Planning a new offshore hub for Singapore

Scarlett Evans 5 October 2020 (Last Updated October 2nd, 2020 17:17)

Industrial developer JTC Corporation is planning a new marine support facility, Offshore Marine Centre 2, along Singapore’s western Tuas coast. Aurecon has been brought on board to conduct a feasibility study and conceptual design work and we speak to Lili Tao, managing director infrastructure at the company, which has been brought on board to conduct a feasibility study and conceptual design work, about the new facility’s design, alongside some of the new demands and expectations from clients and stakeholders in the offshore industry.

Planning a new offshore hub for Singapore
Industrial developer JTC Corporation is planning a new marine support facility, Offshore Marine Centre 2 along Singapore’s western Tuas coast. Credit: Aurecon

Singapore is a global business hub, and its offshore and marine industry has been a major player in cementing this status. While the 2014 plummet in oil prices caused some to question its longevity, the sector has made a significant recovery, and in 2018 reported its biggest jump in output since March 2014. Yet while business is booming, a restricted shoreline poses practical issues in housing all of the companies, and novel designs are needed to make space for the blossoming (and ever-changing) industry.

JTC Corporation completed its first Offshore Marine Centre in 2011, ahead of this growing need for novel facilities. A 13ha space, it was designed to host a range of companies engaged in the manufacture of marine, oil, and gas equipment. Now, the Offshore Marine Centre 2 (OMC 2) is being planned as the latest, state-of-the-art facility, with its design based on a feasibility study conducted by Aurecon. Findings from the study offer the chance to pave the way for a new kind of offshore facility that responds directly to the needs of industry members, and offers insight into shifting stakeholder needs.

Creating a new facility

According to Aurecon, a global increase in trade has driven the rising demand for more efficient, higher-capacity ports and marine structures. Companies designing new offshore facilities therefore need to create sustainable, space-efficient environments, and Aurecon says they started the project by speaking with industry members about predicted requirements in the future offshore landscape.

“Before Aurecon started work on the design, we spent a long time researching other regional shared facilities,” Tao says. “We created an ‘ideal concept’ of a shared facility that would appeal to as many companies as possible and make Singapore as attractive as possible for modular fabrications.”

The final 7.5ha facility is intended to support offshore module and equipment fabrication, as well as associated activities such as the construction and assembly of topside modules and offshore structures, the manufacture of oilfield equipment, and the fabrication of offshore renewable energy structures.

Among the factors considered was the mechanical and electrical requirements of ‘seafaring structures’, and the expectations that clients have for the value and use of offshore facilities. The engineering and construction process was therefore based on the scale and requirements of future equipment.

“We had to consider a multitude of things,” Tao says, “what does the industry need in terms of ground bearing capacity? What kind of modules will be built? How much work at the facility will be constructing new modules versus refurbishing or converting existing modules? What logistics are involved in moving sections from the fabrication yard out to sea?”

The company investigated regional developments globally, with a particular focus on Australia, China, and Asia more broadly, with trends in module fabrication examined across the pool.

“We researched the split between new constructions and conversion projects and found there are currently more of the latter,” Tao says. “We also looked at the sizes of new vessels and saw that as technology is evolving, the vessels are becoming heavier and simpler – but not larger. We examined the size of barges that are used for transporting sections of vessels to their final resting place where they are then assembled.”

With current market conditions, Tao adds, it is unlikely that new and bigger barges will be built in the short term, meaning the current process of vessel construction is not anticipated to change dramatically in the coming years.

“This means,” she adds, “that any facility has to comfortably accommodate what’s on the market now.”

The final design

In its press release on the project, Aurecon said that once the current and future offshore industry landscape was mapped, the challenge lay in ‘balancing industry demand with the engineering design and financial investment.’

“We needed to understand how much support was required below the reclaimed land,” Tao says. “Also, we needed to figure out the best way to divide the land based on proposed use and how deep the water needs to be alongside the development.”

Providing high ground-bearing capacity on newly reclaimed land was, she says, a big challenge as the surface is supported on piles.

“Industry stakeholders want higher ground capacity so they can build whatever they need to. But for the developer who is investing in the construction of the facility, the ground-bearing capability is directly linked to overall project costs,” she says. “So, we need to design a solution that is attractive for the contractor, affordable for the developer, and feasible for the engineer.”

The final design of a shared facility means it is available for any contractor or business to lease for the construction of modules or vessels, something which is itself a relatively uncommon business model. Typically, ports or manufacturing facilities are either owned and used by a single authority, contractor, or energy company. The shared model solution is fitting for Singapore’s restricted shoreline, allowing multiple companies to operate through a single building. Such a solution works to not only maximise space on the limited waterfront resources, but also reduce capital costs for companies.

“With its new design, OMC 2 can be a proof of concept for shared facilities and will certainly influence future designs,” Tao says. “For operators of shared facilities, there are financial efficiencies and wider environmental benefits with one facility being used frequently by many companies, rather than each company operating its own dedicated facility.”

Aurecon’s research provides a valuable insight into anticipated trends for offshore facilities moving forward, and offers a unique case study in methods of maximising space for cities which may lack waterfront real estate. While the design may not suit every company, the creation of shared facilities showcases a glimpse of how offshore and marine structures can begin to offer more economically and environmentally viable spaces as the sector moves towards a greener future.