Keep Innovating, Lau Joo Ming

Lau Joo Ming

Senior Advisor, Housing and Development Board (HDB)

Keep Innovating, Lau Joo Ming


When I first started working, I had some glaring questions: What is the role of work in my life? What do I find fulfilling? I do not have all the answers but I can share my experience. Work by nature can be boring and uninspiring. It consumes valuable time. The challenge then is to make every moment an exciting one, even if you fail sometimes. I strongly encourage younger officers to seek to create excitement by coming up with innovative ideas that would be beneficial to all.

For me, the process of enriching HDB’s core competencies or building new ones to meet future challenges is of paramount importance. HDB has achieved significant success in housing a nation. In 1984, it completed a flat every 8 minutes.

HDB’s Building Research Institute is the latest entity created to spearhead R&D works to tackle future challenges. It has achieved much in moving HDB towards green and sustainable homes.

One example is the innovative light metal lift shaft and lift technology used in the $5 billion Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP). HDB was able to achieve higher productivity and reduce the overall construction cost of the LUP by 20%, and brought lift accessibility to many blocks.

New and innovative solutions may cost more. But because of the scale of HDB’s work, the more we do, the cheaper it gets.

Sometimes, solutions must be put in place before others will believe in them. An example is the design of our multi-storey carparks. We invented a “superman floor plank structural system” that has a very long span (distance between two supports of a structure). By having column support only at two external ends, it yields a more spacious effect to the carpark. Most important of all, it prevents car doors from being obstructed when they are opened.

We also experimented with other solutions. We built the biggest microwave oven to “cook” concrete so that it can gain strength faster, which will lead to higher productivity. This has spun off another idea to develop a silent breaker that detaches architectural finishes such as tiles using microwave technology. Flat renovation always produces unbearable noise nuisance to neighbours. Imagine a silent breaker that can be used for all existing flats undergoing renovation!

Because of potential construction resource constraints, we are also developing a concrete-less prototype building system. Should there be a day when Singapore is faced with no sand and aggregate, we can still construct public housing. Those who are looking at short-term solutions cannot understand the need to move away from conventional construction resources which are still available and cheap to get. But there is no better time than now to try and learn new methods instead of waiting for problems to come.

It is therefore important for officers to have the broad picture in mind while working on specific assignments.

Recently I met three young engineers during a mentoring session and related to them the story of the elephant and the three blind men. Each man felt a part of the elephant and their comprehension of what the animal looked like in entirety was inhibited.

There are over 10,000 HDB high-rise buildings comprising more than 1 million flats. It is therefore important for officers to have the broad picture in mind while working on specific assignments. This will further optimise the solutions we come up with.

In R&D, there will be successes and failures (because that’s part of R&D!), so take the opportunity to be daring.

    Jul 24, 2013
    Lau Joo Ming
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