HOME-GROWN company Century Water Systems and Technologies takes pride in providing high-end industrial water treatment for a range of industries, including the semiconductor industry, pharmaceuticals and oil and gas. It also places emphasis on developing its own innovative technology, rather than relying solely on tried and tested solutions and commercial products.
The company was started by current managing director, Eugene Liu, back in 2011. Mr Liu, a self-described "technical guy" and engineer by training, did not have a background in business development, but decided to start Century Water anyway due to a strong personal interest in water technology, treatment and systems.
"We believe that the water industry will boom in the next five to 10 years," said Mr Liu. "We stand very firmly in this sector and we want to be a technology-product driven company which can provide more cost efficient solutions and products to existing water users."
Its business model revolves around three main categories of activities: clients' turnkey projects, after-sales services, and technology and product development. These make up about 70 per cent, 20 per cent and 10 per cent of its business respectively.
In terms of client projects, Century Water has positioned itself at the top end of the industry, so as to avoid having to compete in the price wars that are prevalent in the low and middle range of the industry.
"We like to stick to the high-end water companies and compete with the MNCs, so this way we can have better margins," said Mr Liu. This approach has worked well for the company so far. Although the company is only in its fourth year of operations, it has managed to achieve between 50and 80 per cent in annual growth for the first three years since its founding. From a yearly turnover of S$2 million in its first year, Mr Liu is expecting a minimum of S$9 million for 2014.
Although Century Water is still relatively small and new in the industry, a number of factors have given it an advantage in the water treatment industry. This has enabled it to build a customer base of more than 30 companies in the region, most of them "big MNCs", according to Mr Liu.
"We like to try new things and new technologies in our solutions, compared to the big companies which are more conservative ... they are more comfortable staying with their existing designs," Mr Liu explained. "But from my point of view, certain steps might not be necessary. We can always find a better technology or design to replace it."
Century Water also provides after sales services, both for its own clients as well as for systems built by other firms. This enables Century Water to build firm customer relationships which have the possibility of evolving from small service works into more substantial projects in the future.
On top of that, Mr Liu hopes to increase the company's product development business to reach 50 to 60 per cent within the next three to five years.
To achieve this, Century Water has been actively looking for partners, especially research institutes and universities, to collaborate with and develop new products, which can then be integrated into engineering solutions for its customers.
For example, they partnered with the Industrial Research Technology Institute in Taiwan to co-develop a form of waste water treatment known as fluidised bed crystallisation (FBC).
Conventionally, waste chemicals used by the wafer fabrication and solar industries are turned into sludge which is then sent for disposal. However, Singapore's PUB has since started imposing discharge limits on such sludge, which poses a problem to companies that the FBC method is poised to resolve.
"Using this FBC technology, instead of producing sludge, we turn it into crystals," explained Mr Liu. "In terms of purity, it's much higher so it has the potential to be recycled by the chemical industry and be reused."
The ecological footprint generated through the FBC is also smaller than through conventional means, and the chemical reaction used is more efficient as well. Century Water has managed to get two client projects using this technology, and is currently in discussions with three other firms.
Century Water has also developed another water treatment system, known as nanofiltration, together with the National University of Singapore. This nanofiltration method uses a special membrane with anti-fouling and anti-scaling properties, as compared to conventional membrane materials which attract impurities more easily.
In order to facilitate these innovation efforts, the company will be opening its own research and development centre by the end of this year. The nanofiltration membrane will be one of the products that it is going to manufacture itself. It is now running a pilot plant with Philips in Singapore and will be conducting another pilot test in China after its R&D centre is completed.
In fact, the water treatment industry in China has "huge potential", said Mr Liu, explaining that the Chinese government has started to impose tighter waste water treatment limits on companies due to environmental pollution concerns. Its China office was set up eight months ago and has secured one waste water treatment project for a textile company in Zhejiang.
Zhejiang has a large number of textile firms, and serves as a useful testbed for waste water treatment in China, according to Mr Liu. "Once you are successful there the technology and products can be promoted to other areas in China...your business can be enlarged by 10 or 20 times."
South-east Asia is another key region that Century Water is focusing its attention on. Its headquarters are in Singapore and it also has an office in Malaysia, doing seawater desalination and constructing water purification systems for aquariums, as well as other projects for pharmaceuticals and semiconductor industries.
It is also looking to expand its operations in Indonesia, where it currently has only one distributor for pharmaceutical firms. In addition, it has signed an MOU to provide water treatment for a pharmaceutical company in Myanmar.
"We hope that we can bring the technology we master in Singapore to penetrate the regional market," said Mr Liu. "We want to build our Singapore office as a centre of technology quality and design ... to grow Century Water into a company that is recognised by its technology and products."