A*Star launches two new joint labs with local engineering SMEs, with total investment of $11.5 million

Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng (left) at the launch of A*Star's joint labs and innovation factory. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has set up two joint laboratories with local engineering small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to the tune of $11.5 million.

These labs aim to help these firms build new services and capabilities, create jobs and upskill workers.

Engineering companies Tru-Marine and Abrasive Engineering - which became members of A*Star's Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) consortium in 2013 - will further their collaboration with the public-sector research agency.

Under a new joint lab with a combined investment of $6 million over three years, ARTC will help Tru-Marine develop a new system to enable ship owners, managers and operators save costs.

Tru-Marine specialises in maintenance, repair and overhaul of turbochargers for marine and offshore, power plant and locomotive applications. Their new project will allow the company to monitor the health of marine turbochargers in real time, so they can predict potential problems and advise clients to cut unplanned downtime and save costs.

When a potential turbocharger failure shows up on a dashboard, Tru-Marine can also activate one of its partners in its global network, depending on proximity to the affected ship. The customer can then get the turbocharger fixed at the nearest port.

Mr James Loke, group chief executive of Tru-Marine, said: "While we have the idea, it might take us a longer time to develop it because of the (limited) resources of an SME. With ARTC's strong support and domain experts on how data is being transferred, this will provide great help to reduce the timeline of our product going into the market."

The firm also signed a memorandum of understanding with A*Star and Singapore-based container ship operator Pacific International Lines (PIL) to pilot the service on PIL's ships.

The company has hired a data analyst and data scientist, and will recruit three to four more in similar roles in the next few years.

Meanwhile, ARTC and Abrasive Engineering will invest a total of $5.5 million over three years in a joint lab that will help the firm build advanced manufacturing capabilities to make four new types of products and enter new industries such as additive manufacturing and fast-moving consumer goods.

In the pipeline are higher precision valves for more industries, including additive manufacturing and fast-moving consumer goods, as well as a fully-automated room for sandblasting.

The joint lab will create at least nine new jobs in production and engineering roles.

It will also tap the expertise of scientists and engineers from two other A*Star units: the Institute of High Performance Computing and the National Metrology Centre.

Abrasive Engineering managing director Tan Ser Hean said the ARTC has helped his company save time and cost in areas such as digitalisation.

"If we are to survive the Covid-19 crisis, we must continue to invest in R&D (research and development) even if it means having to tighten our belts in other areas," said Mr Tan.

Besides the new labs, A*Star on Tuesday (Dec 15) launched its pilot Innovation Factory @ SIMTech (Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology), in collaboration with Enterprise Singapore.

The 1,400 sq ft a co-creation space will allow A*Star scientists and engineers to guide companies, especially local SMEs, to design and create new products, and help them to move up the value chain and become more competitive.

The pilot set-up features a design workstation with software tools, a workshop with electrical and mechanical design tools, and manufacturing equipment such as 3D printers.

Once a company is ready to scale up production for a newly developed product, such as when a prototype is ready, it can move to the Model Factory @ A*Star to make the product using smart manufacturing solutions.

A full-scale version of the Innovation Factory @ SIMTech is expected to open next year at the CleanTech Park in the Jurong Innovation District, spanning 5,000 to 6,000 sq ft.

Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng (right) watches a demonstration of a swab booth at the pilot Innovation Factory @ SIMTech. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Fourteen local SMEs and two trade associations joined the innovation factory on Tuesday as members and strategic partners respectively. They include imaging solutions firm JM Vistec System, robotics venture builder Blue InCube and data leakage protection specialist Data Terminator.

Dr David Low, chief executive officer of ARTC and executive director of SIMTech at A*Star, said SIMTech has worked with 400 to 500 SMEs every year.

"In the past, a lot of projects were for technology adoption, but with the factory, we are looking at another dimension of product innovation and using technology and digitalisation to come up with new products that our partners require."

Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng, who graced the launch of the joint labs and innovation factory, said: "Covid-19 has created a very difficult operating environment for all of us, for all businesses. The road to economic recovery, even (with the upcoming re-opening of the economy) to Phase 3, is still uncertain and paved with a lot of difficulties. However, I am very happy to know that our local SMEs are not standing still and waiting for the situation to blow over.

"Instead, they are looking ahead by continuing to invest in R&D during these challenging times, and I encourage other SMEs to also develop new business lines and strengthen their existing ones, to increase revenue, profits and strengthen their competitive advantages."

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