Archive for the ‘Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association’ Tag

TTMA’s Greig Laughlin calls for innovation

Greig Laughlin, TTMA President, on the state of innovation in T&T

TTMA President Greig Laughlin is a busy man.

“Oh gosh, I am constantly running all over the place… but I can’t complain,” he laughs good-naturedly, as I finally cornered him following e Teck’s High Value Manufacturing Cluster Launch held at the Trinidad Hilton at the end of April.

Laughlin, also the Managing Director of automotive products supplier Laughlin & De Gannes, joined the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association (TTMA) six years ago as a small manufacturer.

He was recently re-elected to serve a second term as TTMA President. Despite tremendous challenges, he led the TTMA through the effects of the global economic crisis.

He managed to share with me his passionate plea for the future of innovation in Trinidad & Tobago.

Robotic innovation

“We at the TTMA have been strong promoters of innovation,” he said. “Some manufacturers have taken advantage of the slowdown period by really looking into their processes and finding new ways of delivering.  Most are trying to find new niche markets, and in order to do this, they have to be more innovative in what they’re doing.”

One example sited was Robert Tang Yuk, of Tang Yuk & Co. Ltd., who brought in an entire robotic plant that builds electrical boxes.

Like Laughlin, Tang Yuk has worked extensively with University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) students, who were excited to get involved with the robotic plant. It is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean and one of the few in Latin America.

“But what he envisions is doing more,” Laughlin stated. “Architects and builders are now making such a wide range of designs that they’re not looking for standard-sized boxes – now they want different sizes, different shapes, and intricate designs. As such, Tang Yuk has to make more innovative designs.” 

‘Mistrust’ bars innovation

But one of the major problems facing Trinidad, as Laughlin argues, is the level of mistrust between students and the business community.

He also lamented that the mentality in Trinidad and Tobago is still one of trading – ‘buying-and-selling’ – rather than building our own.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he justified. “But we also need to find industries that will add to the economy. My fear – and it should be the fear of many – is what happens when oil and gas is over with. How do you continue to keep going?

“How do we maintain – and increase – our standard of living after oil and gas? What can we fall back on?”

Renewable energy focus

Laughlin suggested that instead of focusing on oil and gas energy, the country needs to place more emphasis on renewable energies such as solar chips.

He says: “We need to find technologies that will take Trinidad and Tobago into the next 50 years and 100 years.”

e TecK’s Tamana InTech Park in Wallerfield, north-east Trinidad, will address this need for innovation as a core component of the country’s business infrastructure.

The Park, which is expected to be opened later this year, is an 1100-acre light eco-industrial park with an academic and research focus that will also balance a unique blend of environmental appeal (30% green) with industrialisation.

Its largest tenant, the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), will provide the essential synergy between industry and academia that TTMA President Greig Laughlin fervently supports.

Communicate, Innovate, Liberate: Launch of the High Value Manufacturing Cluster Initiative

The fervent plea for ‘innovation’ was the cohesive thread among the keynote speakers at e TecK’s  High Value Manufacturing Cluster Launch, which was held at the Trinidad Hilton on April 29th.

The Cluster Initiative provides support for a group of interconnected companies, educational and research institutes and associations, developing linkages between the members and gaining importance from the synergies between stakeholders in order to minimize business expenses for research and development, and streamline production and distribution channels.

High Value Manufacturing is a very different philosophy,” said Dr. Denise Thompson, Professor at the Centre for Production Systems at the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT).

“We have to re-train ourselves… how we view ourselves, how we conduct business, what we do. Hopefully the cluster is going to be assisting there in terms of moving our industries into the high-value areas.”

‘Business sophistication’

The issue at hand, as Dr. Thompson identified, is ‘business sophistication’: we must move up the value chain in the types of products and services that we offer.

She reiterated that we should no longer be satisfied with producing the best cocoa beans in the world at $3US a kilogram, but we should move towards producing the best chocolate in the world for $1500US a kilogram.

“Farmers must start thinking of themselves as not just farmers but as businessmen, engaging in the industry in terms of pushing what they do up the value chain,” she said.

“What we see in the cocoa industry is repeated in all different areas. We think for some reason that we can’t market our own stuff, when we can. We cannot just say ‘Well we’re a small market’. We need to recognize that the world is always there.”

‘Parlour mentality’

Dr. Prakash Persad, Professor of Design and Manufacturing at UTT, also believes that the problem lies in the culture and mindset of the population.

“We seem to lack the confidence,” he said, addressing the attendees. “We need to change the ‘parlour mentality’ of just buying and selling.”

Dr. Persad lamented the deficiencies in the country’s legislative framework, particularly the lack of the enforcement of intellectual property laws for the manufacturing sector.

“To publish is to perish,” he explained. “Once your research is published by a tertiary institution, it belongs to the public. If you publish, you can’t get ownership within a year, and the patent process takes up to five years.”

Safeguarding Intellectual Property

Greig Laughlin, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association, added that there is a general ‘mistrust’ between students and the business community which acts as a barrier to innovation.

“We are very innovative in partying, fete and all that, but where we lag behind is in business innovation,” he stated. “The real problem is the lack of an IP policy to help students… The cost of innovation is the real key.”

The Cluster Initiative, which has been undertaken over the last three years throughout the twin island, is also core to the construction and development of e TecK’s eco-industrial Tamana InTech Park in Wallerfield, north-east Trinidad, which is expected to be opened later this year.

Tamana InTech Park offers the benefits of corporate clustering within four sectors: Information Communication and Technology (ICT), Agro-Industrial, High Value Manufacturing and Mixed Use.

The corporate clustering format of the Park will provide a managed environment in which similar businesses and industries will interconnect to create innovation solutions and increase productivity, allowing them to compete on a global scale.