President's Story

Dedicated to boosting engineering innovation
Believing is seeing - Innovation for transformation
by The Hong Kong Economic Times

 

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Ir Prof P L Yuen, President of the HKIE for Session 2020/2021, has maintained his passion for engineering for nearly 40 years, and is dedicated to boosting engineering innovation and taking Hong Kong talent to the next level.

 

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Unbridled passion


Ir Prof Yuen always knew that his calling was to be an engineer, and he joined the HKIE as a Graduate Member in 1981. He had always been curious of everything he encountered in life, especially when it came to engineering. His unbridled passion for engineering started at a young age when he observed his father solving problems.


He has fond memories of his adolescence and believes that it was his father’s curiosity and dedication towards his own career that ignited his passion for engineering. “When I was young, my father ran a paper products factory. Making paper cups and boxes was uncommon at the time, but my father picked them up from the street and started dissecting them and observing how they were made,” said Ir Prof Yuen. This is how he started his business.


“Although my father was not an engineer, the way he observed things and solved problems, as well as his attention to detail, I am sure helped me to be a better engineer today. I learned to think from different angles and search for alternative ways to achieve a result; all of which are very much the traits of an engineer.”


When Ir Prof Yuen took the woodwork practice examination in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), he was able to devise an unconventional and speedy wooden joint crafting method which helped him to be among the very few who completed the exam piece on time, and achieve multiple grade As. “After that, I had an epiphany about my passion for seeking better ways to achieve goals, and I knew then that I was destined to be an engineer, a de facto problem solver,” he added.


Ir Prof Yuen graduated from The University of Hong Kong in the 80s, and was offered a job in the Government’s first batch of building services engineering graduate trainees where he received a comprehensive range of recognized training. Since then, his career has spanned many different government departments, including the Architectural Services Department (ArchSD), the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) and his current executive role in the Hospital Authority (HA).

 

In this position, he has overseen all electrical, mechanical and building services engineering facilities management across all public hospitals since the establishment of the HA back in 1993.

 

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Ir Prof Yuen introducing a smart hospital system to the press

 

“I often encounter facilities decisions in the operation of public hospitals and clinics which can have life and death consequences. When a facility incident or emergency occurs, I require myself to be the first to respond and provide help and resolution,” said Ir Prof Yuen. “‘Get your hands dirty’ has always been my philosophy.”


Ir Prof Yuen embarked on his journey with the HKIE as a Student Member where he learned by shadowing senior members. In the beginning, he worked as an event helper in the Institution. “One of the most memorable incidents for me happened when the MC of an event didn’t turn up. So there I was, a timid young engineering student, helping to MC at this big event,” he said. “This made me understand that, to cope with the fast-changing trends in this metropolis, it was vital for me to broaden my horizons, equip myself with multiple skills and gain a greater exposure to new things.”


This incident accounts for Ir Prof Yuen’s passion for his role in the HKIE. Starting from being a Student Member, he furthered his contributions to the HKIE as Chairman of the EG Division for Session 2007/2008. “Working with talented people from various fields helped me to put myself in the shoes of other stakeholders,” he stressed.


Ir Prof Yuen reckons that his experiences gained in working as well as serving as Chairman of the EG Division for Session 2007/2008, helped him become the President of the HKIE“My experiences enhanced my understanding of the characteristics and diversity of various engineering industries,” he enthused. “While I belonged to a certain industry, I also got to learn how other industries solve problems.”

 

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As the Chairman of the Organising Committee, Ir Prof Yuen organised the “Smart Tomorrow, Engineers’ Motto” Programme for the HKIE in 2018

 

 

Session 2020/2021 Highlights


On one hand, the HKIE plays the role of an enabler of excellence for the engineering profession; while on the other hand, it promotes engineering to young talent and encourages them to join the profession. “The theme of this year, ‘Believing is seeing - Innovation for transformation’, was inspired by many talents around the world. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba was one of them,” Ir Prof Yuen explained.“I strongly believe that when one has faith in one’s own beliefs, they will come true.”


As President of the Institution for Session 2020/2021 Ir Prof Yuen said, “the development of engineers is the epitome of society. This year, we will continue to inspire engineering professionals, the public and our future generation. We are looking forward to a fruitful year as the Institution will stimulate more innovation, whilst helping the city’s talent to shine, enhancing their personal careers, and more importantly boosting the economy and development of our city.”


