R&D Resources

Interview with Prof Xia Guihua

Prof Xia Guihua

Professor Xia Guihua is the Vice President of Harbin Engineering University (HEU) and the Chairman of the Innovation & Cooperation in Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering Alliance (ICNAME). Prof Xia majored in management science and engineering and his research & development experience and expertise includes areas such as Panoramic Vision System Processing Technology and Ship Motion Technology Control.

International Research Collaboration

*XGH: Xia Guihua

  1. As a leading University with strong technical knowledge in ship science and technology, how does Harbin Engineering University (HEU) view the importance of pushing research frontiers in China and a global knowledge economy?

    XGH: This is a high-level question that is typically raised at a global platform, which should not only be addressed by a university.

    In my opinion, the gap between China and the world had been reduced over the past years. Despite being a developing country, China’s technology, economy and culture had progressed tremendously over the past thirty years with global recognition.

    The Chinese Government is implementing the “innovation driven” strategy, to drive China’s rapid and sustainable development through scientific and technological innovation. For instance, China had been introducing foreign technologies for domestic use and development in the past, but the situation has changed today. China has not only caught up with global research activities but also achieved world class research excellence in many fields.

    HEU is considered to be one of the top global universities in the field of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, which focuses on (1) Competent Talent Development; (2) World Class R&D; and (3) Research Collaboration with Industry towards a global knowledge-based economy development.

    As a global research institution, I feel that China has a significant role and responsibility towards pushing knowledge and innovation frontiers in China and a global knowledge economy.

  2. Can you share with us HEU’s collaboration model with the industry and how such industry-academia collaborations can be sustainable?

    XGH: This is an interesting question that HEU has been exploring over the past several years.

    How can we as a university contribute towards industry development? If a university is not a competent research partner, companies will not be keen to collaborate. The roles of universities and industry must also be clear, where each party will be able to fulfill and contribute accordingly towards a fruitful “win-win” collaboration.

    HEU has a close collaborative relationship with China’s shipbuilding industry where we are constantly in contact with one other. For instance, I’ve just received a telephone call before this interview to finalise the collaborative model towards a new AUV research programme with the industry.

    Universities primarily perform upstream research, which are not of the industry’s interest. Industries are often involved in downstream activities such as manufacturing and commercialization that universities do not take interest in. In the middle lies opportunities where both the industry and universities can identify collaborative possibilities.

    Using woodworking joint types to illustrate, academia-industry collaborations are like finger-joints – different pieces of materials become a stronger and larger platform when joined together. Joining multiple universities and companies together will generate a formidable knowledge-based economy that many countries pursue.

    A good example is the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) in University of California, Berkeley. CITRIS is essentially a research collaboration model that shortens the pipeline between world-class academic research and the development of applications and companies. HEU has been trying to establish similar research centers in partnership with universities and the industry.

    I personally regard the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) as an impactful outcome of an excellent strategy by the Singapore Government, where a centralised entity consolidates funding, promotion and fostering of maritime and offshore research between the academia and the industry. SMI is a good case example for China’s reference, as multiple agencies are governing different aspects of maritime and offshore research initiatives in China.

  3. How important is international partnership and collaboration? What are some of the key barriers and drivers behind impactful research partnerships both locally and globally?

    XGH: International collaboration has been something that I’ve been pursuing under HEU for the last ten years. It has heightened in the last 5 years.

    Some say that the 21st century is the ocean century. Since civilisation, we have explored so much into space, but not much of our oceans has been explored. Despite having travelled to Mars and beyond, diving beyond 10,000 m into our oceans has proven to be difficult for mankind.

    Land resources will soon be depleted, which leaves us to look towards the vast resources beneath our deep waters. This becomes a common goal of interest for mankind, which will naturally result in partnerships.

    Partnerships between universities transcend national boundaries through a universal language of fundamental scientific research. Knowledge serves as one of the greatest drivers behind the advancement of human civilisation, which can be better achieved through international partnerships among knowledge institutions like universities.

