Singapore’s engineering prowess demonstrated in 4 state-of-the-art innovations
They include an exoskeleton suit for firefighters, an icebreaker, a tank and an oil drilling rig.
Ian De Cotta
A SUPERHERO SUIT
It isn’t exactly the exoskeleton suit Robert Downey Jr wears in the film series, Iron Man, but it shares the same mission as the Marvel Comics hero – to help save lives. And the Auberon Pneumatic Exoskeleton is a groundbreaking suit that homegrown engineering firm Hope Technik designed specifically for Singapore’s fire fighters.
It was conceived with the help of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Ministry of Home Affairs’ Office of the Chief Science and Technology Officer. The Auberon eases the load that firefighters have to carry while climbing multiple flights of stairs to combat blazes in the city-state’s high-rise buildings. These include breathing apparatus, hoses, nozzles and power tools that weigh as much as 40kg.
While the Auberon is not the first exoskeleton made for firefighters, it is the only one in the world that does not require batteries or microcomputer chips to function. This is a mission critical piece of equipment for firefighters, as they cannot risk a power failure or software malfunction in their suits because of the intense heat they have to work in.
The Auberon is currently on trial with the SCDF, but it has attracted the attention of fire departments from overseas. Hope Technik has also received enquiries from various military and paramilitary agencies to adapt the exoskeleton for bomb disposal suits, which can weigh more than 35kg.
AN ICEBREAKER FROM THE TROPICS
Singapore has a tradition of building ships, but what does a country near the equator know about making icebreakers? Before 2008, the answer was nothing at all. All that changed that year when Keppel Singmarine delivered two icebreakers, Toboy and Varandey, to its Russian customers.
The Singapore company beat strong competition from European rivals in 2006 to build them, and became the first Asian yard to construct such vessels. With a respective gross register of 4,406 and 7,338 tons, and measuring 81.6m and 100m in length, the boats are designed for the Arctic, one of the harshest marine frontiers on earth. They can cut through solid ice over 1.7m thick, about the height of a grown man, and operate in extreme temperatures as low as minus 45 deg C.
The icebreakers were designed to comply with the strict regulations of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping, ensuring that their performance in the demanding frozen sea and the safety of the crew are not compromised.
A WORLD-CLASS TANK
ST Engineering initially designed and built the Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) in 1997 to meet the specific needs of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), as existing models from established international makers were deemed inadequate.
The project eventually transformed the company from one that supplied military ordnance primarily for local defence into a respected global player. It even attracted the attention of the United States Army.
The Bionix can carry a total of 10 troops, has a range of 400km and top speed of 70kmh. It is also equipped with a 25mm auto-cannon weapon, and two 7.62mm machine guns with thermal imaging sights to hit targets in the dark and through smoke. When it was launched, the Bionix was one of a few IFVs in the world that could fire on the move.
Though the composition of the Bionix’s armour plating remains a closely guarded secret, it was the lightest and one of the most highly protected IFVs in the world when the SAF received it. In 2000, it was one of two variants the US Army considered as replacements for its ageing fleet.
The Bionix, which has since evolved into the Bionix II, provided ST Engineering with the fundamentals to build the Bronco All Terrain Tracked Carrier. The British army bought 100 units of this armoured vehicle in 2011. Dubbed the “Warthog”, it was used to protect its troops in their fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
THE RIG THAT COULD
During the largest marine oil spill in history that began in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, a Singapore-designed semi-submersible ultra-deepwater drilling rig played a central role in stopping the leak.
Development Driller III (DDIII), made by Keppel Fels, was deployed to bore a hole 5,600m below the sea floor next to the leaking oil well to seal it. It took five months before oil well specialists, scientists and marine biologists working on board DDIII in waters 1,500m deep accomplished this mission.
For a country that has no natural oil and gas resources, it is a remarkable feat that a Singapore-designed vessel was employed for a major operation 16,685km away. In fact, more than half the rigs exploring oil and gas in oceans around the globe are made in Singapore, and Keppel and another local company Sembcorp, are the two leading builders.
The DDIII is part of Keppel’s DSS-51 series, one of the world’s most technologically advanced semi-submersibles. It is designed with the most stringent safety features for the high seas, where waves can reach as high as 20m and wind speeds as fast as 20 knots.
Each DSS-51 takes about three years to build and can operate in waters 2,300m deep, and drill up to 11,400m below the sea floor. It has a total payload of 13,500 tons.