Co-creation and automation helps fight COVID-19

Leighton Asia is constructing an 8 km sewer tunnel as part of Singapore's Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) Phase 2 Project. During the global pandemic, site managers have been looking for a more efficient and effective solution to protect the safety of members working on site. In cooperation with Siemens, they have developed a solution that automates the company’s COVID-19 antigen rapid test (ART) routines.

Contact our experts


Leighton Asia was awarded a contract to construct an 8km stretch of sewer tunnel for Phase 2 of Singapore’s DTSS (DTSS 2). The task was technically challenging but entirely within the area of expertise of Paul Anthony, who looks back on a career in major infrastructure and construction projects. “I am the Project Director for one part of the tunneling project that Leighton Asia is responsible for,” he says. “Our section comprises 7.9 kilometers of tunnel with an internal diameter of 6 meters. We are building this through seven shafts to reach the tunneling operations, which are, on average, 50 meters below the surface. Being part of the DTSS 2 project is an excellent opportunity for us to put our expertise to work, and that was exactly what we were doing.”

Leighton Asia and Singapore’s Deep Tunnel Sewerage System

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Hong Kong, Leighton Asia delivers a portfolio of high-profile infrastructure projects throughout Asia. The company provides a comprehensive range of services in the construction; civil engineering; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing; and oil and gas sectors. Leighton Asia currently operates in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and India. It is a member of the CIMIC Group, an engineering-led construction, mining, services and public private partnerships leader working across the lifecycle of assets, infrastructure and resources projects.

Leighton Asia has been awarded a major tunneling package for the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) Phase 2 by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. The DTSS is an underground superhighway to meet Singapore’s long-term needs for used water collection, treatment, reclamation and disposal. A network of deep tunnels conveys used water entirely by gravity to three centralized water treatment plants. The treated used water is then reclaimed and further purified into NEWater, with excess effluent discharged to the sea in an environmentally responsible manner.

Ensuring health and safety for workers and the community

Initially praised for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore soon recognized that in order to keep the country safe, it needed to monitor certain areas more closely to prevent flare-ups and community transmission. That was why the authorities implemented a comprehensive testing scheme for all workers and companies in the country, with a special focus on the construction industry. “All our employees attending site need to get a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test every 14 days, and an additional ART, that is, an antigen rapid test, on day 3, 7, and 11. The tests need to be supervised, and the results are documented and communicated to the authorities,” Paul explains. These requirements had the Leighton Asia team who normally deal with tunneling machines and their specifics, suddenly evaluating healthcare logistics and requirements. “We have several sites in different locations,” he says, “and workers arrive in intervals at the start of their shift, so we had to have the capacity to identify workers and check their test status, as well as provide facilities for the tests and waiting areas for the workers until they receive their test results. My first thought was, if we follow the traditional practice, we need a lot of healthcare workers and spreadsheets. That did not seem an efficient way.”

Rapid prototyping paves the way for a more efficient approach

Paul discussed this challenge with the Siemens automation experts in Singapore, where the Siemens factory automation headquarters provide technology know-how and local market expertise to the company’s customers in the Asia Pacific region. The Siemens teams immediately stepped up to the task. “They came up with ideas and prototypes for similar situations where you want to have access control and supervision, and even had a sketch ready for a miniature automation solution that we felt could quickly be adapted to what we needed,” says Paul.

Within just a few days, a small team of Leighton Asia and Siemens experts co-created a suitable solution that was then implemented in one of Leighton Asia’s construction sites as a pilot. Workers identify themselves via their National Registration Identity Card at a desk that is continuously staffed by two ART coordinators, and then they receive their personalized ART kit. Each kit is identified via a unique label that is printed using a label printer directly connected to a SIMATIC Industrial PC. The ART coordinators also use this IPC to check the test status of each worker, which is recorded in a database, allowing them to immediately see whether the individual needs to be tested on this day or not. They can then print the personalized label for the test directly at their desk and hand the kit to the worker, who performs the test – a regular swab test – at one of five test stations. The ART coordinators remotely monitor the self-tests through a video system, and after they give the worker a green light, he or she hands in the test for evaluation at the collection point and then waits until the result is ready. All the functions are executed in SIMATIC WinCC Runtime, which guides the user through the entire process and ensures optimum usability. In the test area, the indicator lights and the timers for the 15-minute waiting time for the test results are controlled by a compact LOGO! controller from Siemens.

Siemens came up with ideas and prototypes for similar situations where you want to have access control and supervision, and even had a sketch ready for a miniature automation solution that we felt could quickly be adapted to what we needed.
Paul Anthony, Project Director, Leighton Asia

A model for other projects

One of Paul’s priorities was making the system as simple as possible. This involved some creativity on the part of the Siemens team, which normally automates industrial plants and systems – “and, naturally, an engineer’s perspective on operation and usability will differ from a healthcare worker’s perspective. As we were and still are in the middle of the pandemic, we could not test the system on-site, and the entire solution was created remotely, including discussions on what might be the best process or interface for tasks. This is clearly not how you would normally do it – but it worked,” says Paul. To cater the project’s need, the Siemens team made use of their HMI Template Suite and developed a user-friendly interface with a modern look and feel.


The success of the automated testing station is also recognized by the authorities in Singapore and have fully approved of the way Leighton Asia is handling the testing at the site. This automated solution is highly adoptable by other construction sites as well. “With this solution, we need only two ART coordinators instead of five on-site to cover our working hours, which is much more efficient. By assigning a unique ID via bar code and recording the test results automatically via a scan in the system, that leaves little room for human error,” says Paul. “Moreover, the solution is simple and flexible – we can easily extract the testing data for reports and adapt to changing testing regimes without allocating tremendous resources.”

The ART automation project not only proves what combining the right knowledge can achieve in a short time but also showcases the benefits of new technologies can bring to the construction industry: “The industry as a whole tends to be slow when it comes to automating operations – and there is a lot that we could gain there. So for me, this ART project is not just about ensuring health and safety guidelines and fighting the pandemic, but also leveraging our expertise and looking at what parts of the overall operation we could enhance together next – especially here in Singapore, which is a country that embraces innovation and digitalization.”

Industry Automation Stories

Learn more about the benefits of digitization in factory automation and read the latest articles on machine and plant construction.