Innovation is what helps Hong Kong to stay ahead and maintain its competitive edge. It is essential for the engineering industry to adopt both innovation and technology to enhance productivity, cost-effectiveness and safety, especially for the construction industry. Engineers in different disciplines should also embrace innovation to enhance their own capability, meet new challenges in the profession and contribute to the betterment of our society.


There are many experienced engineers with great insights. But if they also enjoy an enabling environment along with sufficient support, phenomenal innovations can happen. Therefore, the Institution is devoted to taking a pivotal role in unearthing and inspiring members’ thoughts on innovation, as well as helping to boost the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit among all members and the public. This aligns with the Government’s key policy of promoting innovation and transforming the city into one of the leading global hubs for innovation and entrepreneurship.


Session 2020/2021 commences with the Institution’s upcoming 45th anniversary of contributing to Hong Kong since the passing of The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers Ordinance in 1975. With this momentous and significant milestone, the HKIE is committed to enhancing its role in forging the innovation ecosystem in Hong Kong and also working with our neighbouring region to make innovation happen.


“With our members’ rich experience, knowledge, insights, stamina and creativity in solving various engineering problems at work, I believe that we can help unleash their potential so they can become innovative engineers engineering innovators, and successful ‘enginpreneurs’.” Ir Prof Yuen said.

 

The Enginpreneurs Hub


To enhance the innovation ecosystem in Hong Kong, the Institution will build an innovation hub or Ir Prof Yuen calls it as“The Enginpreneurs Hub” (EP Hub) to drive members in their on-going pursuit of innovation in the city.


“The idea of this EP Hub first crossed my mind on a trip to the United States,” Ir Prof Yuen explained. “On a visit to Yale University, I was inspired by the support the university provided for its engineering students. There are even legal professionals to assist students with patent applications and setting up companies.”


For the EP Hub, the Institution will work with academic institutions, government parties and other public institutions to co-share resources and offer guidance to support the HKIE members in tackling and solving their practical difficulties in the innovation process, and in areas such as funding sources, patent applications, startup business establishment procedures and more. “The EP Hub will help to transform the ideas of passionate engineers whether for products or services into reality,” said Ir Prof Yuen.


It is anticipated that closer cooperation will be established with various professional bodies, universities, incubation parks and other relevant organisations, to form and connect wider networks and create more opportunities for engineering innovators to obtain cross-disciplinary support in areas such as prototype making, solution seeking, patenting and soliciting capital investment.


A club will also be established for like-minded members of all ages. Members of this club will have the opportunity to share their passions, interests and experiences, and embark on the road to innovation. Meanwhile, the HKIE will offer supporting measures such as organising gatherings with guests from the creative industries and innovators, and providing guidance for startup businesses with the view of progressing to an initial public offering (IPO).


To seek collaboration opportunities with other stakeholders and assist the HKIE members with more and better understanding of the latest developments in innovation and in promoting and sustaining innovation across Hong Kong, the HKIE will organise lectures and forums, and collaborate with various government and relevant institutions to demonstrate to both members and the public the way innovation can change the landscape of the engineering industry.


Inspiring events such as workshops, sharing sessions and training will also be held to help members to build their skills, and broaden their mindsets and techniques in areas, including innovative thinking, innovation management, collaboration, entrepreneurship and more. Some exciting competitions will be organised to encourage information sharing and networking among engineering innovators.

 

Emerging trends in the Greater Bay Area and along the Belt and Road


In the early 80s, Ir Prof Yuen was chosen to join the Government sponsored Outward Bound programme for engineers’ adventurous sailing to the Philippines. In the late 80’s, under a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) scholarship, he worked for hospitals in countries across Europe and Saudi Arabia. Such extraordinary experiences led him to believe that wide exposure is vital for the development of an individual, “Now that the Greater Bay Area is open to talent from Hong Kong, our engineers should be able to take advantage of that together with the Belt and Road Initiative to extend their career journeys across the globe.”

