3M to spend $10m on 'smart lab' for urban solutions

Spread over three years, investment aims to cover energy, water and environment issues

Dr Khandpur and one of the experiments at a 3M facility. The Smart Urban Solutions Lab based in Woodlands will have 10 engineers and scientists who can call upon the resources of 3M's 8,500-strong global research team. PHOTO: 3M

Diversified technology company 3M will invest in a $10-million Smart Urban Solutions Lab to tackle three key urban challenges - namely energy, environment and water and information communications technologies integration.

The investment, with the support of the Economic Development Board, is spread over three years and will aim to develop and commercialise new products and solutions for South-east Asia, including Singapore.

3M chief technology officer Ashish Khandpur yesterday said Singapore was chosen as the site for the Lab because of the availability of researchers and scientists, and a good legal framework to protect intellectual property.

Besides, Singapore is the most advanced and progressive in this region in its thinking on urban solutions, said Dr Khandpur, who is based in the United States but was visiting 3M facilities here.

It is also easy to do business here, he told The Straits Times. Elaborating on the Lab's activities here, he said that its focus on key issues, such as energy, water and environment, is part of global urban mega-trends emerging in cities across the world.

New products and solutions that emerge from the Lab will target regional customers, but he is certain that they can be applied in other urban areas too as they face the same challenges.

The Lab is working on a few key applications and piloting some of them with organisations here. One is "ducted illumination", which makes use of special light films that can capture and reflect light through a special duct to "light" up a room. It can work with any light source, such as LED light or even sunlight. The benefits include energy savings and ease of maintenance.

"We're also looking at how we can use liquid emergent technologies to take the heat away from a computer by immersing it in liquid coolant.

"This method uses less energy and can be used in situations where many computers are working side by side, such as in a data centre," he said. 3M is using this technology in a pilot project with the Nanyang Technological University.

The Lab based in 3M's Woodlands facility will have 10 engineers and scientists with skills in areas such as materials science, chemical engineering, liquid filtration and electronics engineering.

It will be headed by Dr Chi-Ying Lee, who also leads research and development for 3M Singapore.

Said Dr Khandpur: "The Lab can leverage on the 8,500 people in 3M's global research and development team. Any time they have a problem, they can pick up the phone and speak to someone.

"We can't build everything in one place, so we need to collaborate."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 3M to spend $10m on 'smart lab' for urban solutions. Subscribe