    As mentioned, having a common goal and topic of interest is important towards fostering international research partnerships. Only partners with similar visions and mindsets will come together, especially when everyone acknowledges that deep water challenges are not merely national issues, but a common one faced by mankind.

    Lastly, the ability to communicate and address one another’s interests within a research partnership (such as intellectual property rights) will facilitate a smooth and successful collaboration.

    There are several conferences taking place over the past several years. Most of them merely provide platforms of academic exchange that do not materialise into actual mechanisms of collaboration. Establishing a common collaborative understanding between two or more entities will better facilitate specific research projects undertaken by the Professors and researchers thereafter.

    ICNAME (Innovation & Cooperation Alliance of Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering) is one such platform about innovation and collaboration that will bring like-minded partnerships to collectively explore R&D. Not only do we achieve global research excellence, we also help to optimise global research resources to minimise overlaps in the global research arena.

    With an effective and impactful framework in place as detailed above, international research partnerships will naturally be self-driven to address barriers and advance.

  4. You have recently suggested for China and Russia to strengthen cooperation in four areas, namely the development of new energy exploitation and adoption of marine technology; the development of carriers in ice areas and platform technology; deep sea engineering and equipment development; and numerical pool technology.

    Allow us to further understand your perspective towards Asia: What will be some of the top strategic areas that a China-Singapore collaboration can further strengthen?

    XGH: These were shared at the annual Pujiang Innovation Forum, which allowed China and Russia to engage in dialogues to advance collaborative interests. The Chinese province of Heilongjiang was the host province for the 2014 Pujiang Innovation Forum. HEU was invited to share at the Forum under the Heilongjiang delegation.

    Firstly, China and Russia are close neighbours. Secondly, both countries are major maritime nations that are keen in the opportunities of ocean explorations. China and Russia’s scientific research partnership is however not comparable to that of their well-established diplomatic ties.

    Based on Russia’s strong fundamental capabilities established since their Soviet Union days, I had proposed the four said strategic areas of collaboration between China and Russia, largely in areas involving Arctic exploration. Russia’s Krylov State Research Center features one of the world’s best ship model basin. Along with Russia’s superior numerical modelling capabilities, it would be in our interest to collaborate in the area of numerical pool technology. The Russian delegates to this year’s ICNAME Conference will also be discussing further on collaborative opportunities in the area of arctic research.

    This is my second time visiting Singapore and my impression of Singapore has improved with each visit. I view Singapore as a good research partner because we have little or no language barriers between us. In addition, our cultures are relatively similar and it reflects our sharing of similar values and mindsets.

    Singapore’s well-established foundation as a maritime and offshore research partner from its geographical location and strong industry track records is also well-regarded. Together with past successful China-Singapore collaborations, we are very confident of a successful partnership with Singapore in the area of maritime and offshore research.

    I hope that through our partnership with SMI and Singapore’s institutions, more initiatives could be established between the Governments of Singapore and China in the future.

  5. Breakthrough technologies are often fruits of research innovation that advance industry development. What are some of the emerging or game-changing technologies that may result in a big impact within the maritime and offshore industry in the long run?

    XGH: It is very difficult to predict the long-term future.

    But that said, we are progressing into the phase of Industry 4.0 that revolves around smart processes and autonomy. Without achieving excellence in digitalisation and communications, autonomous systems will not be possible.

    This similarly applies to numerical basin and capabilities. Before the age of smart systems implemented towards maritime and offshore research, numerical data is of fundamental importance. This enables us to realise concepts like numerical ship design, numerical reactor, numerical engine, and numerical (software-defined) radio.

    Subsequently, with digitalisation comes networks and communications. One will have to explore and enhance the connectivity of a vessel to a network. Currently, networks are land-based. In order to facilitate enhanced connectivity of vessels in networks, networks will have to be air and sea-based.

