July 27, 2022
SINGAPORE – It is a giant pool seven years in the making, measuring 60m by 48m, the equivalent of five 40-seat buses parked end to end, and about 12m deep.
A pit near the centre of the water floor can move up and down, creating depths of up to 50m. At the flick of a switch, roiling waves are created in the basin or calmed.
Across the water surface, mini-vessels undulate with the waves, their every movement tracked and translated into complex data.
The pool is Singapore’s first artificial ocean basin, a $107 million facility which can help further research in marine and offshore engineering, sea transport, the prediction of storm surges and coastal protection.
Officially opened on Tuesday (July 26) at the Tcoms building in the National University of Singapore (NUS), it puts Tcoms – and Singapore – in the league of other advanced maritime research agencies with their own ocean basins in Denmark, Norway, Australia and Britain.
Tcoms is short for the Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine Singapore, a national research and development centre that pairs NUS with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
On Tuesday, Tcoms said that the basin’s capacity to generate waves and undercurrents allows it to mimic conditions in shallow, intermediate and deep waters.
This allows industry and academic players in the maritime industry to test new technologies in conditions as close to the real world as possible.
For instance, vessels can be subjected to harsh conditions so their resilience can be calculated while multiple autonomous vessels can be run on the waters to test how they react to each other when there are waves.
Professor Chan Eng Soon, chief executive of Tcoms, said the basin gives physical form to numerical modelling that maritime companies previously relied on, making tests of new technology faster and more accurate.
Students will also be allowed to use the basin for research and tests.
Tcoms’ ocean basin has already attracted many industry players.
Finnish company Wartsilla, which builds maritime equipment, has already worked with Tcoms to create a twin of a tugboat that can be tested on the basin, after getting real-world data from other tugboats out at sea.
Director of Wartsilla’s ecosystem development Chris Chung said: “We can use different types of scenarios like big waves, strong currents, then subject this model to that type of environment, which you don’t necessarily do in the real world. This allows us to do it both safely and also in an economical sort of way.”
He added that the ocean basin complements the digital simulators that industry players have been using.
“Before you get to a very accurate digital model, it’s physical testing and understanding real world physics that is still very important. The basin’s state-of-the art sensors help us understand (data) that you can bring into the computer model.”
The development comes amid an uncertain time for the marine and offshore engineering sector, which played a major part in Singapore’s maturing into a developed economy but now faces a manpower shortage.
At its peak, it employed upwards of 23,000 workers in 2016, but the numbers have since fallen to about half.
The basin is expected to help accelerate the process of automation that can help the sector cope with this reduced number of workers.
Keppel senior general manager Lee Wey Lii, who is overseeing the company’s collaboration with Tcoms, said Keppel also wants to use the basin to test greener vessels, which the industry is increasingly shifting towards.
By putting models of the new electric vessels out on the basin, businesses can observe how these function before deciding on using them.
“The data also helps us assess the life cycles of the vessels, and serve very important functions for the continuous improvement of their performance,” he added.
Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, guest of honour at the opening, said Singapore intends to continue playing a key role in ocean engineering and marine and offshore engineering.
He said these industries have stayed relevant by diversifying their traditionally oil-centred work, including through the installation of offshore wind farms and the electrification of vessels, in recent years.
“Innovation in the ocean engineering space will help our companies transform and find opportunities in these new growth areas,” he said.
“Singapore will continue to invest strategically in emerging growth areas to spur greater innovation.”