21 Jun 2019

Teaming Up to Create Smart Solutions



When a Singapore company that distributes smart waste bins met a Finnish firm that produces wall robots that clean building exteriors at a technology matching event co-organised by IPI and the Helsinki Business Hub, the two were drawn to each other. Their focus on smart products meant they could collaborate on research and innovation.

The smart waste bin sends an email or text message alert to cleaners when it is full. Its internal compactor compacts rubbish, so it can handle up to eight times more trash than usual bins. It is energy efficient and runs on solar power. 

Called Bigbelly bins, they are already deployed island-wide in Singapore – in shopping malls and commercial buildings – and are distributed here by local company Terra Sol. 

“Cleaners no longer have to patrol bins to check for fullness. The compaction also increases its capacity to handle trash, so productivity increases,” said Joe Tan, Terra Sol’s director.

Given Singapore’s ageing population, it is difficult to find manpower for cleaning jobs, he added. “Here’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) can help with the problem. It makes sense here.”

Started in 2014, the company has two aims: to create smart solutions to improve productivity, leveraging automation to make up for manpower shortages for certain jobs; and to devise zero-waste solutions by converting waste into a new form to be reused in the circular economy. 

Terra Sol’s other products include a glass crusher that grinds empty bottles, jars and other glass containers into small particles of sand less than 1.5mm – or silica. The silica can then be reused for construction, for instance.

“Close to 60,000 tonnes of glass waste per annum are making its way into our landfills here,” said Joe. “The solution eliminates the amount of waste that we generate. We can achieve close to 100% recyclability for glass waste.”

It also has a composter machine that turns food waste into compost, which can be used for farming or greening.

Terra Sol’s two-pronged strategy has not only found traction in Singapore, but has also struck a chord with a company in Finland.

Called Wall Robotics, the two met at a Finnish smart building technology matchmaking event here last year, organised by IPI and the Helsinki Business Hub, which promotes collaboration between international agencies and Finnish talent.

The forum brought together Singapore enterprises and Finland’s innovative companies operating in the smart building sector. 

Wall Robotics produces Wall-R, a robot that cleans the windows and exterior surfaces of buildings. 

Wall-R helps facility managers of shopping malls, hotels and commercial buildings tackle their facade cleaning jobs – not dissimilar to Terra Sol’s work. 

“It complements the product portfolio we already have and its line of work is closely related to what we do,” said Joe. “We also have the client base here to help market their products.” 

The two have since teamed up, and one area of their collaboration is in research and development.

“Finland does not have many tall buildings so they have yet to validate their solution beyond 90 metres in Finland, which is the height of the tallest building you can find in the Helsinki area,” Joe noted.

“In Singapore, our buildings frequently exceed 70 metres in height. So our clients here can provide their buildings for test-bedding and proof of concept so the height barrier for Wall-R can be increased to 200 metres and beyond,” he added. 

Beyond sharing ideas and research, the two companies are also business partners. 

“We will represent Wall Robotics in Asia and help them find customers in Asia, including sharing the economic benefits,” said Joe. 

This will expand Wall Robotics’ reach in this part of the world. As for Terra Sol, its product range will widen with the addition of Wall Robotics’ products.

The fruitful partnership is thanks to the match at IPI’s technology matching event. The platform allows companies overseas to realise the potential applications of their work in Singapore. At the same time, Singapore companies can explore opportunities of technology and business collaboration with them.

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