    With the above, autonomous shipping will then be possible where zero-crew navigation, long-distance vessel maintenance and repair, vessel route optimisation and energy saving will be automated within an integrated autonomous system. This is also the future of green shipping, which is facilitated by autonomous technologies.

  6. It is observed that large-scale research infrastructures are playing an increasingly major role in the advancement of research and knowledge creation. Key research infrastructures also serve as a focal point and centre of gravity in bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders and players.

    What is your vision of the future of maritime and offshore research infrastructure in 10 to 15 years’ time?

    XGH: There has to be a balance between the emphasis of physical and numerical experimentation in the future. What takes six months to compute and develop today should take a couple of days in the future with the reduction in the number of physical tests conducted. With advanced technology, numerical capabilities should also bring about a higher degree of accuracy. Particularly for areas such as materials where we are currently looking into numerical means of fatigue stress research and material testing.

    Future research facilities should focus on the accuracy of research experimentations. This not only helps to address the physical limitations of physical research experimentations but also serve as value addition. Facilities should also be equipped with much higher computational capabilities and resources. Perhaps cloud-based computation that facilitates hardware and software resource pooling could be a reality in the future.

Simulation & Modelling (SAM)

Awarded on 17 Oct 2014

In addition to being one of the busiest ports in the world, Singapore has also likewise thrived as one of the leading global maritime capitals that is highly driven by knowledge-based services and expertise. With changing demands and complexity of port and shipping activities, there would be a need for better management of complex port and ship systems.

With global trend drivers, such as shipping market volatility, environmental regulations, and energy cost-efficiency, advanced technological solutions would be required to address these concerns through innovation in port infrastructure and ship design. Hydrodynamics, physical modelling, and mathematical modelling are some of the scientific means towards more cost-effective and environmentally friendly operations. There has also been proposed methodology that focuses more on integrated systems-approach over independent components-approach.

An integrated systems strategy would also drive the need to manage sophisticated engineering and technology through risk-based approach for higher reliability and asset lifecycle management to bring cost benefits. This would enable users to complement both business and technical objectives.

Building upon the above technological trend towards a greater need for advanced complex systems, higher end training would also be required to produce competent manpower with the critical domain knowledge and skillsets. Looking beyond the conventional field of training through simulation, research in the human-machine interface through applied human engineering studies of maritime ergonomics would also be applicable to optimise interaction between people and technology for safety and productivity best practices.

As part of Singapore Maritime Institute’s (SMI) efforts to support the maritime industry in Singapore, a research grant amounting to S$5 million has been allocated to promote research through this thematic R&D programme. The Simulation & Modelling (SAM) R&D Programme aims to support projects involving the research and development of innovative technologies, approaches and ideas towards simulation & modelling for maritime applications.


Programme Themes

  • Risk Management
  • Human Factor Studies
  • Maritime Training & Operation

Asset Integrity & Risk Management (AIM)

Awarded on 02 Nov 2015

In oil & gas E&P, safe and reliable operations are of paramount importance to the industry. Asset integrity should never be compromised and risk management is critical to ensure lives and marine environment are safeguarded.

With enhanced oil recovery techniques, operators are stretching the existing reserves with assets that are reaching their design service life. These aged assets are often susceptible to failures due to mechanical degradations and harsh offshore environment.

Oil exploration has also inevitably moved into deep-sea as shallower oil wells become depleted. The offshore assets are installed in deeper water and are increasingly inaccessible. The associated cost of asset maintenance increases exponentially for deep-water regions resulting in the need for technological innovations in asset integrity & risk management. Integrity assessment and risk management solutions, anticipation of possible failures of systems and emergency response plans in the event of asset failures would be critical.

