Keppel Corporation has set up a research lab to develop new technologies to build rigs that can withstand ultra-deep water, big waves and freezing temperatures.

The $75 million facility will also try to find new environmentally friendly ways to mine the seabed for minerals and to improve the productivity of welders and painters in the company's shipyards.

More than 130 researchers, engineers and scientists will be hired over the next five years for various projects.

The lab is a collaboration with the engineering faculty of the National University of Singapore and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The NRF is providing $27 million of the funds with the rest coming from Keppel and the university. The funding is for five years.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said at the launch ceremony yesterday that the initiative broke new ground for Singapore as it is the first time a local company has set up a corporate laboratory.

Mr Teo noted that the new lab will "open up new commercial possibilities, create exciting job opportunities for Singaporeans and add vibrancy to the marine and offshore industry in Singapore".

Keppel has made other investments in innovation, including setting up KOMtech (Keppel Offshore & Marine Technology Centre) to develop specialised capabilities and new oil rig designs among other projects.

Its research and development efforts have paid off as it has built close to half the world's jack-up rigs since 2000, said Mr Teo, who urged other local companies to follow Keppel's example and set up corporate labs with local research agencies.

NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan told the launch that the corporate lab will tap into the university's greater range of expertise and capabilities.

It will also expose engineering students to the extensive opportunities available in off-shore and marine engineering and nurture a future generation of industry leaders.

Keppel Corporation is a leader in building rigs for oil and gas exploration. Its Keppel Offshore & Marine subsidiary hit revenue of $8 billion last year, a 40 per cent hike over the previous year.

The firm told a briefing last week that more of its customers are venturing into deeper waters and into the Arctic region to look for new deposits so its rigs and supporting vessels have to be sturdy enough to withstand the tough sea conditions without costing much more to manufacture.

The Keppel-NUS Corporate Laboratory is part of NRF's Corporate Lab @ University scheme launched in March, which aims to translate university research into products and services that can be used by local companies.

NRF's chief executive Low Teck Seng said that this move is an inflection point for private R&D as Keppel has stepped up to invest in a corporate lab.

"We're aligning our research institutions with industry so that the research benefits local companies. This is one of our key fundamental funding goals," he said at the briefing last week.

The first corporate lab was set up by British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce, which collaborated with the Nanyang Technological University.