Thailand has been aggressively seeking to boost its competitive edge in recent years, with measures that include new tax and financial incentives, and the approval of several mega-projects designed to stimulate research and development (R&D) activities across the country.
This in turn has spurred local demand for laboratory instruments and equipment.
The country is also investing heavily in technology start-ups, all of which require an array of high-tech equipment.
Last year, Thailand’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MIST) partnered with several venture-capital firms to establish a 500 million baht (US$14.4 million) investment fund to deliver financing across a range of priority sectors, including next-generation cars, smart electronics, medical and wellness tourism, agriculture and biotechnology, food, robotics for industry, logistics and aviation, biofuels and biochemicals, and medical services.
According to exhibitors at the September Thailand Lab International 2016 expo, the cumulative impact of these initiatives has been huge.
“We offer scientific services for manufacturing companies with a particular focus on benchmarking development programmes and testing for the automotive and aerospace sectors in Thailand,” said Wirat Inthavee, General Manager of INS Thai, the local subsidiary of INS, the French multinational scientific testing group.
“The financial and investment incentives available to the sectors that we serve have genuinely boosted our sales prospects. As Thailand is already the leading vehicle and automotive-parts exporter in Southeast Asia, our market has any number of opportunities for growth.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Suraphan Chiamchit, a Senior Service Engineer for BUCHI, a Swiss supplier of laboratory equipment, said: “The Thai government has increased the tax incentives relating to technology and innovation R&D expenditure. As we specialise in laboratory technology for R&D, quality control and production across a range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food and beverages and environmental analysis, we’re very optimistic about our current prospects.”
According to Orn-Nicha Chanlaem, a Sales and Support Executive with BB Tech & Service, a Bangkok-based importer of pharmaceutical machinery, the tax cuts have proved to be a huge windfall for the sector. “These government initiatives have helped across a broad range of laboratory and scientific expenses, creating a positive domino effect for all of us.”
Tepid Global Growth
Still some businesses in the sector have concerns over tepid global growth and its knock-on effect to many of the industries they serve. Among them was Atipong Saiyud, Asia-Pacific Business Development Director for Analytik Jena, a German supplier of analytical systems.
“We have customers in the oil and gas industry,” said Mr Saiyud. “Following the recent fall in the price of oil, many oil and gas companies have diverted their spending from investing in new equipment into maintenance and support.
“This is despite the fact that they could increase their throughput considerably with newer, more advanced machines. As a consequence, many in the sector are still using obsolete, less effective systems and are proving slow to adopt newer technologies.”
Predictably, the slowdown in China’s economy is also having an impact further afield. “There has been a number of purchase constraints on account of the slowdown in the Chinese economy,” said Julien Cabon, South East Asia Business Development Manager for Interscience, the French microboiology specialists. “With whatever happens in China impacting everywhere else, some projects have been delayed or cancelled due to subsequent budgetary constraints.
“Despite these difficulties, though, I remain optimistic about the future. The positive GDP growth within the ASEAN bloc will certainly attract more foreign investment.
Already, more and more multinationals are moving into the region, especially into Indonesia and Thailand.
“As these economies develop, the quality of pharmaceutical products and food, as well as health concerns in general, will become ever more important. Companies will need access to higher-end technology while there will also be a greater emphasis on traceability. As a provider of microbiological analysis for food, pharmaceutical, veterinary and chemical sectors, this will certainly open doors for us.”
Overall, the forecast for the region as a whole is largely positive. According to a recent report from BCC Research, a US-based specialist technology consultancy, the Asian market for general lab ware was worth US$1.4 billion in 2015. It is forecast to be worth at least US$2.8 billion by 2020.
To benefit from this growth, the Thai government has launched several initiatives designed to upgrade the country’s labour force. Most notably are the Thailand Science Park and the Talent Mobility Program, both of which have been designed to encourage knowledge transfer and to enhance competitiveness at a global level.
“Expertise is very important for us,” said Mr Inthavee. “We need to do more than just keep pace with technology, we need to be ahead of the curve. To this end, we participate in seminars and invest in training in order to keep our knowledge base and skills competitive.”
For Thanachai Erbkittisawat, a Marketing Specialist working with Thailand-based Bio-Active Co, while getting people with the expertise is vital, he believes that increasing automation within the industry may prove to be a game-changer. “Although cutting-edge knowledge and expertise is crucial in our sector, automation will mitigate the existing dependence on a constant supply of highly-skilled workers,” he said.
“Now, there’s an increasing need for tools that not only increase automation, but also minimise problems, particularly with regard to human error. This is one of the things we’re placing a real emphasis on – higher yield of error-free reads and fewer false positives, false negatives and mis-calls.
“At the same time, our customers still have access to our traditional support systems, such as user-group meetings, symposiums and online forums. This collaborative approach between researchers, scientists and users not only ensures we stay relevant, but also creates a more innovative environment.”