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Taking our infrastructure to new heights

Singapore — Ms Low Pei Chin, 39, is a senior principal engineer in the Water Reclamation (Plants) Department, Planning and Development Division of PUB, Singapore’s national water agency. Her job involves managing development projects, making sure that schedules are followed and the projects don’t go over budget.

Singapore — Ms Low Pei Chin, 39, is a senior principal engineer in the Water Reclamation (Plants) Department, Planning and Development Division of PUB, Singapore’s national water agency. Her job involves managing development projects, making sure that schedules are followed and the projects don’t go over budget.

In 2012, the same year she joined PUB, a feasibility study of Phase 4 of the Jurong Water Reclamation Plant’s expansion was conducted. Today, it is in the construction phase and Ms Low is the project lead. She is also the lead on the Changi Water Reclamation Plant Phase II expansion, which started last June with the development of its concept design.

No ‘Armchair Engineer’

Ms Low said: “There isn’t a typical day on the job — every day is different, because the project team faces new challenges every day as the project progresses.”

To avoid becoming an “armchair engineer”, Ms Low strongly believes in going down to the project sites to “have a feel of the site conditions”. She added: “Time is also spent working with the consultants who are engaged to help develop the project, ensuring that it’s performed within scope and on schedule.”

One solution she is especially proud of is the first Thermal Hydrolysis System, which is due to be installed at Jurong Water Reclamation Plant as part of the Phase 4 expansion, and is currently being considered for Changi Water Reclamation Plant’s Phase II expansion as well.

“The new system can be described as a high-pressure cooker. The sludge from the treatment plant will be treated at a high temperature and pressure, which will make the sludge more biodegradable. It allows us to build one less digester and have less sludge for disposal, thus saving costs, and producing more biogas for energy recovery.”

Changing priorities

Ms Low foresees the role of water reclamation infrastructure changing and expanding.

“In the future, water reclamation infrastructure will play an even more important role as we engage in more energy and resource recovery, while still playing a critical role in water supply.”

“In my opinion, the main challenge for the water reclamation infrastructure of tomorrow is how to do more with less — less land, less manpower, lower costs. This is a multi-dimensional challenge and requires a diverse group of experts to come together and develop a balanced solution.”

Civil engineering

Mr Otard Chew is a senior engineer in the Geotechnical & Tunnels Division, Engineering Group of the Land Transport Authority. He provides specialist design services in the field of geotechnical and tunnel engineering, and supports other functions in LTA, including planning, design, construction and asset management.

Mr Chew started his civil engineering career in the private sector. In 2013, he joined the LTA to gain more exposure to other areas of civil engineering design, especially in the area of tunnelling for rail and road infrastructure.

His colleague, Mr Muhammad Fahmi Bin Mahony, 30, joined LTA in 2008 after completing his National Service. In 2009, he resumed his studies with the Singapore Institute of Management while still working at LTA. He graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science Construction Management (Hons) in 2012. He is also a senior engineer in the Geotechnical & Tunnels Division and is responsible for the implementation of site investigation works.

Said Mr Fahmi: “Our task is to ensure that all physical drilling, in-situ and laboratory tests are carried out safely and in accordance to standards and specifications spelled out in the contract. The team members and I check on contractors to ensure the classification/properties of soil and rocks are correct.”

A technical overview

A typical work day for Mr Chew and Mr Fahmi varies greatly. Mr Chew, 33, said: “It could include reviewing technical submissions to ensure that the consultant’s designs satisfy LTA requirements and are compliant with accepted codes.

“I attend technical discussions to find possible solutions to resolve various issues, as well as conduct site visits to inspect existing slopes or structures.”

In addition, Mr Chew is part of a task force of young engineers looking into trends in research and development that can improve the way civil engineering infrastructure in Singapore is designed and constructed.

The task force identifies potential research opportunities, creates concept research and development proposals, and participates in research and development collaborations with external parties.

Mr Fahmi’s work day may include writing specifications for tender, meeting with internal and external customers to understand their requirements or restrictions prior to site work and resolving site technical matters with contractors.

“There are many geotechnical engineering tests that have not been carried out in Singapore. My team and I are required to explore the available tests carried out overseas that may be suitable for our project. I also witness a particular test on-site or have a discussion with a contractor or consultant to understand the subject before the specification is drafted.”

Innovation and Opportunities

Looking ahead, Mr Chew noted a stronger push for an integrated design process, which refers to multidisciplinary collaboration between key stakeholders and design professionals to create a structure.

He said: “Space constraints and the rate of urbanisation are forcing infrastructures to go deeper underground or closer to one another, or both. Space has to be jointly planned for better development.”

Mr Fahmi relishes the opportunities working for a large organisation like the LTA has presented him.

“There are often opportunities for me to rotate through different parts of the organisation. Every placement I take will help me further my career. The more varied the placements, the more likely I am to gain a wider range of skills and experience,” he said.

Brick by brick

Mr Chew takes great pride and satisfaction as a civil engineer who helps to shape the nation’s infrastructure to benefit Singaporeans.

“To be able to make a difference on such a grand scale — it doesn’t get any better than this, does it?” he said. “I would thank the engineers of the future for continuing to practise civil engineering, and for continuing to improve people’s lives as we intended. We can all help to shape our country one brick at a time.”

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