The offshore assets covered include offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment. The key research objectives are:

a) Identification of safety critical elements (SCEs)
The weakest structural components that are most susceptible to external forces, cyclic loadings and harsh environment known as safety critical elements should be identified.

b) Reduction of reliance on manual inspection
The inaccessible assets in deeper water and harsher environment drive the need for remote and autonomous inspection and maintenance which are increasingly reliant on sensor based technologies.

c) Low hardware overheads
Cost is one of the major considerations when sensors and wireless systems are installed. Such overheads include the cost of manufacturing the sensors and systems, power requirement as well installation compatibility with the existing assets.

d) High reliability systems under harsh environment
The increasingly harsh environment at deeper water with strong waves and currents as well as deeper wells with hostile chemicals and high pressure high temperature (HPHT) pose significant technical challenges. Sensors and systems must survive such environment with high reliability.


Programme Themes

  • Software Development
  • Hardware Development & Deployment
  • New Asset Installation
  • System Level Management

Projects awarded (will be updated progressely):

Joint Call for Proposals in Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

Awarded on 21 Mar 2016

Maritime Research between Norway and Singapore (MNS)

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (“MPA”) and the Research Council of Norway (“RCN”) executed a Memorandum of Understanding on 6th March 2000 (“MOU”) relating to joint co-operation in maritime research, development, education and training. The MOU will be extended for its sixth successive three-year term in 2015.
To further enhance this co-operation, and to facilitate the creation of collaborative projects between the research communities in Singapore and Norway, RCN, MPA and Singapore Maritime Institute (“SMI”) have launched a joint call for bilateral funding of research projects in mutually agreed fields. A total of NOK 15 million is available from RCN for Norwegian partners and up to S$3 million is available from SMI for the Singaporean partners.

Research areas covered

The call is in the field of maritime research. The applications in this call must cover one or more of the following topics:
Maritime arctic research
  • Operational decision support systems and logistics solutions
  • Emergency preparedness, prevention & response

Maritime navigation safety

  • e-Navigation
  • Vessel Traffic Management
  • Data analytics on traffic pattern and risk
  • Ship-shore communication
  • Internet of things at sea

Ship operation & safety

  • Simulation & Training
  • Human factors studies
  • Unmanned ships
  • Remote Piloting
  • Control Room Systems
  • Hull structural design

Green shipping

  • Green fuels
  • Energy efficiency
  • Ballast water
  • Hull cleaning
  • Optimizing routing and operation
  • Hull and propeller design
  • Energy saving devices
  • LNG Bunkering in Shipping

Ship-port operations

  • Port optimization
  • Smart ports

Advanced Materials and Manufacturing (Amm)

Awarded on 01 Aug 2016

Oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) has inevitably moved into harsher operating environment. While oil price has slumped to a very low level, industry is focusing on technology developments to lower the cost of E&P. The fundamental sciences such as chemistry, physics and materials have attracted more attention than before in seeking innovative and disruptive technologies to enhance operational efficiency and improve reliability.


Operations in deeper waters with strong waves and currents pose challenges on structural integrity. Operations in Arctic pose a different set of challenges with extreme low temperature. As industry moves into ultra-deep wells with extreme high pressure and high temperature (HPHT), higher reliability is required in meeting the performance specifications to ensure safe and reliable operations. The underpinning material sciences in different operating regimes are the fundamental challenges to the increasingly harsh E&P environment.


Industry is also constantly innovating new materials for offshore applications as well as smart materials which allow more perimeters to be measured for condition monitoring of offshore structures and processes.


SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research thrusts and corresponding research focus areas under the grant call.  The materials covered in this grant call should be used in offshore structures, subsea and down-hole equipment with the following key research objectives:


  1. New materials development and materials enhancement to meet the operating needs under harsher environment while maintaining cost competitiveness
  2. Smart materials developments which allow condition monitoring and improve operational efficiency in the E&P lifecycle
  3. Testing methodologies developments to improve the accuracy of materials assessment and/or allow in-situ assessment to determine real-life residual life and fatigue conditions
  4. Enhancement of materials processability to improve performance and reliability of processed materials and structures


Programme Themes

  • New Materials Development
  • Materials Enhancement
  • Material Testing
  • Material Processing & Manufacturing

Maritime Sustainability (MSA)

Awarded on 04 Jan 2016

Given its location at the crossroad between East and West trade, Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world for commercial shipping and maritime services. Last year, the Port of Singapore welcomed more than 135,000 vessels and handled a total of 560 million tonnes of cargo. The maritime industry is an important part of Singapore’s economy as it is one of the fastest growing economic sectors, contributing to 7% of Singapore’s GDP.

