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High-tech housekeeping

E50 winner Chye Thiam Maintenance leverages technology to improve services delivery

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CTM's patent-pending mobile dishwasher increases operational efficiency and improves hygiene standards and sustainability at external catering events.

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A CTM autonomous cleaning robot.

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CTM's innovation trial at Changi Airport to develop the Autonomous Airside Scrubber.

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Sweeper machines are monitored from CTM's command centre and headquarters.

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CTM's material recovery facility's conveyor belt system with semi-automated sorting.

You may have sighted a 1m-tall robot cleaning the floor and collecting garbage at Jewel Changi Airport.

This is an example of how local environmental-services firm Chye Thiam Maintenance (CTM) leverages technology to manage the labour crunch that is plaguing the cleaning services industry.

The use of autonomous cleaning robots allows the company to channel its manpower to provide maintenance and other “spot” touch-ups that the robots cannot do. The robots are also deployed during off-peak hours as it might be difficult to hire staff for those shifts.

In collaboration with Changi Airport Group and Red Dot Robotics, CTM also started an innovation trial at Changi Airport in February to develop the Autonomous Airside Scrubber (AAS). If proven successful, the deployment of AAS will lead to improved safety and productivity to the team on site. 

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CTM also implemented a smart toilet system trial at selected toilets at Resorts World Sentosa – a network of sensors in the toilet collects and sends information such as people traffic, content levels in soap dispensers and air quality to a back-end artificial intelligence which then alerts the staff on the ground.

With the smart toilet system, there is no longer a need to station an employee at a toilet throughout the day, leading to improved productivity as the employee can be deployed for other tasks. 

CTM CEO Edy Tan says: “We have always been in the forefront of introducing the latest technological innovation and equipment so we can consistently deliver the best to our clients.”

Due diligence

Before investing in a new technology or equipment, CTM does its due diligence to minimise teething problems. It conducts trial runs and implements the technology in phases. Employees are also trained and clients are briefed on how the technology can help to improve existing workflow.

The company tries to future-proof its supply of workforce by collaborating with educational institutions such as polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE). It employs ITE graduates and upskills them through subsidised work-study programmes at the polytechnics. For instance, the Work-Study Programme at Republic Polytechnic gives an ITE graduate the opportunity to work towards a diploma in applied science in environmental services and management while in employment with the company.

Employees are constantly trained and upskilled to operate the latest technologies so that they can multi-task and improve productivity, leading to better salaries.

CTM has evolved from being a husband-and-wife team that started the company in 1979 to a team of over 1,600 employees and an annual turnover of about $90 million. Today, its business model consists of five core competencies: commercial cleaning services, waste management and recycling, integrated public cleansing, auxiliary services, and healthcare services.

Its Tampines headquarters, completed in mid-2018, houses six floors of office space, internal training facilities, warehouses, staff recreation area and a fuel depot for vehicles. It also houses a command centre featuring live video feeds from its outdoor cleaning fleet, a fleet management system and location-specific feedback alerts. 

Employees deployed on-site are equipped with cameras that are monitored from the command centre via video streams. This enables them to receive real-time supervisory support, be guided against injuries and validate completion of work.

A material recovery facility at Sungei Kadut was added to CTM’s long list of innovations in 2018. The $1.6 million facility features a semi-automated sorting system that uses a ballistic separator for paper, leaves, plastic and glass bottles, and an electromagnetic system to sort out non-ferrous metals.

The facility not only makes the separation process easier for the workers, but it allows the company to recover 300 tonnes out of the 800 tonnes of waste collected every month, helping waste disposal become more environmentally sustainable. As a result, the company saves 20 per cent on incineration costs each month.

Recognition

CTM was recognised at the 2019 Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards for its outstanding growth through innovation, productivity and corporate social responsibility efforts. The company is both a first-time applicant and winner at the awards, which honours the 50 most enterprising, privately-held, local companies in Singapore across all industry sectors.

Jointly organised by The Business Times and KPMG, E50 awards local enterprises that started out humbly and achieved success through perseverance, diligence, innovation and corporate nimbleness.

The feather in CTM’s cap makes its 40th anniversary celebrations this year even sweeter. “The E50 is a prestigious award and definitely a ‘stamp’ that we are on the right track as we grow the company,” says Mr Tan. 

The company is part of the pioneer batch of Enterprise Singapore’s Scale-up, a 2.5-year programme launched in July to help local companies grow quickly. Participants work with consultancies on their expansion plans, with support from Enterprise Singapore in the form of a 70 per cent cost subsidy. 

CTM is currently planning to expand overseas.