14 Aug 2018

Igniting Innovation: Phyllis Ong of Armstrong Industrial


How a local SME is still going strong after 45 years
Focus on building creative, capable and adaptable teams to reap the benefits of open innovation, says Phyllis Ong of Armstong Industrial Corporation Limited.

Imagination and ambition put the first man, Neil Armstrong, on the moon. Singapore-based Armstrong Industrial Corporation Limited (Armstrong Industrial) was founded in 1974 with similar gumption, albeit in the domain of precision engineering.

A leader in noise, vibration and heat management solutions in Asia, the company has weathered nearly 45 years of keen competition by embracing innovation and collaborating frequently with external partners to continuously expand its repertoire of technology offerings and intellectual property. It currently serves a diverse array of businesses, ranging from the automotive and data storage industries to consumer electronics, health and medical sectors.

Additionally, Armstrong Industrial leverages strategic partnerships to venture into new markets. With connections to China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Germany, USA and Canada, the company now serves a global clientele, bringing innovative products and services to businesses and consumers alike.

In this interview, Phyllis Ong, deputy CEO of Armstrong Industrial, describes the importance of open innovation to sustaining her company’s growth, and shares how teams are tasked within Armstrong to explore new horizons.

1. What is the secret ingredient allowing Armstrong Industrial to remain competitive?

Our consistent performance in the highly competitive precision engineering industry is due to our synergised strengths across global material sourcing, product design development, process engineering and lean manufacturing. Importantly, we have a competent, well-trained and stable regional leadership team with global technology partners.

2. How has open innovation changed the way your company operates?

Our long-term business direction is to create, develop and own more intellectual property (IP) by working with strategic partners. Open innovation allows us to look beyond our existing resources and constraints, and venture into out-of-the-box and unconventional business opportunities and possibilities while working with our core competency.

One example of open innovation is our partnership with a biomaterials company which specialises in high-grade collagen, which could be used in the medical and healthcare sectors. We were introduced to the company by IPI back in 2016, and we have since embarked on a project on wound care which is entering into the animal testing phase via a collaboration with a local hospital. We are looking forward to starting clinical trials on humans by 2019, and we strive to have a final product by 2020.

It has been a slow journey due to the many requirements and protocols for medical products, but the team has been handling it well. Concurrently, we are working on developing dermatological solutions with biomedical-related materials.

3. Could you tell us about your company’s strategy for growth going forward?

Armstrong has always believed in innovation and growth via developing new products and industries in our past almost 45 years. The difference is that now we are prepared to venture beyond component manufacturing and work with strong partners to co-invest, co-develop and co-brand finished products to strengthen our long-term IP bank.

IPI has been a very resourceful and valuable partner who introduced relevant contacts to us and expanded our network.

4. How do you encourage a culture of open innovation in your company?

We have set up a small division within Armstrong called Armstrong ATOMIC, which stands for Armstrong Answers for TOMorrow Innovation Centre. The team members are a mix of talents performing different functions at different levels, and their role is to drive innovation and build new sizeable businesses which have high industry growth potential.

Our first project involved developing a consumer brand travel pillow. We collaborated with external partners and recruited new talents who worked together with our existing talent pool to produce the world’s first customisable and modular travel pillow, branded under the name ‘CORI Traveller’. It was launched successfully on Kickstarter, which is an online crowdfunding platform in June 2017, followed by yet another successful second campaign in July 2018. Very soon this product will be sold across more than 45 cities and close to 100 cities globally.

This is a very different ballgame compared to our conventional fabricator core business, but it is also exciting, challenging our team to be adaptable and to think and act differently. The ATOMIC team will continue to work with other partners to develop a wider range of interesting and innovative products for travellers all over the world.

5. What are some lessons you have learnt in the process of engaging in open innovation?

I’ve learnt that open innovation is an exciting and long journey, with many unknowns and ambiguities. Hence, my focus is primarily people-oriented—keep choosing the right talents, keep building the right teams, keep our minds and hearts firmly focused on the mission, and most importantly never give up in the face of adversity.

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