4.0 solutions on our social media platforms, news broadcasting and digital media partners including at our tech events.”

The Co9P™ will grow as I4.0 grows. Going forward, MTDC is looking to expand the centre nationwide. The goal is to bring Co9P™ to other parts of the country and build its brand to become the national trademark for local I4.0 solutions.

“We want to make Co9P as the preferred place for our SMEs to look for I4.0 solutions, for our universities to commercialise their I4.0 products and services, and, as a platform to integrate I4.0 products and services into their various programmes run by the respective Ministries,” explains Mariamah.

Going back to the story of startup garages, it wasn’t that the garages itself allowed for the creation of Apple and HP. It was the people – the Hewletts and Packards, the Jobs’ and Wozniaks. The Co9P is not only the space, but also the people.

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