SAMWOH Corporation has, through the years, undergone several evolutions. Started as a construction logistics company, its core competencies today have expanded significantly to comprise an asphalt division for road works, a building materials unit to supply construction materials, a division to recycle construction demolition wastes, a major Ready Mix concrete supplier, and one of the leading civil & infrastructure engineering builders in Singapore. But speak with CEO Eric Soh and you quickly realise that Samwoh has evolved beyond these five core businesses. As Mr Soh points out, research and development lies at the heart of Samwoh, and this is an area they are paying increasing attention to.
The genesis of this started in 2005 and strengthened beyond 2007 when a neighbouring country banned the export of granite to Singapore. The company was then involved in several large projects and, along with other firms in Singapore, was hit by the ban. Samwoh quickly realised the importance of diversifying their sources and decided to look to recycling as one of their alternative resources.
"In the construction industry when we talk about recycling, people usually talk about paper, plastic, glass, or wood, etc. Every year, we demolish houses and we dig up roads. Where do these waste materials go? If we can, we reuse the materials, but the majority goes to the landfills. We wanted to do more, so we embarked on studies to see how best recycled materials can be used to make concrete, and also look at new technology to improve the road base and asphalt surface."
Samwoh has, over the years, embarked on a series of applied research projects with various government agencies to further innovate. One research project, for instance, involved the use of recycled rubbers from scrap tyres in asphalt premix used to pave roads. This, the company found, makes the road more flexible thereby reducing cracking in its lifespan. Another benefit of using rubber in asphalt is that it reduces road noise.
A separate research involves the use of sedimentary rock extracted as a by-product from underground caverns for the production of concrete and road foundations. "The recycling business is one of the lowest revenue contributors in terms of our turnover. How much can you recycle as compared to what you can generate from natural resources? But, it is something we are doing fairly well in," says Mr Soh.
In 2010, Samwoh officially opened its Eco-Green Building, a three-storey property that boasts an entire level with 100 per cent recycled concrete aggregate in its concrete structure. It is the first such building in the region and is used by Samwoh to house Samwoh Innovation Centre, as well as test and exhibit new construction recycling technology.
And while Mr Soh is obviously proud that it is a showcase for foreign dignitaries and professionals, he is happier yet when students use the facilities. "I dream of having a Samwoh's Hub where we can work with academia and share our knowledge," says Mr Soh. "We don't mind sharing because that's how we learn and improve also. Our researchers are well aware of this vision. It's good for them, they like to learn."
Indeed, there is a glint in Mr Soh's eye as he talks about students coming through the facility to learn more about engineering and research. As part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, they have provided various sponsorships to local higher education institutions such as the Singapore Institute of Technology. "Moving forward, we hope to invest more time and effort with our own facilities to engage students," says Mr Soh.
"We are in discussions with institutions to see if they are able to use our technical know-how and facilities at our innovation centre to enhance the student's learning. We also want to show the next generation that engineering is interesting and rewarding. I want to pass on this knowledge. Engineering is traditionally taught through textbooks, which can be very dry. But if you can play around, touch and feel things like in our facility, you won't get bored and will get inspired instead. This is what we want to do, to excite and motivate learning."
There is, of course, something very strategic about Samwoh's plans. The sector has been beset by productivity and manpower challenges that have only intensified over the years. But Samwoh has been actively combating this - in its own way - through innovation and extensive research works to woo the next generation. This has improved our products and services, enhancing productivity and resulted in a more effective and efficient workforce.
Samwoh has also been actively growing its pavement consultancy business. It has, over the years, invested heavily in instruments and equipment to check the integrity of pavement structures and has brought this service overseas. Their expertise and technical know-how in this specialised field is well known and they have completed many projects both locally and abroad.
"These are things we are proud of, that whatever we pick up can be applied not just to Singapore, but can be applied regionally. It may be on a small scale, but we can bring our brand name overseas."
While not going into too many details, Mr Soh did share that Samwoh is targeting to expand their consultancy business into more countries.
"To sustain ourselves we have to go overseas and make our presence known. I want to export Samwoh's knowledge to other parts of the world. From there, we can build the name, and return with better experiences and greater expertise. And in terms of social responsibility, I want to share what engineering is about with our locals, and let the younger generation know what our industry is really capable of."
He says: "The market is challenging and we are a very domestic player. That's why we are very focused on innovation. To sustain ourselves, we must continue to renew and re-engineer."