‘I truly believe engineering is a humble profession’

Based in Singapore, Koh Sock Hoon works at global engineering company Binnies as a process specialist in wastewater treatment and odour control. She has been involved in various wastewater projects across the country and globally.

“I am passionate about wastewater treatment and its innovations, and would love to see more women engineers joining the field. In my view, the engineering and construction industry is unique as it provides a tangible opportunity to witness a project transformed from concept into reality.”

In her role, Sock Hoon helps clients identify suitable wastewater treatment strategies that meet the project need. “Being able to apply my specialist knowledge and experience to help them resolve wastewater-related challenges is the most enjoyable part of my career,” she reveals. “I also enjoy working with other disciplines to deliver engineering solutions.”

A certified Professional Engineer (PE) in the US, Sock Hoon has had a passion for the environment since she was in school. “I was also good at mathematics and science, so I thought by choosing engineering as a profession, I would be able to apply my knowledge and do some good for the environment – and I was right.”

After she earned her Master’s degree in 2002, she joined a local consulting firm in Iowa, in the US, and later moved to a global consulting engineering company in Kansas where she started her process engineering career, before relocating to Australia. A Malaysian citizen, she returned to Southeast Asia about six years ago and has been working in Singapore since then.

‘More emphasis on sustainable initiatives’

As a process engineer, Sock Hoon says her biggest reward is when the projects are implemented successfully and operate as intended. “There are unique problems in different phases of the project, but I often find construction and commissioning stages challenging.”

“A few years ago, I was tasked with managing a contractor’s process commissioning and plant-proving activities for an advanced, highly automated membrane bioreactor (MBR) demonstration plant designed with complex operational flexibility for multiple treatment modes,” she shares.

“With delays in construction, there was mounting pressure to have the plant ready and handed over quickly, leaving little room for errors during plant proving. The team had to complete the job within a short period of time.

“We worked hand-in-hand with the contractor, performed daily checks and fine-tuning of the operation, control logic and sampling regimes.

“In the end, the plant was successfully commissioned, producing high-quality effluent suitable for feeding a reverse osmosis (RO) system. The demonstration plant has since received multiple awards including the Water/Wastewater Project of the Year in the 2018 Global Water Awards.”

She further explains that in recent years, the engineering and construction industry has put more emphasis towards energy-efficiency, environmental sustainability, and climate-resiliency initiatives.

“Biological treatment technologies have gained popularity in the odour control and biogas desulfurisation areas. On the energy-neutrality and climate resiliency front, the use of biofilm technology and bubble-less aeration systems has become a hot topic in wastewater treatment owing to its treatment resiliency and energy efficiency.

“For land-scarce countries challenged with water-security risks, implementing compact solutions – such as direct MBR + RO treatment – for producing high-quality water as recycled water has been the trend.”

‘Hesitate no more’

Speaking about her experience working in a male-dominated industry, Sock Hoon says she has not faced any barriers so far. “As engineers, regardless of gender, we all like to come together and solve problems.”

In most projects, the difficulties she has encountered are often “surrounding the human factor – dealing with people from different backgrounds, personalities, and interests. With a common goal and a good plan, resolving differences in opinions and delivering win-win solutions is achievable.”

She notes that there are many women engineers today working in the water – and other engineering – sectors tackling design, construction, and management roles with great success. “I truly believe that engineering is a humble profession, where everyone who is passionate about problem solving and has good technical background should find a place.”

Her advice to women aspiring to join the engineering and construction industry? “Hesitate no more!”

Photos courtesy of Koh Sock Hoon