SINGAPORE: British technology firm Dyson will hire 250 more engineers and scientists in Singapore over the next five years, as it pushes deeper into areas such as robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Announcing this on Wednesday (Apr 14), Dyson also said it will “shortly” move into its new global headquarters at the historic St James Power Station.
“Here in Singapore, we are expanding in specific areas such as robots, machine learning, artificial intelligence and connectivity. And we are looking to hire experts in that field, which goes across all products,” said Dyson’s chief executive officer Roland Krueger.
The company will also establish a new global cybersecurity centre here.
Dyson previously said it will invest nearly S$5 billion in new technology to double its product portfolio and enter new fields “beyond the home” by 2025. The fresh investments, announced in November last year, will focus on Singapore, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.
LOOKING FOR TECH TALENT
Dyson, founded by billionaire James Dyson and best known for its vacuum cleaners, currently employs about 1,400 people in Singapore. Nearly half are engineers and scientists.
The hiring of another 250 people will double its existing software and electronics engineering teams, the company said. Recruitment is already under way, based on job openings available on its website.
Singapore has “a very good talent base” for the expertise Dyson hopes to venture deeper into, said Mr Krueger in an interview with CNA ahead of the announcement.
But as more companies look to expand in the same fields, Singapore, like many other markets in the world, is facing a technology talent crunch.
Asked if Dyson finds it difficult to hire given the competition for the same talent pool, Mr Krueger replied: “We don't have the experience that you’ve just mentioned. We actually find some very, very good talent here, especially from universities.
“We have to recognise that 26 per cent of the students in Singapore are choosing engineering or engineering-related subjects, which is great.”
The appliances brand has been working closely with all the local universities. For instance, it launched an engineering studio in the Nanyang Technological University in 2018 and more recently, it announced a new university research programme here to drive product development.
Coupled with internship opportunities, all these efforts are “intended obviously to groom the next generation of engineers for Dyson”, said Mr Krueger who took on the top job at Dyson in end-March last year.
On whether the company has also tapped initiatives like the new Tech.Pass scheme to recruit talent from overseas, Mr Krueger said that while Dyson seeks to find the best talent globally, its efforts in Singapore are “definitely on Singaporean talent”.
MOVE INTO NEW HEAD OFFICE
Dyson also confirmed that it will “shortly” begin to move into St James Power Station, a national monument.
It first announced in late-2019 that the colonial-era power station located in the Harbourfront vicinity is its top pick for a new global head office, months after shifting its head office to Singapore from Britain.
Restoration works have been completed. Work to equip the building, which has a gross floor area of 110,000 sq ft, as its new global headquarters is under way, the company said in its press release.
When ready, it will be home to Dyson’s robotics and other research laboratories, as well as other global functions such as sales, finance and administration, said Mr Krueger.
The company will hold on to its other premises in Singapore – an 88,000 sq ft space at the Science Park which currently serves as its main location for product development and testing, as well as an advanced manufacturing facility in Jurong that builds its patented digital motors.
The Singapore Technology Centre at Science Park will continue to house some of its laboratories, such as the hair science laboratories where the testing of its hair care products take place.
But with space being freed up when some of the laboratories move to St James Power Station, it is set to add a new Cyber Fusion Centre which will focus on research and development in frontier areas such as operational technologies and the Internet of Things.
“As a company that's working on innovation and technology, we need to protect our IP (intellectual property) and as you know, cybersecurity is something that everybody is concerned about when you want to protect your IP,” said Mr Krueger, adding that Singapore is the “right place” to set up a cybersecurity centre given its strong intellectual property regime.
As for details of its new advanced manufacturing hub here, the company said it remains a “few months” away from coming to a decision.
“The idea was that we could establish one particular hub where we can combine manufacturing and engineering to some extent, so engineers who are working on a particular product … would then also be in proximity of that factory and work together with the engineering and operation team.
“We have announced that we are looking for a combined hub, but we have not made any concrete decision on where that will be,” said Mr Krueger.
Dyson’s sprawling new head office will be opening at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people work and define physical workplaces.
On whether it is also rethinking the need for physical office spaces, Mr Krueger said Dyson believes “strongly” in collaboration among all functions in the company as it holds the key to innovation.
“I always say literally sitting around one table and finding solutions together, and that's kind of the Dyson way that we believe in. Therefore, it is necessary that we all come together in one place and work together.”
Besides, product testing is something that cannot be done remotely, he added.
Founder James Dyson, who is also chief engineer at his company, said: “Pioneering minds working in inspiring spaces will find technology-based solutions to big problems. We are anticipating, with great excitement, our expansion into the historic St James Power Station and I hope that this space will provide a backdrop to some great discoveries in Singapore.”
READ: Dyson looking to hire 'substantially' more electronic engineers, digital marketers in Singapore
MAKING MORE INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS
But one thing that the pandemic has spurred change in is the company’s investments into digital marketing and e-commerce, as more consumers turn to shopping online.
It will “invest heavily” in these areas so as to establish a “direct” relationship with its customers.
Said Mr Krueger: “If you have established a relationship between the customer and the company in a direct way, that also gives you access to direct data and customer experience that will help the engineers to develop products.”
Dyson has been in Singapore for more than a decade, with the opening of its first facility at Science Park One in 2007.
Apart from the move of its corporate office, the company’s major announcements involving Singapore thus far include the unexpected plan to build its first electric car plant here. That, however, hit the brakes in October 2019 when Dyson abandoned the project as it was not commercially viable.
At the moment, apart from being its global head office, Singapore also serves as a hub for Dyson’s engineering, commercial, advanced manufacturing and supply chain operations.
This is also where its patented digital motors, which powers its cord-free vacuum cleaners and personal care machines, is made, with one such motor rolling off its manufacturing line in Jurong every 2.6 seconds.
On the type of innovative products that consumers can expect in the coming years and the role that Singapore plays, Mr Krueger pointed to the work going on in its robotics laboratory.
When CNA visited one of these laboratories earlier this week, a vacuum robot was being tested in a real-home setting to see what it will do when it comes across different objects and home layouts. In another laboratory, the navigation systems of these vacuum robots are tested through a system of pulleys and obstacles suspended from the ceiling.
“What we’re testing (at our robotics lab) is specifically (sensing) and software. In the future, all home appliance products will have a certain level of that (sensing), the software and the interaction between yourself as the owner and the product,” said Mr Krueger.
“That is through connectivity, that is through apps and also through data collection that you can use to optimise the performance of your product. So, we are working in all those directions.”
Tests on existing products can also throw up other observations.
“It's not dedicated to what you saw – a floor care robot that is cleaning the floor in your home. You can imagine that those technologies can also give benefits in other products because they measure, for example, the cleanliness of your environment,” he added.
“With our purifiers, they can give you a data read on how clean your air is at home and these are all benefits that we believe in the future will go into other products too.”
Another key focus will be the commercialisation of its proprietary solid-state battery technology, a form of power storage touted as safer, longer-lasting and more energy efficient.
Singapore is one of the markets where research on this is happening and when the company moves into the next stage of development, “there will be a larger and increased role for Singapore”, said the chief executive.
In its press release on Wednesday, Dyson also said it will be doubling the research team at its technology campus in the UK, which will be tasked with “creating the multiple new technologies” that will enable it to move into new fields of products.