In this final instalment of a six-part series on productivity for enterprises, we take a look behind the scenes at Kwong Woh Hin’s sauce factory. Find out how they cut down on labour-intensive processes through adopting technology.
It can be surprising for some to step into the premises of Kwong Woh Hing’s sauce factory. What may seem like a run-down operation from the outside is actually tradition preserved, with the aid of technology. “Since 1943, our philosophy has been to produce the best soy sauce,” says Mr Simon Woo (above right), the second-generation owner of Kwong Woh Hing Sauce Factory Pte Ltd. “We will not compromise the quality of our sauces for larger orders. We continuously invest in maintaining the standard of our products, as well as looking at ways to improve them – not just for the sake of expansion, but because we value our heritage.”
Continuing tradition through technology
In 2010, the company sought assistance from SPRING Singapore through its Technology Innovation Programme (TIP), hoping to harness technology to relieve its employees from the burden of labour-intensive processes. Automating some of its processes by using customised soy bean cookers and fermentation tanks has allowed the company to reduce the amount of time spent on repetitive processes such as the frying, churning and mixing of raw materials by 20 per cent. Mr Woo explained, “At Kwong Woh Hing, we have two groups of employees: those who have been with us for more than two decades, and those less than three years. We don’t have many employees who are in between. The long laborious hours are a turn-off for the younger generation of workers, which makes it extremely difficult to hire and retain staff if you’re in the food manufacturing industry.”
“These days, I wait for those whom I’ve offered a job to call me back. This was certainly not the case in the older days, when applicants call to check on the outcome of their interview,” laughs Mr Woo. “To ensure the sustainability of the business, the need to automate is even more urgent, so we can better deploy the available manpower.”
He added, “We don’t think our people are redundant just because certain processes have been automated. We treasure every one of them, and value their loyalty to the company, especially when it is now so difficult to hire new people. To ensure continuity, we have adopted a model of retraining to good success.”
Creating sweet success with technology
Beyond productivity, technology innovation has also enabled Kwong Woh Hing to expand its product offerings. The company is currently working on vinegar-based drinks, after the youthful-looking Mr Woo became convinced of their benefits after incorporating them in his regular diet. He shared, “I could not find any satisfactory products in the Singapore market, and saw an opportunity for Kwong Woh Hing to get ahead by being a first mover.”
With continued support from the Technology Innovation Programme, Kwong Woh Hing started formulating recipes and conducting tests two years ago in its quest to produce naturally-brewed vinegar-based flavoured drinks. “We were unsuccessful in the beginning, and had to discard several failed batches,” recalled Mr Woo. “However, through the TIP, we reduced the time needed to develop a market-ready product.”
With the use of technology, the company successfully developed stable manufacturing processes and established in-house methodologies to determine the level of acetic acid concentration in the vinegar-based drinks. Kwong Woh Hing produced at least ten flavours of the vinegar-based drinks, including apple, pineapple, banana and tomato, as well as Asian flavours such as black date, wolfberry and chrysanthemum. These drinks were launched at the recent Singapore Food Expo 2012 event.
“Technology has helped us increase productivity, innovate, and ensure business sustainability. We might be a ‘traditional’ business, but we are forward-looking and will continue to invest in technological processes that can contribute to the longevity of the business,” concluded Mr Woo.
Reproduced from SPRINGnews June 2012 Issue. Published by SPRING Singapore.