Jobs involving green technology and alternative energy applications are gaining traction. Mr Chou Chuen, 30, is a senior engineer who works in a team of 12 at the Hybrid Electric Centre of ST Kinetics.
He deals with the design and development of hybrid electric and electric drive systems — the components such as electric motors, diesel engines, and batteries that propel a vehicle.
Mr Chou’s team is behind the design that determines how these components are connected to each other.
Their goal is to optimise fuel efficiency yet meet the hybrid car’s operational requirements in terms of speed, hill-climbing ability and range.
“The vehicle should be able to do this while being more energy efficient as compared to a similar vehicle with a combustion-fuel-based drivetrain,” says Mr Chou.
Besides passenger vehicles, his team works on a range of vehicles that includes heavy-duty and commercial vehicles.
One of their projects is the hybrid electric baggage tow tractor used in airports to transfer baggage between the terminals and the aircraft.
Mr Chou graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Product Design in 2006 followed by Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 2008.
He is happy that his job is a good fit with the multi-disciplinary training in the “broad fundamentals” in mechanical, electrical and software engineering, which he acquired during his bachelor degree course. His specialisation in mechatronics for his master’s degree also came in handy.
His job nature has evolved over time and with experience gleaned on the job training. When he first started out, he was more involved in the details of making something work. Subsequently, he had more opportunities to make design decisions and now leads a small team look at how a product fits into the larger system.
“The end goal is a battery pack that contains, in addition to the actual batteries, a management system consisting of electronics and software, designed to improve the safety, reliability and longevity of the battery cells,” he explains.
Together with its partners, ST Kinetics recently launched the first hybrid electric bus in Singapore.
“In the near future, we expect to see more of such buses on the streets of Singapore as well as within the Tianjin Eco-City in China,” says Mr Chou.
When the time came to incorporate the drive system into the bus, Mr Chou went on site to support the integration and such trips typically involved travelling to China where its partners are based.
“It is very rewarding to be able to see the fully completed bus roll out, even if we were responsible for only a part of it. It is also an eye opening experience to witness systems integration at a higher level where the bus OEM (original equipment manufacturer) has to incorporate our drive system and numerous other systems, in order to produce a complete bus,” he says.
Mr Chou was never a “car nut” nor was he “crazy about weapons”, but an interview with ST Kinetics piqued his interest since it was with a relatively new department working on hybrid vehicles.
He says: “I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and green technology, and so it didn’t take too much for me to convince myself that this would be a great area for me to start applying my skills.
“I’m also interested in urban infrastructure and public transportation, so working on alternative energy buses has been a really good fit in terms of my interests and values.”
Mr Chou has had a few short overseas training stints with the companies belonging to suppliers or partners in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada to become familiar with their products or technology.
To those thinking of following in his footsteps, his advice is: “Immerse yourself in projects, don’t be afraid to learn as you go along, build things, take things apart, even if you can’t always put them back the same way. Fail early, fail often.
“The more tests you have and the more you understand about how your “baby” can break, the better your end result will be.”