At The Helm

The rise of smart cities has created fresh opportunities for the marine arm of ST Engineering to expand its environmental services and solutions for water and waste management. Chew Men Leong, Chief Marketing Officer, Deputy President & President (Defence Business) in Marine, ST Engineering, shares the strategy to capture these growth markets.

ST Engineering is not new to environmental engineering services. Back in the 2000s, sensing the growing demand for reliable water and waste management services and solutions, the marine arm of ST Engineering had set up an environmental division to provide services and solutions for water and solid waste management.

The company has since built a strong track record as a reliable partner in water and solid waste management. It has participated in various large-scale projects under different contracting and partnership models, including Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC), Operations and Maintenance (O&M), Design-Build-Own-Operate (DBOO) and Design-Build-Own-Transfer.

With the escalating and widespread demand for water security and sustainable solutions in today’s highly urbanised world, ST Engineering is stepping up efforts to strengthen its capabilities in large and complex environmental projects.

ST Engineering’s marine sector is already well positioned internationally as an innovative and reliable ship designer and builder. What were the strategic impetuses to move into environmental engineering back then, and are they still relevant today?

We are constantly looking for ways to diversify into new markets with good growth potential and where we can capitalise on our existing strengths and track records in engineering design and project management.

At the start of the 21st century, sustainability was fast gaining worldwide attention with the rising threats of global warming. We saw this as an area where we could further leverage our engineering capabilities and decided to move into the environmental engineering space in the 2000s, first in solid waste management, and then later, water treatment solutions and O&M services.

There are many similarities between shipbuilding and environmental engineering projects. Both tend to be large-scale and complex. In both types of projects, it’s important to get the design correct upfront. You must also possess the financial strength and project management capabilities to deliver and execute the projects well. So, it makes sense for us to grow the environmental business under the marine arm of ST Engineering where we can benefit from the transfer of knowledge and expertise, and at the same time, deepen core capabilities and partners network to develop the business.

A good example of this synergy is in the domain of mechanical and electrical engineering. Shipbuilding uses a lot of piping systems to wire up the entire vessel. Similar know-how and techniques are also used in waste management and water treatment plants.

Another example is the NERVA Smart Water Management System that we have developed to monitor and manage water and wastewater treatment processes. We are making good effort to migrate NERVA’s smart data management technologies, such as data analytics, predictive maintenance and smart sensors, from recent experiences with naval platforms over to environmental engineering projects.

We have certainly come a long way from the first project to build, design and operate Brunei’s first Integrated Waste Management System. By drawing on its design and engineering resources, we are now working to secure new projects in waste-to-energy (WTE), material recycling handing, mechanical biological treatments, and water and wastewater treatment. We will continue to strengthen our track record and move on to taking on more challenging opportunities. 

Where and what are some these challenging opportunities?

If you look at the latest Global Outlook of the Water Industry 2018 by Frost & Sullivan, the water market is estimated to be worth nearly US$700 billion, with forecasted annual growth of 6.4% and 7.6% for the municipal and industrial segments respectively. The margins are expected to be in O&M, an area which we are strong in. As for WTE, Mordor Intelligence and Visiongain predicted it would be a US$26 billion market by 2023, with opportunities lying in the development of WTE plants and technology.

Both areas are big growth sectors as the world becomes more urbanised and people expect better quality of life. Our focus is to strengthen our core engineering services and O&M in WTE and water treatment and to collaborate with technology partners and energy suppliers to deliver integrated solutions to end users.

We have a few good successes. One of them is the Phase 3 expansion of the Kranji NEWater Factory where we had to design, build and maintain a 5 million imperial gallons per day (MIGD) facility. We completed the project within 12 months—a good half a year before the contracted deadline.

Another win is the Jurong Island Desalination Plant (JIDP), Singapore’s fifth desalination plant. We partnered with Tuas Power to design, build, own and operate a 30 MIGD desalination plant on Jurong Island. When the new desalination plant becomes operational by 2020, it will add 30 MIGD of desalinated water to Singapore’s water supply over a 25-year period from 2020 to 2045. To achieve greater cost synergy, we integrated the plant with an existing utility facility, which allowed us to offer a more competitive water tariff in the Water Purchase Agreement with Singapore’s Public Utilities Board.

What are some of the challenges you face in the environmental engineering space?

For many of us, it is the change in pace and customer expectation. WTE and water treatment are two fast growing sectors each with its own technology, processes and industry nuances. It is quite a departure from the mature and stable shipbuilding industry.

Competition is keen. And to win projects, you must have the right track records and proven technologies. We had very little of both when we first started out and had to rely on our experience in EPC and O&M to secure opportunities. It was not easy.

The overseas working environments are very different. We have to constantly adjust ourselves learning to work with people from different cultures, understanding local regulations, and building a competent project team who can excel under these conditions and engage the customers successfully.

Then, there is the technology. Of late, there is a great drive towards smart plants using Internet-of-Things technologies, artificial intelligence, machine-learning and data analytics, as well as the use of robotics and autonomous vehicles to maximise productivity and reduce manpower.

With this mix of opportunities and challenges, where on the horizon do you see ST Engineering heading towards in environmental engineering?

As an environmental engineering business, we want to become a leading project developer and operator in water, wastewater, solid waste and WTE. Towards this end, we are pursuing plant projects in Singapore, Southeast Asia and the Middle East while adding new smart environmental technologies to our suite of services. We are also actively seeking strategic partners, like Tuas Power for JIDP, to secure new projects and gain access into new markets.

As a part of the larger engineering group, both water and waste management are important components of the smart city offering under ST Engineering. We are leaning on the Group’s financial strength and support to establish Public-Private Partnerships for large-scale DBOO environmental engineering projects. These projects are important to keep our engineering capabilities current; develop new competencies in areas such as desalination, WTE and data analytics; and generate long-term recurring revenue.

ST Engineering’s environmental engineering footprint

Project

Scope

Jurong Island Desalination Plant
Singapore

Design, build, own and operate a 30 MIGD desalination plant.

Kranji NEWater Factory Phase III Expansion
Singapore

Design, build and maintain a 5 MIGD NEWater facility.

Pneumatic Waste Collection
Tianjin Eco-City, China

Design, build and operate a Pneumatic Waste Collection System for 15,000 people.

Material Recovery Facility
Bejing Daxing, China

Design and build a 600 tonnes/day (TPD) MRF.

Integrated Waste Management System
Brunei Darussalam

Design, build and operate a 500 TPD Refuse Transfer Station, a 500 TPD Engineered Landfill (to US EPA standard) and a 100 TPD MRF. 4½ years of O&M to improve operations and optimise efficiency.