Testing, inspection and certification: A niche industry with a big future
Testing, inspection and certification industry is growing due to renewed interest in quality and standards amid pandemic
After Covid-19 hit Singapore early this year, a rush to buy surgical masks was quickly followed by reports of substandard and fake products.
At Setsco Services, one of the largest testing, inspection and certification (TIC) firms here, enquiries came in almost every day, asking if the firm could ascertain the quality of these masks, a product that it had not tested in its laboratories before.
But the company quickly put together a team of experienced microbiologists and polymer specialists, and in four months, it was able to carry out a series of five tests in accordance with a recognised American standard known as ASTM F2100.
The standard takes into account a mask's flammability, breathability, bacterial and particulate filtration efficiency, as well as fluid resistance, which is tested using synthetic blood.
Since June, Setsco has tested samples from more than 20 clients, including manufacturers, suppliers and end-users.
All that is left is for the testing process to be accredited by the Singapore Accreditation Council (SAC), which operates under Enterprise Singapore (ESG). SAC is the national authority that evaluates firms like Setsco, making sure the testers follow recognised standards as well.
For ESG's director-general for quality and excellence Choy Sauw Kook, Setsco's new mask testing capability is an example of how the TIC industry supports Singapore, whether in terms of free trade, innovation, or the fight against Covid-19.
She said yesterday: "Products and services that are tested, inspected, and certified provide consumers and businesses with the assurance of quality.
"Accreditation provides our SMEs with a competitive edge as they expand into new markets where safety and reliability are premium considerations."
Amid a gloomy economy, the industry has been a bright spot, said SAC chairman Renny Yeo.
Employing over 22,000 workers, half of them professionals, managers, executives and technicians, the sector is growing, especially in Asean.
Stringent standards and a robust accreditation regime mean the Singapore brand is trusted globally, while the pandemic has also played a part, with ESG and SAC observing more demand for reliable, high-quality products.
At Setsco, for example, the demand for the testing of hand sanitisers and disinfectants also went up in recent months.
"If you look at disinfectants, we probably test a couple a year. Suddenly, within one month, we tested more than what we tested last year," said chief executive Sze Thiam Siong.
ESG and SAC said Singapore will look to bolster local TIC infrastructure capabilities and upskill the local workforce in support of four growth areas - medical and life sciences, food and agriculture, digitalisation and cyber security, and environmental sustainability.
The first two made up the largest share of the demand for TIC services in Asean in 2018, and the latter two are expected to be the fastest growing.
"With the renewed interest in quality and standards, these four growth sectors will grow even more in a post-Covid-19 world," Ms Choy said, citing new trends such as telemedicine and telecommuting.
For Mr Yeo, the Covid-19 crisis is a chance to rope more young people into what he said was an "unsexy" industry.
"It is a niche that not many people are aware of... Covid-19 is an opportunity for us to let people realise there are good career prospects in the TIC sector."