To address one of the key challenges facing the maritime industry on sustainable shipping, research and development into innovative technologies to transform maritime transportation and port operations will enhance both regulatory compliance and better service offerings by the industry.

SMI through its engagements with the industry and academia has identified the following research areas and possible corresponding research topics under the Maritime Sustainability grant call to support maritime developments and environment protection:


a) Ballast Water Management
Possible Research Topics include Detection and Measuring Equipment / Treatment System, Treatment Technology, and Risk Assessment for Ballast Water Management System.


b) Exhaust Emission Control
Possible Research Topics include Scrubbing / Cleaning Technology, Tools and Systems.


c) Ship Noise & Vibration
Possible Research Topics include Simulation & Modelling, Materials, and Ship Design and Construction.


d) Port Sustainability
Possible Research Topics include Port Air Emission Control Technology, Cleaner Energy for Port, Port Waste-to-Resource Management, and Energy Conservation.

Programme Themes

  • Ballast Water Management
  • Exhaust Emission Control
  • Ship Noise & Vibration
  • Port Sustainability

MPA and SMI Joint Call for Proposals 2020 on Harbour Craft Electrification

Awarded on 01 Oct 2021

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) have awarded funding to three consortiums led by Keppel FELS Limited, SeaTech Solutions and Sembcorp Marine, and comprising a total of 30 enterprises and research institutions, to research, design, build and operate a fully electric harbourcraft over the next five years. These electrification pilot projects will demonstrate both commercial and technical viability of specific use cases for full electric harbourcraft and will support Singapore’s broader plans to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the maritime transport sector.


Harbourcraft Electrification Projects

No Consortium lead  Consortium members Project Scope
1 Keppel FELS Limited


  1. DNV
  2. Eng Hup Shipping

(Vessel owner/operator)

  1. Envision Digital
  2. Surbana Jurong

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop Solid State Transformer based shore charger & electric kit on an existing 30 pax ferry
2 SeaTech Solutions International (S) Pte Ltd


  1. Batam Fast Ferry Pte Ltd
  2. Bernhard Schulte (Singapore) Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. DM Sea Logistics Pte Ltd
  4. Jurong Port Pte Ltd
  5. Kenoil Marine Services Pte Ltd
  6. Lita Ocean Pte Ltd
  7. Marina Offshore Pte Ltd
  8. Rina Hong Kong Limited Singapore Branch
  9. Sterling PBES Energy Solutions Ltd.
  10. Yinson Production Offshore Pte Ltd

(Vessel owner)

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. Singapore Institute of Technology
  2. Technology Centre for Offshore and Marine, Singapore
To develop a full electric lighter craft[i]
3 Sembcorp Marine Integrated Yard Pte Ltd


  1. ABB Pte Ltd
  2. Durapower Holdings Pte Ltd
  3. Jurong Marine Services Pte Ltd
  4. OPL Services Pte Ltd
  5. Rolls-Royce Singapore Pte Ltd
  6. SP One Pte Ltd
  7. Tian San Shipping Pte Ltd

(Vessel Owner/ operator)

  1. York Launch Pte Ltd

IHLs/ research institutes

  1. A-STAR Institute of High-Performance Computing
  2. Nanyang Technological University
  3. National University of Singapore
  4. Singapore Institute of Technology
To develop and build a full electric ferry for 200 persons for a specific route
[i] A lighter craft is a vessel used for the carriage of dry or packaged cargoes.