Winter 2015-16

Under the surface with: Justin St George

James Fisher has identified Asia as a key area of growth with a number of group companies successfully operating locally. We meet Strainstall's latest recruit. 

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m from Essex originally, but I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Plymouth and joined Strainstall UK after completing my final year. It was a bit of a dream job because stress and strain analysis is a key interest of mine and was one of my strongest modules during my degree. I always knew I wanted a job where I could be ‘hands on’ as well as technical rather than solely stuck behind a desk. 

How did you end up in Singapore?

I spent two and a half years in the Strainstall UK office working on structural health monitoring systems but when I heard that James Fisher was keen to expand its Asian market and the job came up in Singapore I leapt at the chance. I knew it would be an exciting opportunity for me both professionally and personally.

What projects are you working on right now?

We specialise in structural health monitoring, but an exciting part of my job is implementing cutting edge testing techniques for the foundations of superstructures such as high-rise buildings, hospitals, railway stations etc. We recently completed an industry first in Singapore by pile testing to a load of 10,000 tonnes, which is the highest ever capacity pile test in the region. This was for the foundations of the Great World Station infrastructure project which is creating underground rail links to a huge new shopping mall.

What’s so good about Strainstall’s testing procedures?

In the past, foundations were tested using ‘top-loaded’ techniques, typically the ‘Kentledge Block Testing’ method where concrete blocks are loaded on top of the pile to check for ground settlement and determine the ultimate soil capacity. For the Great World Station project we used an alternative method known as bi-directional static load testing (BDSLT) which provides significant benefits over traditional methods.
BDSLT comprises a hydraulic jack assembly which is placed within the pile and can jack the pile up and down to simulate the loads and forces that can be applied to ensure the foundations are safe. This is a much safer, faster and more cost-effective testing method which enables us to predict how well the foundations will withstand the weight of the structure in two, five or even 100 years time. 

What other projects have you been involved with?

Structural health monitoring is so diverse we can apply it to almost any market sector including rail, offshore shipping, renewables, oil and gas, bridges and motorways. Although our main market is civil construction we recently worked on an offshore project setting up a system to monitor a number of cracks in the legs of a 20-year-old oil and gas rig. In the UK we are all offshore trained, so it was great timing to arrive in Singapore just as the project was getting underway, enabling me to get fully involved.

What’s life like in Singapore?

I’m only eight months into a three-year contract but it’s amazing here. I love it - it’s got all the buzz of living in London but with a constant 30 degree heat all year round and the streets are lined with palm trees! There’s a fantastic ex-pat community and I’ve done quite a bit of travelling in the region already.

What’s the significance of the new set-up in Asia?

Asia is the world’s largest construction market, so there is significant opportunity for us to provide our services to support the huge expansion and investment in infrastructure in the region. There’s a team of nine of us in the Singapore office, headed up by Dr Phil Cutter, and, with Damian Griffiths in the Malaysia office (all of us specifically trained in structural health monitoring systems) it means we now have a great technical team in South East Asia to tender for and deliver more complex structural health monitoring projects. We can also act as a satellite office for the UK, helping to reduce mobilisation costs and offer more competitive prices.

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