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Anchored in Singapore History : The Story of the Marine Industry


Anchored in Singapore History - Book Cover

Voice for the Industry
Made in Singapore
Positioning the Keel Blocks
A Remarkable Story of Growth
No. 1 Centre in Shiprepair
A Future in Industrial Engineering
Lending Support
A Marine Powerhouse
Confronting the Issues



The Singapore marine industry would not be what it is today without the benefit of a strong supporting. All it takes is a phone call to put a ship manager in touch with someone who can attend to his ship. This has endeared Singapore to shipping companies. Many have set up offices here to provides technical supervision to ships docked for repairs, or require some urgent work while they are on the way.

The present emphasis of Singapore shipyards on minimising the core workforce and relying, where necessary, on subcontractors has further enhanced the role of specialist companies in the repair of propellers, turbochargers, boilers, engines, refrigeration plants, electrical and electronic gagetries.

On this island are over 3,000 companies in the supporting industry. Some were established by ex-seafarers who have come ashore, others were trained on-the-job, having worked at one stage in some of the best training grounds, in Far East Levingston Shipbuilding, Hitachi Zosen, Jurong, Keppel and Sembawang Shipyards. With a glint in his eyes, one unassuming entrepreneur who is instrumental in establishing 10 specialist companies said: "It is tough to work in a shipyard. If you have to work that hard, you may as well work for yourself."

The presence of so many companies in such a small area has created an intensely competitive climate, which has proven highly beneficial customers both in pricing and in service levels. If a much-needed component is not available there will be always be someone ready to freight it in - a definite plus for shipowners who stand to lose thousands in charter hire whenever a ship is delayed.

The Impetus to Renew

The development of a supporting service goes back a long way. Just after the Second World War, Kwong Soon Engineering chanelled its resources into marine, to retube boilers, renew steel work and pipelines, and repair engines, auxiliary machines and pumps.

"There were too many engineering firms in Geylang, explained Alan Ching, the third of five Ching boys who joined the family-owned general engineering workshop. Marine offered better prospects as the war had ended, trade with neighbouring countries had resumed, and the Eastern Anchorage was teeming with ships docked at Singapore for cargo operation, refuelling and repair. Kwong Soon was the first local company to venture into afloat repair, until the dominated by the Europeans.

Active government encouragement, in the 1960s and1970s, to promote greater integration in the industry further hastened the progress. The closure of the Suez Canal provided the impetus. As ships from Europe bound for the East could not stop at the Mediterranean for on-the-way repairs, it was felt that Singapore should plug this gap. The concept envisaged the development of such services as marine engineering, repairs, electronic equipment repairs, marine spares, underwater cleaning, refrigeration and air-conditioning maintenance and precision equipment work. These jobs could be undertaken when ships berthed for supplies or bunkers.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) granted incentives to encourage high-technology manufacturers to set up bases in Singapore. Among the first to seize the opportunity was Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nuremberg. MAN was awarded a five-year pioneer status by the EDB in 1977 to assemble and service MAN engines, and the test engine components as well as entire diesel engines.

Today, MAN B&W Diesel (Singapore) as the company became known in 1980 following the merger of MAN of Germany and B&W Diesel of Denmark, has one of the most modern test facilities for high speed diesel engines in Asia. At its Tuas facility the engine specialist also reconditions components for four-stroke medium speed and two stroke low-speed diesel engines. Over a dozen superintendents and engineers are on hand to attend to any engine problem in Singapore and anywhere else in Asia. Over the years, all key engine manufacturerers, including MTU, New Sulzer Diesel, Wartsila Diesel, Mitsui, Daihatsu and Deutz MTM, have set up shop to offer on-the-spot service to customers in the region.

Also in Singapore are electronic instrumentation specialists, including Radio Holland, Codar, Haven Automation, Rico and Singapore Electronics and Engineering. Their presence is indispensable to the operators of ships and offshore production platforms, who are increasingly dependent on electronic systems for communication, navigation, propulsion and dynamic positioning. Among the oldest is Radio Holland, which started as a two-man outfit in 1957, but is now the Dutch company's main office in Asia. The Singapore operation is equipped with an engineering department which offers tailor-made solutions to offshore operations with their highly sophisticated requirements for internal and external communication.

The department with its own drafting room was set up by Mr Willem Jochem when he took over as general manager in 1989. Since then customised solutions for communication in marine coast stations in Guangzhou and Shanghai, China, and on the three offshore platforms in Thailand, were built right here, in Singapore.

Making Waves

With the benefit of experience, some companies have progressed beyond the tried and tested methods to innovate better ways at restoring faulty turbine blades, pistons and cylinders liners. With the assistance of a welding consultant and TurboNed of the Netherlands, Tru-Marine has introduced a technique which allows damaged turbocharger turbine blades to be reconditioned. As the blades can be restored at less than half the cost of a new set and delivered in under a week, Managing Director David Loke said it can a reduce a shipowner's downtime and costs.

Tru-Marine has joined hands with a dozen other like minded turbocharger specialists to form an international network to overcome its limitation of size. Said Mr Loke: "In our way we are trying to be global." Metalock (Singapore) has won international recognition by scoring first with its innovative electron beam-welding machine used for reconditioning pistons. The brainchild of ex-Swedish captain Kurt Lindblad, this process improves productivity eight times and builds up worn pistons and piston grooves far better than submerged arc-welding.

Mr Lindblad can remember the exact moment the idea struck him. "It came about by chance. I woke up two years ago on Saturday morning and I recalled that in a welding fair in Essen, Germany, in 1963, I came across this method. It was used on spaceships and in nuclear plants. And it hit me, 'We can use this in piston welding'. The custom-designed machine, for which Metalock is seeking an internal application patent, is the first application of electronic beam technology to the marine and oil industries.

Metalock, which Mr Lindblad formed in 1958, has also applied the ion bombardment method developed by the Dalian Maritime University to rehabilitate cylinder liners. The NC-II (nickel, cobalt and titanium) IB technique can treat pistons, exhaust valves and shafts, as well as the smaller moulds, gears, tools and dies. It is a safer and more-lasting alternative to the well-established hard-chrome plating process. The process had generated interest in Europe, and this has delighted Mr Lindblad. "I came from Europe, and I am now selling these methods to Europe."

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