 

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Ir Prof Yuen embarked on a three-day adventurous journey sailing to the Philippines in the early 80s

 

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Ir Prof Yuen explaining his completed isolation ward design and construction to medical staff in Indonesia

 

Under the impetus of the planning and development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative, there has been a marked increase in the demand for engineering professionals. “Engineers in Hong Kong are hidden gems. They possess wonderful skills and knowledge,” Ir Prof Yuen stressed. He believes that these trends have opened up a lot of opportunities for engineers to challenge their own abilities and adapt.


Ir Prof Yuen believes that understanding the situation in the Greater Bay Area will help members to achieve their goals and develop their careers. He is dedicated to providing opportunities for members to explore engineering innovation and technology in the region, through organising visits, delegations and working out opportunistic matches.

 

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Ir Prof Yuen went to the Sichuan Earthquake Stricken Areas to provide hospital reconstruction services


In Session 2020/2021, he aims to fuel the innovation process, to leverage and create further opportunities for members. The Institution will organise the HKIE Innovation Expo and conference to strengthen the network of the HKIE and facilitate aspiring engineering innovators to understand and access stakeholders.


With the aim of shaping the landscape of the profession and demonstrating the Institution's support for innovation, the HKIE will also encourage innovation and technology development for the city by organising exhibitions and seminars, as part of the HKIE Innovation Expo and conference, publicity activities and soft side activities such as visits, experience workshops and media activities.


The Institution will also support and team up with various trade and productivity concerned organisations, to explore means to promote innovation and support Hong Kong industries in adopting innovation, recognising innovative industry practitioners and inspiring young talent by establishing awards with a presentation and recognition ceremony.

 

Giving back to Hong Kong Society


After working in the engineering industry for decades, Ir Prof Yuen’s passion for the profession is what helps him to maintain such a buoyant spirit. In addition to his work in his career and the HKIE, he is eager to help the public with his professional knowledge.


In recent years, Ir Prof Yuen has been serving the society by optimising hospital isolation ventilation designs. When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) surfaced in the early 2000s, he contributed a lot as he was the first to design and successfully build an isolation-type operating theatre and labour delivery theatre, together with negative pressure autopsy rooms to safeguard both healthcare staff and hospital visitors.


He also came up with an innovative isolation ward design that could be converted to general wards usage during normal times for ease of clinical operation and for energy saving. Ir Prof Yuen was determined to optimise hospital isolation ventilation design. To achieve this, he received further training by obtaining an Engineering Doctorate Degree with his thesis on researching hospital isolation ventilation design. The achievement had won him a HKIE Innovation Award in 2012/2013.


After eight years of hard work and research, he developed ventilation designs that helped to eliminate the transmission of hidden pathogens. He adopted the technology at one public hospital where the level of nosocomial infection became the lowest among all hospitals. Now his designs have been adopted by numerous hospitals in the city.


"In simple terms, the air in general wards are drawn out through the corridor, so if there is a patient that carries a hidden pathogen, the disease will spread easily,” Ir Prof Yuen explained. “Therefore, I decided to adapt the ventilation setting of a high standard isolation ward to a general ward as the model and applied it for parametric analysis via computational fluid dynamic simulations. By changing the direction of air flow and allowing the air to leave directly from the ward cubicles coupled with suitable ventilation rates and exhaust locations, the infection control capability could compare well with that of a high standard isolation ward design.”


Without seriously affecting the day-to-day operation of the hospital or the daily lives of staff, visitors or patients, and with cost effectiveness assured, Ir Prof Yuen installed air outlets and increased ventilation rates. In this way, the hospital could dilute the air in the wards and control the air flow with ease. As a part of his doctoral thesis, his research outcomes have been published internationally in the Journal of Hospital Infection.


To tackle the current coronavirus epidemic, Ir Prof Yuen has pioneered a design and worked together with the Institution to build a modular form of fast-track isolation ward. His work is widely known as the Hong Kong version of the Huoshenshan Hospital. Later, he successfully united the engineering industry to build a fully operable, modular integrated construction (MiC) prototype of high standard negative pressure isolation ward. This has been acclaimed by the media as the world’s first-of-its-kind construction. The achievement has showcased the quality, capability and innovation of our engineers in Hong Kong.


