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Singapore SME Plans Big By Sailing With The Best

Innovation promises big productivity boost for Offshore & Marine (www.etpl.sg, Singapore, 27 Apr 2010)

On 27th April 2010 Astoria Consulting Pte Ltd will launch “AstorPlan”, a technology that promises big productivity boosts for shipyards and their marine sub-contractors by allowing better optimization of the planning and deployment of critical resources. This is a world first for the application of such technology in the marine industry.

Size has never stopped Singapore from thinking big, especially in the maritime  sphere. Now a local SME Astoria Consulting has joined hands with some of the largest and most illustrious names to help keep Singapore’s offshore & marine sector sailing firmly in the lead.

AstorPlan is developed jointly with scientists from the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), a research institute of A*STAR, in an R&D project supported by the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). Astoria Consulting licensed from ETPL the right to market the technology in February 2010, and has gone on to partner Microsoft and HP to bring the solution to industry.

“The Offshore and Marine sector stands to gain up to 15% cost and time advantage by better optimizing their planning and scheduling with our AstorPlan technology, especially in the case of multi-project environment typical in the industry”
says Dominic Loke, CEO Astoria Consulting Pte Ltd, “and this potentially translates into big savings given the size of projects in the industry. For example an oil rig or FPSO conversion could cost up to $150 million; and this is just one project out of many that the industry handles in a year. Estimated savings and cost avoidance can be as large as $15 million in a best case scenario. We foresee significant advantage in better organizing labor and contractors as everyone is on almost equal footing when it comes to sourcing for equipment and materials, so any increase in efficiency shall translate directly into competitiveness.”

AstorPlan is able to have such a large impact partly due to the unique way the industry is organized. The Offshore & Marine sector operates in a complex and time-constrained environment with many projects and processes being performed by both own work teams and sub-contractors simultaneously. Planning and management of the critical resources deployed in order to meet schedules and overcome unforeseen problems impacts directly on costs and profitability but is prone to human errors.

In the past, the typical response to unscheduled delays and unforeseen circumstances is to just authorize more over-time or to ask sub-contractors to rush last-minute “urgent orders” in order to catch up. This can be costly, and as the yard typically undertakes multiple projects all at the same time, a delay in one project can tie up critical resources scheduled and needed for another, leading to snowballing time and cost over-runs. Furthermore, delays in delivery may be unacceptable to clients and could lead to large penalties.

To address these issues, Astoria Consulting and SIMTech developed novel optimization algorithms based on critical chain methodology to tackle resource constrained scheduling in a multi-project environment typical in the marine industry. This is a world first for the application of such technology in the marine industry.

“Research and development is vital to the maritime industry in building new capabilities, and products and services to stay ahead of the curve”, said Mr Toh Ah Cheong, Group Director of Technology Division, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA). “MPA and Astoria have been working closely on various maritime R&D projects and developing solutions for the maritime industry in areas such as ship-building and ship-repair. We congratulate Astoria and its partners in their launch of AstorPlan and we hope to see more of such innovative technologies for the maritime industry.”

“This success story of a local SME, Astoria Consulting, tapping on SIMTech R&D assistance will inspire other indigenous enterprises that size is not a barrier to create innovative technology with significant impact,” said Dr Lim Ser Yong, Executive Director of SIMTech.

“Astoria Consulting has demonstrated that the best way for a SME to gain a competitive edge in today’s global marketplace is to develop new or better products and services through sustained innovation. Astoria Consulting’s commitment to R&D and strategic partnership is cardinal to the successful launch of AstorPlan. The company has in place a group of in-house engineers to integrate SIMTech’s algorithm technology, and is partnering Microsoft and HP to bring the solution to market to help solve current obstacles in the offshore & marine sector”, said Philip Lim, Chief Executive Officer of ETPL.

To further ensure rapid adoption by end-users, Astoria Consulting intentionally integrates the “AstorPlan” technology with Microsoft’s Project software, which enjoyed widespread use and acceptance in the industry as a project planning tool. This minimizes the upgrade’s implementation time and risks as well as protecting the customer’s existing investment in worker training and education. Astoria Consulting also partners up with HP to deliver the solution as a complete package including computer hardware, support and services.

“We are very happy to be able to partner with Microsoft and HP and we feel that such a combined best-of-breed offering brings a lot of value to the customer. Furthermore, our partners have the resources and capability to enable us to serve some of the larger customers in the industry that may have operations not just in Singapore but overseas as well.” Added Dominic, “In time to come this may also gives us the reach to start exporting of our home-grown technology and
firmly establish us as a leader in the maritime world.”

“The partnership with Astoria and HP is a great example of how important it is for the ecosystem to come up with strong vertical solutions that truly meet the needs of customers. As a software provider, we leverage the deep insights and expertise of partners that operate in vertical markets to tailor our solutions – AstorPlan will raise the bar for shipyard management and that is due to the strength of the partnership,” said Jessica Tan, Managing Director, Microsoft Singapore. “Microsoft is deeply committed to build strong local partner ecosystems and is actively rolling out programs that drive this vision.”

Singapore has the world’s busiest sea-port and its offshore & marine sector is also one of the most competitive globally, with an estimated 70% global market share in oil rigs and 20% of shiprepair and conversion jobs.

However, the $18 billion (2008) industry is already feeling the constraints of limited land and escalating cost of labor and other resources, and the key to higher productivity growth may be to become better organized and to adopt more integrated ways of
working such as forming consortiums and sharing information and IT systems. It is only by investing in innovation that Singaporean companies can hope to stay ahead of the curve enough to keep emerging regional challengers at bay.

This is the reason that some customers of Astoria Consulting, such as AME International Pte Ltd, have been investing in and benefitting from innovation and automation. Says its MD, Mr. Steven Toy, on the system implemented, “This will definitely help us improve insight into our operations, and allow us to move with confidence to bring the group to the next level. I conclude by saying IT has been an enabler for us.”

Another customer, Macmarine Services Pte Ltd, had similar positive experience. Said its MD, Mr. Zahari Taib, “We have had savings of more than SGD100,000 within a year of its implementation.”