Media Newsroom VTC Digest VTC Digest 2020

VTC’s skilled talent on a professional quest to beat COVID-19

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    Tony YEUNG, graduate of the Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering programme from the IVE (left) and Simon LAI, graduate of the Higher Diploma in Electrical Engineering programme from the IVE (right) work together to use their professional skills and knowledge to help society in its fight against COVID-19

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    Simon LAI started an automation engineering and consulting company hoping to help companies to modernize their production lines. The company is now helping local mask manufacturers install and maintain manufacturing machines

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    Tony YEUNG joined Lai’s company to help design automation units, such as conveyor belts and production lines. He also helps in maintaining mask manufacturing machines

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    (From the left) Benson HUNG Kin-ho, Project Officer of Workplace Learning and Assessment Project Team (Engineering Programmes), IVE (Tsing Yi), and IVE Civil Engineering graduates Roy CHOW Wai-keung, Jacob TSANG Chung-chung and Neil CHAN Leung-kwan showcase their “U-Trap Refill Automator” project

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    The “U-Trap Refill Automator” is able to sense when water level within U-bends in the pipes get too low, sending a signal to the device to inject water into the system

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    The Urban Renewal Authority (URA) will lend vacant residential units to the team to trial their U-trap device and to make improvements on the existing model

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    Steven YEUNG, graduate of the Information Technology Discipline at the IVE and CEO of an IT start up, saw an opportunity to use his skills and expertise to help in the fight against COVID with his smart robot design

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    During the pandemic, Yeung’s Smartbot has been deployed at the Science Park to do food deliveries in order to encourage social distancing

When COVID-19 appeared earlier this year, no one could have imagined the impact the virus would cause. With countries in lockdown and businesses on pause, it’s hard to see any silver lining in the dark cloud.
Yet, through the storm, many skilled talent including graduates and students of the Vocational Training Council (VTC) have come with a caring heart to put their skills to good use and help communities to move on.
These alumni and students have put their best foot forward and made contributions to Hong Kong’s society through their innovative efforts and inventions such as a “U-trap Refill Automator”, a “Smart Delivery Robot” and helping in the automation and upkeep of face mask manufacturing. 

Keeping up Mask Supply for Hong Kong

Simon LAI, graduate of the Higher Diploma in Electrical Engineering Programme of the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE), started his own automation engineering and consulting company in 2003. Specializing in modernizing local factories and upgrading production lines using mechanical automation technology, a lot of his customers include factories in the conventional industrial villages such as Tai Po, Fo Tan and Yuen Long.

As COVID-19 gained momentum, Lai quickly noticed an escalated demand for anti-epidemic supplies such as face masks. However, since most face-mask production machines are imported from overseas, many companies haven’t been able to send their staff to Hong Kong to set up and repair machines, Lai offered up his knowledge and expertise to step in and fill the gap.

“During the pandemic period, foreign engineers can’t come here, so local automation engineering companies like us can help mask manufacturers to keep up their supplies in a timely manner. Now some thirty local mask manufacturers are our clients,” he said.

Working closely with these manufacturers, his company has been able to provide installation and maintenance services, while designing suitable production line solutions according to the customer’s requirements, therefore solving a lot of operational issues.

Lai has big dreams of modernizing the local industries by assisting in the construction of automated factories and to help them be more in line with the growing trends in the industry.

But for now, he feels that there is a more pressing need to help Hong Kong through the COVID-19 challenge.

In fact, Lai recently hired several IVE juniors and Tony YEUNG Ka-ho, a graduate of the Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering programme from the IVE to help out. Tony YEUNG has been helping to write computer programmes depending on a company’s needs. He also configures hardware for automatic systems including the installation of parts and laying wires.

He says that his education at the IVE has helped to provide him with solid engineering training which makes it a lot easier to master the composition designs of multi-dimensional space, which ultimately helps in the design of automation systems.

Lai couldn’t have picked a better partner for the job, as Tony YEUNG, having gone down the same path as Lai, was selected as a Hong Kong representative to participate in the “Mechatronics” trade in the “WorldSkills Competition” previously. Tony YEUNG came home after winning a Medallion of Excellence in Russia last year for professional performance in designing and installing a small production line within a limited time.

Lai agreed that enrolling into the VTC was the best thing that ever happened to him. Not only did he find his interest, he excelled in it, and won many scholarships which ended up fully funding him through his studies at the VTC. And now, he is able to do good and give back.

Smart Invention of the “U-Trap” to help the Elderly

Like Yeung and Lai, a few graduates from the Higher Diploma in Civil Engineering of IVE got together and decided to get creative to help the elderly in the community.