By prioritising the health and safety of medical staff and Hong Kong residents, Ir Prof Yuen helped to increase the HA’s capacity for accepting COVID-19 cases into public hospitals by adding over 400 extra beds. This was achieved by converting 16 general wards into second-tier isolation wards within just two weeks. This measure proved to be extremely timely in containing the peak demand for patient isolation during the flood of returning Hong Kong citizens and students from abroad in April 2020.


“By strictly following the guidelines of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the converted wards were installed with two specially made high-efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filtrating exhaust units. These units increased the ventilation rate to 12 times per hour,” Ir Prof Yuen explained. “These HEPA filtrating exhaust units could also create negative air flows into ward cubicles thus preventing contaminated air flowing to outside of the wards.

 

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Ir Prof Yuen successfully invented and built high standard negative pressure isolation wards using modular integrated construction (MiC) method


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Ir Prof Yuen with the engineering team to celebrate the completion of the first project to transform a public hospital general ward into a second-tier isolation ward

 

“By strictly following the guidelines of the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the converted wards were installed with two specially made high-efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filtrating exhaust units. These units increased the ventilation rate to 12 times per hour,” Ir Prof Yuen explained. “These HEPA filtrating exhaust units could also create negative air flows into ward cubicles thus preventing contaminated air flowing to outside of the wards.


“Whilst all equipment reached surgical operation theatre standards, these measures diluted and discharged contaminated indoor air, thus preventing infection,” Ir Prof Yuen stressed.


In addition to his works on hospital isolation ventilation design, Ir Prof Yuen has also taken advantage of his knowledge to protect the environment. He has been recognised with a wide range of awards for his work in the development of effective environmental conservation engineering technology applications.


These include the pioneering use of very high energy efficiency magnetic bearing oil-free chillers, the most fuel-efficient combined heat and power (CHP) system using landfill gas as fuel, an environmentally friendly ozone laundry system, a quality assured onsite pressure swing absorption (PSA) medical oxygen production for hospitals, the first energy performing contracting in Hong Kong, and many more. Ir Prof Yuen brilliantly demonstrates the power of an inventive and innovative engineer in practice. He has won the US Association of Energy Engineers’ (AEE) “Regional Energy Project of the Year Award” for Asia-Pacific Rim Region for different innovative energy-saving and cost-effective projects in three consecutive years since 2017.


With his extensive knowledge, Ir Prof Yuen also assists in the continuous development of the engineering profession. He has been the External Examiner and member of the Advisory Committee to the Department of Building Services Engineering of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and taught in the Master’s Degree course of the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and in the Hospital Authority’s Institute of Advanced Nursing Studies. He is also a Council Member of the China Hospital Association’s Architectural Research Branch.

 

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Ir Prof Yuen won the AEE “Regional Energy Project of the Year Award” for Asia-Pacific Rim Region in 2019 via energy retro-commissioning in public hospitals

 

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First to produce simultaneous heating and electricity in Hong Kong public hospital by utilising landfill gas, the CHP system at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital was selected to receive the AEE“Regional Energy Project of the Year Award” for Asia- Pacific Rim Region in 2018

 

Ir Prof Yuen’s notes for engineers in Hong Kong


During an event Ir Prof Yuen held for secondary school students, a student told him that, despite his interest in the industry, he was worried that he might not possess the qualities needed to be an engineer. Ir Prof Yuen answered, “If you like to solve problems and complete missions in video games, then you can be an engineer and indeed a problem solver to meet many of our living and traveling needs. Believe, then you will see.”


“Excellent problem solving skills, innovation, attention to detail, staying curious, as well as being constantly observant and prepared, are all among the qualities that make a great engineer,” Ir Prof Yuen continued. “It is also important to know when to hold on and when to let go when it comes to decision making. Making the right decisions and having the ability to deal with the worst scenarios will help one to grow and go the extra mile in one’s career.”

 

Balancing his work and personal life


Despite his massive responsibilities, Ir Prof Yuen embraces the contemporary concept of maintaining a good work-life balance. Away from his professional life, he is an enthusiastic gourmet. He loves to search for fresh and seasonal quality ingredients to tickle his taste buds. He also loves playing soccer, as it is not just a game, “it’s filled with fervour,” he says.


But what he loves most is to spend quality time with his wife and children. “My family has always been my pillar of strength,” he enthused.

 

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Ir Prof Yuen with his two daughters on their trips to Okinawa

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