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Keeping High Fuel Costs At Bay For Shipowners

The Business Times

23 May 2012 – Ascenz’s monitoring system tracks fuel consumption and sends an alert if it suddenly spikes, reports Audrey Tan.

Skyrocketing fuel prices is bad news, and shipowners are wary of shelling out money to pay for oil wastage in unserviced engines or leaks.

To help alleviate this problem, entrepreneurs Sia Teck Chong and Chia Yoong Hui, both 44, have devised a system that could help shipowners monitor their fuel consumption and alert them when it gets too high.

Building on the technical expertise of Mr Sia, who has a diploma in electronics, and tapping Mr Chia’s masters in business management, they formed Ascenz Solutions in March 2008.

The duo, who have been friends since their days in the navy 21 years ago, developed the Ascenz Remote Fuel Monitoring and Bunkering System – an elaborate system that monitors the fuel consumption of ships.

This is done by attaching a bunker meter to a flow meter, which is then wired to a separate device called the Ascenz Controller. This device then transmits the information back to shore.

This device builds on the core focus of the company, which is to “monitor, control and manage”. With the information collected from the system, companies can then take corrective action should the results be less than desirable, and thus be better able to manage decision making.

Shipowners would be alerted via SMS or e-mail when fuel consumption suddenly spikes. They would then be able to take their own precautions that could nip the problem in the bud.

Shipowners can also configure the limits of the alert system.

Aside from this, the system also sends back information about the engines, location of the ship and its speed and path of travel, effectively doing double duty as a location device.

As the signals are transmitted via satellite or a GSM mobile network, data is able to be sent back to shore no matter which part of the world the ship may be.

All information will then be uploaded to a website that companies can easily access with a unique username and password.

“This means that no matter where you are, or what time it is, you’d be able to get all the information in real time,” says Mr Chia, Ascenz’s CEO.

To be updated

The current monitoring and bunkering system is an updated version of the original one, and the company plans to develop a third version within the next two months.

“The size of the current Ascenz controller is about the size of a VCR (video cassette recorder). The new one would be about half that size,” said Mr Sia, Ascenz’s general manager.

So what got them started in this business?

For one thing, they noted that since Ascenz started operations in 2008, the composition of fuel oil to total operating costs for shipowners had increased by 45 percentage points, from 25 per cent in 2008 to 60 per cent in 2011.

This, together with a global market size of about 85,000 ships – including general cargo ships, tankers and bulk carriers, made this business a viable one for Ascenz. In the midst of soaring oil prices and growing composition of fuel oil to total operating costs, this move was warmly welcomed by the sector.

Ascenz has seen a 63 per cent increase in sales from last year, going up from $800,000 in 2010 to $1.3 million in 2011.

To date, Ascenz has sold about 100 sets of its patented system, and is hoping to get more foreign clients, especially in the region.

Mr Chia says: “Currently, about 70 per cent of our clients are Singaporean firms, with the remaining 30 per cent comprising Indonesian and Chinese firms.”

Each set of the Ascenz Remote Fuel Monitoring and Bunkering System costs at least $50,000, depending on the size of the ship.

The duo’s invention won them the Minister’s Innovation Award (Merit) in 2009, and it was also among the finalists for the Technical Innovation Award of the 3rd Seatrade Asia Awards. The company also has big plans for the future. At the top of the list are plans for expansion abroad. Mr Chia and Mr Sia hope to expand their clientele in China, and to start servicing the market in Europe within the next three to five years.

“There are many shipyards in these places, especially in China. Most ships are usually assembled there,” Mr Chia explains.

In addition, the duo hopes to develop their product in consideration of environmental issues, although Mr Sia declined to elaborate on these plans.

But while Ascenz has finally made its mark in the industry, many challenges had to be first overcome.

“Our initial start-up cost was about $100,000,” recalls Mr Chia. “We had to learn to get things done with very limited resources.”

Mr Sia adds: “Between the two of us, we had to manage sales, administrative matters as well as all the technical stuff.”

He also recounts having to go on 8-10-hour car rides to service the systems – which could take between three and six hours – although now Ascenz has hired help to do that.

Ascenz is six strong now. Apart from the founders, there are two engineers, one sales manager and one administrative executive.

The duo hopes to increase staff strength to 10 by the beginning of next year, and aspires to an increase of 100 per cent in sales from last year.