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Concrete productivity gains through automation, upgrading at Samwoh

SINGAPORE — Compressed under 150 tonnes of pressure at construction firm Samwoh are specimens of experimental nature-friendly concrete — mixed with recycled materials from demolished buildings — undergoing progressive “torture” between metal plates in the creep testing machine to test its strength for use in homes, offices and factories.

Concrete productivity gains through automation, upgrading at Samwoh

Dr Ho Nyok Yong, chief operating officer of Samwoh. His firm has undergone

major upgrading to develop its people and boost productivity. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

SINGAPORE — Compressed under 150 tonnes of pressure at construction firm Samwoh are specimens of experimental nature-friendly concrete — mixed with recycled materials from demolished buildings — undergoing progressive “torture” between metal plates in the creep testing machine to test its strength for use in homes, offices and factories.

While similar machines are being used elsewhere, Samwoh’s machine automates the application of pressure on the specimens and the collection of data, freeing researchers from having to manually adjust pressure settings and record anomalies, thus increasing productivity in the firm’s research laboratory.

The machine, invented in 2012 by Samwoh chief operating officer Ho Nyok Yong and upgraded last year, is an example of construction innovation and work process automation. The firm’s efforts to innovate was noted by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech last month, when he cited Samwoh as an example of a firm in a domestic industry that has undergone major upgrading to develop its people and boost productivity.

Besides the creep testing machine, another notable invention by Samwoh is a truck travel control system that tracks about 400 trucks and vehicles around Singapore using Global Positioning System. Similar to map software in third-party taxi apps, this allows Samwoh staff to view a live map pinpointing where the vehicles are — on a television screen instead of a mobile phone. This is a huge improvement from the previous practice where staff had to ring up drivers individually to find out their locations.

“People are the main asset of the company. We make it a key performance indicator for our staff to get trained. Even for the junior staff at the reception, they will be trained in how to receive calls,” said Dr Ho.

Another process automated at Samwoh is the handling of orders and bills for construction materials under a system named ReadyMix Integrated Fulfilment System, said Dr Ho.

The efforts to automate at Samwoh have kicked off a virtuous cycle, freeing time for staff — from engineers to salespeople to administrative personnel — to undergo training to upgrade their skills and drive further productivity gains within the firm.

For example, Samwoh has sent engineers for additional training with institutions approved by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. Besides learning new skills for concrete quality testing, Samwoh engineers have learnt more about risk assessment and safety at construction sites, mechanisation of construction tools, and other productivity-raising skills.

“The people must be productive first, then the technology and the equipment you use have to be more mechanised. Thirdly, the construction methods must be innovative,” said Dr Ho.

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