Vol. 15
September Issue
Year 2014


NEWSBEAT – Conversations with Rosanne Baiker

in Vol. 15 - September Issue - Year 2014
Aim for the Stars

Dr David Low (right) accompanying President Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of the Republic of Singapore (left), at an ARTC event in 2013

ABB IRB2400 Robot

ATOS Scanbox - Optical 3D measuring machine

The Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) in Singapore was established in 2012 and will become one of the world’s leading R&D and technological centers. Dr. David Low, their Chief Executive Officer, talks about his early passion for technology, about what it takes to supervise the center’s birth and growth, and about coordinating his four teams of collaborators.

What exactly is ARTC and what is its mission?
ARTC is the first research and development institute in Asia specifically created to look into remanufacturing technologies that can be easily applied on an industrial level. It was established in May 2012 at the initiative of the Singapore Government as a novel form of public-private partnership.
ARTC is part of A*STAR, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and will pool the R&D facilities and experience of A*STAR and those of Nanyang Technological University (NTU). It will also be able to count on the R&D and industrial production capabilities of its private sector members.
Our first private sector partners, multinationals such as ABB, Carl Zeiss, Fuchs Lubricants, Rolls-Royce plc and Siemens Industry Software, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with us to develop remanufacturing technologies for the aerospace, automotive, energy, engineering, marine, oil and gas industries. Eight local small and medium enterprises signed up at the same time and will also benefit from their cooperation with our Centre. We actively encourage new members to become part of the team and we are now pleased to report that we have twenty private sector members.

Why remanufacture a component?
If properly carried out, the remanufacturing of industrial components that have reached the end of their lifespan ensures the same level of quality, durability and performance as new components while at the same time allowing savings ranging from 50 to 90% in energy, water and other natural resources, not to mention a reduction of up to 80% in pollutant emissions. It’s all about productivity and sustainability.

It sounds very interesting, but how do you get so many private corporations and their public counterparts to cooperate on a practical level and come up with applicable solutions?
Perhaps I’d better explain our working model. I think that, historically, whenever a company carried out any type of R&D, it had two choices: it could either work with universities or it could do the R&D on its own; do-it-yourself, we could say. Doing it yourself is always very, very expensive. The reason is that technology needs changes every few years; say, every two or four years. It’s very difficult to manage, as your needs change along with the changes in technology. Capital investment is high. The final result is that it’s super expensive and super inefficient for companies to do things on their own. So traditionally, companies would collaborate with universities. Working with universities is fine; there are good ideas, patents, papers and so on. But naturally, there’s a gap. There’s a gap between coming up with new research ideas and bringing these ideas to the production floor. In addition, universities may come up with new and valid ideas, but to bring these ideas to an industrial level, to scale them correctly, is a big unknown. Often the supply of the appropriate type of machinery is non-existent. Therefore, there’s a gap between good ideas and practical application. The ARTC model closes that gap and facilitates the passage from research to application. How do we achieve that objective? The first explanation lies in our facilities. Our facilities will be purpose-built, like a factory. The equipment will all be industrial scale, with heavy loading cranes, a new shot peening machine and so forth; everything will be geared so that we can manufacture actual industrial parts. The idea is to encourage our members to do real component development, real process development, in our facilities. Our operational model is to get our members’ industrial components into our facility, where our researchers will develop new ideas and test these ideas on the real components. Accordingly, when the project is brought to a successful conclusion, the member will know the process, the operational parameters, the right equipment to use, the suppliers, and all the details that he can then apply in his own factory. That’s what we mean by bridging the gap. That is the ARTC model.
In the U.K., there are five centers similar to ours and there’s another one in the States; we have learnt a lot from them. If you look at it globally, there’s a big push towards public-private partnerships. As business gets more competitive, as profit margins get lower, public-private partnerships seem to be a faster and cheaper way of working together and achieving results.

How will your private sector members get actively involved in the development of a new process?
When OEM companies like IHI, Rolls-Royce or Siemens do projects with us, the projects won’t involve only these OEM’s and ARTC. For most of the projects, we bring in also the equipment and service suppliers, who could be our members or not, and everyone will work together to provide the right solutions. This mechanism will give our members a faster time-to-market, because everyone will know in advance, what needs to be done.

David, what brought you to join ARTC?
I know it may sound strange, but as a child I was already fascinated by technology and I always dreamt about working in the field of research and development. The offer to set up and develop ARTC in 2012 came after several years of university studies in various technological fields and working for one of the most technologically advanced companies in the world.

Please elaborate.
I studied Mechanical Engineering at the Singapore Polytechnic and after completing my military service, I went to the U.K. to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. I continued with a PhD in laser drilling of gas turbine material, at that time sponsored by Rolls-Royce. After that, I did a one-year post doc with 3M, again in the field of laser drilling. In 2001, I returned to Singapore and entered the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), where I was part of the Machining Technology Group, doing research in various types of laser processing, such as laser drilling, laser cutting, laser welding and laser marking. In 2007, I joined Rolls-Royce Singapore, where I was named the Head of their Process Technology Research Centre before becoming their Chief of Manufacturing Technology in 2011.
ARTC and its members signed a MoU in May 2012, and the centre had a lot of encouragement from Rolls-Royce, who had had a very positive experience working with universities in the UK and in the US on the basis of a similar public-private model of collaboration. Therefore, I was seconded by Rolls-Royce to help A*STAR set up ARTC and to supervise its development.

What objectives have you been given and what are your biggest challenges in setting up ARTC?
We started as a very small team with only six people, and our first objective was to get all the legal and technical documents properly drawn up and signed. This was more complicated than it sounds, because we’re talking about the memorandum of understanding signed with the first group of private sector members. At the same time, we had to prepare all the legal and technical papers related to the establishment of ARTC and, above all, related to the construction of the building, which will house our production facilities, our labs and our offices. Once these first steps had been taken, we concentrated on widening our membership base with both multinational corporations and with local small and medium enterprises. I also had to set up and ensure the proper functioning of our four teams of collaborators: the Management Team, the Business Development Team, the Technical Team, and the Operations Team. By the way, outfitting of our building started in July 2014 and our opening is slated for early 2015.

Thank you very much for your time, David, and good luck for the opening of the Centre!
My pleasure, and I hope to see you soon in Singapore.

This interview took place on 23rd April 2014 by videophone connection.

For Information:
Advanced Remanufacturing and
Technology Centre (ARTC)
3 CleanTech Loop, #01/0
CleanTech Two, Singapore 637143
Tel. +65.6908.7900
E-mail: desmond-wong@artc.a-star.edu.sg