The way forward for Malaysia as global rubber glove innovation centre

Strong investments backed by commitments in IR4.0 to achieve global supply chain efficiency


MALAYSIA is currently a major producer of rubber gloves for the world, addressing 65% of global supply needs in 195 countries.

This industry has been a significant contributor to the Malaysia’s GDP with export revenue projected to hit RM60 billion for 2021.

The Malaysian rubber glove industry boomed globally back in the 1980s catalysed by the demand for rubber gloves during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The significant use of disposable rubber gloves continued to rise in the wake of infectious disease outbreaks such as SARS, Ebola and others, and the increased care for hygiene.

Consequently, when the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, the Malaysian rubber glovemakers once again stood up in response, working against the odds, to manage urgent supply and even donations in the call of humanity’s needs.

Over the years, the rubber glove industry has given rise to its manufacturing supply chain from raw materials to machinery innovations.

At the 9th International Rubber Glove Conference and Exhibition hosted by Malaysian Rubber Gloves Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) in 2018, industry experts presented 22 papers in transformation of technology with innovation trends and development for this medical device industry.

The Malaysian rubber glove industry is poised to grow further by way of innovation, automation and capacity building to be supported by good and relevant governing policies for the rubber glove manufacturing sectors.

The evolution of the industry is now at stage 2 of growth in product innovation and production technology.

Leading global manufacturers in Malaysia are heavily investing into research and development (R&D) for cutting-edge product innovations, as well as high-end technology advancements in production with the use of artificial intelligence, Big Data and other technology to heighten automation and reduce hours and manpower used in producing gloves.

Through technology advancement, throughput of glove production has increased from 3000 gloves per hour in 1988, to current standards of 45,000 gloves per hour.

Industry players are hoping to continue to achieve breakthrough speed with greater automation. As it stands, automation is at 85% levels while the last mile of automation is at work in progress.

Productivity in some most advanced factories is now at 1.7 worker per one million gloves; this will continue to be reduced to 1.5 worker per one million gloves by 2024. It used to be 10 workers per one million gloves in 2009.

Industry players are also taking lead to ensure capacity building are encouraged among locals and have initiated programmes to incentivise local workers to join the industry.

This will reduce reliance on foreign workers over a period of time.

The industry is currently taking a significant drive towards sustainability and encouraging clean technology in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Industry players are also stepping up their environmental, social and governance effort to cultivate R&D in the areas of water conservation, alternative energy sources, sustainability and green labelling of Malaysian-made rubber gloves.

To support this navigation, MARGMA will create a centralised R&D database to work with various relevant government entities.

The 12th Malaysia Plan should be an industry inclusive exercise with instruments to support industry players to invest and reinvest into its base in Malaysia, making a way forward for Malaysia as global rubber glove innovation centre.

Efforts are also ongoing to set up the World Glove Manufacturers Permanent Secretariat in Kuala Lumpur.

Hence, the provision for re-investment allowances for investment into innovations and advanced technology adoption will be essential for Malaysia to maintain its pole and leadership position in the glove manufacturing sector.

The industry may, otherwise, face strong competitions from neighbouring countries and China.

Additionally, social compliance involving ethical recruitment practices of foreign labour should be facilitated by transparency in approved fees and expenses on a government-to-government basis between Malaysia and the source countries. This will ensure ethical recruitment and allow the rubber glove industries to move up the ladder on social compliance.

Dr Supramaniam Shanmugam is the president of Malaysian Rubber Gloves Manufacturers Association.

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.