Local businesses keen to improve their products and processes can get help from a $7 million research facility launched yesterday.

The Materials Centre of Innovation, which started operating last September, aims to help 450 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the next three years.

Its researchers can help SMEs create new products, offer alternative solutions or customise materials to suit different functions.

The Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Teo Ser Luck, told the launch ceremony that making advanced materials technology easily available to SMEs results in a win-win outcome for both businesses and the research centre.

"SMEs can tap centres of innovation to develop new product concepts, build prototypes and test-bed new applications," Mr Teo added.

"The centres also benefit from engaging SMEs from the industry, gaining practical experience to strengthen their expertise... (which can improve) the quality of their research."

Dr Leong Yew Wei, a manager and scientist at the Materials Centre of Innovation, said materials innovation is more than research or coming up with something new.

"It is also about using or applying existing materials in a different way," he said.

One of the centre's ongoing projects aims to find an eco-friendly alternative to traditional joss paper that can emit less smoke and leave behind less residual ash.

It recently completed a project for pipe cleaning company HVS Engineering.

HVS wanted to improve the heat and shock resistance of its products so it can expand into the oil and gas industry.

HVS managing director Alex Chow said he was able to receive the prototype in one to two months.

HVS cleans chiller systems and hopes to break into the oil and gas sectors with its refined product and estimates that it can bring in a $50 million revenue stream in five to 10 years.

Initial consultation services with the centre is free, and subsequent charges are applicable if tie-ups are inked.

However, these costs can be defrayed or subsidised through incentives such as the Innovation and Capability Voucher scheme or Capability Development Grant.

This is the seventh centre of innovation set up by Spring Singapore and its partners.

The other centres provide assistance to businesses in supply chain management, food innovation and resource, and electronics, among others.