EECi takes shape
The government’s ambitious plan to propel Thailand into the upper reaches of the industries of the future is already harvesting the low-hanging fruit and moving ahead at pace
published : 7 Feb 2023 at 07:00
The Eastern Economic Corridor of Innovation (EECi) is on track to support the government’s specially designated Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development, National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) President Prof. Sukit Limpijumnong has revealed.
The overriding aim, he points out, is to modernise the country’s economy through new S-curve industries and thereby generate growth.
Officially presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in November 2022, the country’s new innovation centre based in Wangchan Valley in Rayong province has started work with strong ambition to support the country’s transformation into a place that thrives on innovation. The aim is to enhance the country’s economic competitiveness and advance the quality-of-life of its people. As a leading innovation ecosystem in Southeast Asia, Thailand will translate research and innovation into sustainable regional economic development and social well-being.
Prof. Sukit explained that the EECi has been established with a mission to provide science and technology research and development that supports key industries in the EEC as developed by international and local investors alike. The investors not only benefit from trade and investment privileges but also excellent infrastructure provided under government-led initiatives as well as NSTDA’s science and technology support team. This is especially useful to domestic investors needing advanced technologies and innovations to elevate their business value.
“After the COVID-19 outbreak recedes, we expect to see more development in the EEC. Everything is on track, including EECi which is regarded as vital support for stakeholders by eradicating bottlenecks inhibiting the flow of business which it does by adopting technologies and innovating to find solutions,” Prof. Sukit added.
He explained that NSTDA and the Ministry of Industry have been working together surveying industrial plants countrywide, collecting information to set up Thailand’s industry 4.0 readiness index or ‘Thailand i4.0 Index’. The database will become very important for developing the industrial sector, he said. The survey will reveal the status of the existing technology and innovation used in manufacturing companies and identify what is required to upgrade the manufacturing procedures to save costs while yet enhancing production efficiency.
Prof. Sukit further explained that the index should encourage domestic entrepreneurs to invest in the robotics industry because they would see the marketing possibility to sell to a huge number of plants looking for robots to upgrade their production. He noted that China has so far claimed the largest market share supplying robotics in Thailand.
Even if made-in-Thailand robots have higher prices in the beginning, they could gain advantage by providing better service because their plant is in the country. Moreover, the production could be made to perfectly fit the real requirements of customers. This would also enhance related industrial activity generated by SME entrepreneurs, pumping up cash flow inside the economy.
The government has also incentivised the selected industries to upgrade their existing technologies to Industry 4.0. The Board of Investment (BOI) offers maximum tax benefits to support investment in technology upgrades.
Regarding the farming sector, Prof. Sukit revealed that the EECi has developed a smart greenhouse concept to minimise impacts of problematic weather patterns in the country caused by such man-made issues around water, fertilizer, temperature, moisture and others areas. Plants, especially herbs, cultivated in different areas produce different yields due to a variety of natural factors. The amount of active ingredient in the plants differs according to the conditions in the places in which they are cultivated. Smart greenhouses inform farmers as to the best practices to get the most active ingredient from the herbs.
“With the technology, we can provide the best plant species to farmers living in different areas countrywide. They simply select the plants most suitable for their area that require less investment yet produce good yields.”
To help innovative companies scale up their successful research to actual industrial innovations, the EECi has established “Biorefinery Pilot Plant”, a platform offering a broad spectrum of pilot equipment and required expertise for building biorefinery processes. The pilot plant is operated under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to support research and development of bio-based products such as biochemicals, cosmeceuticals and nutraceuticals. Equipped with 15,000-litre fermenters, the pilot plant is capable of producing bio-based products in bulk and is ready for market trial. Prof. Sukit added that the world-class facility would also provide proof of scalability (TRL 4 to 7), a key factor in attracting private investors to decide to invest in Thailand.
Development of the EECi falls under the aegis of NSTDA, a semi-autonomous government agency attached to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research & Innovation. NSTDA partners with PTT Public Company Limited, Thailand’s national energy company, in the development of Wangchan Valley which will be the first major EECi site. In the partnership, PTT plays a key basic infrastructure and smart township development role while NSTDA focuses on development of the EECi innovation ecosystem.
Target sectors include modern agriculture, biorefinery, Industry 4.0, high performance batteries and modern transport, aviation and medical devices.
In another development, Prof. Sukit mentioned that NSTDA and its alliances are working out an action plan to create an artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem in 2022-2027. The aim is to provide a central AI platform so that stakeholders can access AI services. The ecosystem will also facilitate the successful embrace of AI by the general Thai populace. Prof. Sukit disclosed that the first meeting of the national AI committee chaired by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha came up with five strategies and 14 action plans aimed at ensuring that Thai people reap the full benefits of AI technology while being protected against any hostile or rogue AI technology applications.