The trio, Roy CHOW Wai-keung, Jacob TSANG Chung-chung and Neil CHAN Leung-kwan set off to their design after fears surfaced that the new coronavirus could mimic the 2003 SARS outbreak by spreading through U-shaped traps in building drainage systems.

Taking lessons from the Amoy Gardens case, they decided to investigate the hygiene conditions in old districts. To their surprise, they found that most of the elderly living in the area had no concept about U-shaped traps, completely unaware that clean water needs to be regularly poured down these pipes to maintain good hygiene.

Added to this, they found that the toilets were often too narrow, and that many of these elderly were simply too frail to do repeated tasks such as manually pouring water into the pipes.

This led to the idea of building a “U-trap Refill Automator” that would sense when water levels got too low in the U-pipes, in turn activating an electronic water injector to bring water levels back up to a safe level.  By ridding the U-bends of these air pockets, it would help to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“When we proposed this idea to the elderly community, they were very supportive of it,” Chow said.

“Moved by their heartfelt wishes, it inspired and motivated us to create something meaningful something that could really make a difference during this COVID-19 pandemic using the skills we learnt at the IVE,” he added.

In order to build the device, Chow admits that the team had to pull out all the stops and refer to their knowledge of civil engineering hydraulics, water supply and drainage systems, building structures, as well as use their architecture-related computer drawing skills and 3D printing skills to get the installation off the ground.

And although the device is currently still in its testing stage, the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) will lend vacant residential units to the team for the first phase of field testing to improve such things as its size, water storage issues, materials and power supply installations, and how the device could work in different kinds of residential units.

The team took part in this year’s “Innovative Design Competition” co-organised by the URA, IVE and the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI). Not only did the team scoop the gold medal at the competition, they also won the “Smartest Design Award” and “Best Model/Digital Presentation Award”.

“During the process, we learnt to apply design thinking skills, which involved figuring out problem areas, conceptual design, developing product prototypes and testing,” Chow said.

And the team is not just going to stop there. Chan said that in order to make the unit even more convenient for the elderly, they are looking at ways to make the device even “smarter” perhaps by using the Internet of Things (IoT) technique or smartphone apps that can send reminders to add water to the pipes.

“By making it more convenient and easier to use, it will allow the elderly to stay at home and fight the pandemic with ease,” he said.

When Robots can help us out

Steven YEUNG, a graduate of the Information Technology Discipline at the IVE, is another alumnus who has made it his person mission to help fight the pandemic.

“I realized I could use my professional knowledge and digital skills to help customers and contribute to the sustainable development of society which fills me with a lot of satisfaction,” he said.

Noting a huge surge in demand for food delivery and takeaways amidst social distancing measures, he decided to work together with a robotics company to develop smart bots and unmanned logistics vehicles to do delivery work, such as food delivery, or even courier services. This would, of course, help to solve a lot of practical problems and encourage proper social distancing during the pandemic.

Having established an IT start-up that provides services such as cloud computing, green technology and mobile applications, he was able to draw on his experience and skills to utilize new technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT and cloud computing to develop smart robots that were able to do anything from following a map, to using a lift, to even maneuvering around objects, such as pedestrians.  This way, the robots can be used to deliver food or even a parcel simply by inputting a name and address into its system.

“The application of this is endless,” Yeung said. And since the project is currently only in its pilot phase, he hopes that further research will uncover more ways for the robots to carry out even more functions in society. These could include being able to do more complicated tasks such as communicate with its users.

“In the future, these robots can have different applications for different industries, for example, it can guide people with disabilities, be a walking smoke detector, give an early warning system to prevent fires or similar incidences, and to develop an accident management system to reduce the operational risks of various industries,” Yeung said.

Right now, the unmanned smartbots are being tested and are being used at the Science Park to help deliver food and to encourage social distancing measures.

But in the future, this could mean improved efficiency and it could be a real game changer in society, he added.  

Indeed, Yeung said that he could never have accomplished all this if he hadn’t attended the Information Technology courses at the IVE. By learning all about computer hardware, network technology and software programming, he was able to build a foundation for his current profession and career.

“The application and development of IoT, which is what my company is developing, is all based on software and the internet,” he said.

Seeing what an impact his work can have on society right now, he encourages students to apply knowledge and skills to benefit others or serve the community. “All it takes is a little bit of ingenuity and a caring heart,” he said.

There is no doubt that there is a common theme amongst the VTC graduates who want to put their professional knowledge to good use in helping to look after Hong Kong’s community and to fight the pandemic.

To learn more about how VTC’s skilled talent combating COVID-19 with their professional skills, please click on the link to watch the video.