Attaining automated cable management in design and production is within reach for all shipbuilders.

Automated Cable Management – Within Reach for All Shipbuilders

Shipbuilders, big and small, are under increasing pressure to build better ships faster, with lower overall cost of ownership. In response, many shipbuilders today are turning to new technologies to help enable their business transformation to digital shipbuilding to address these challenges. 

An area that is coming into increasing focus is cable management automation. Long the domain of manual, paper and spreadsheet-based methods, cable design and production are too often disconnected from the detailed design intent, resulting in unforeseen errors, material waste, re-work, and costly project delays. 

Three Barriers to Cable Management Automation

In a recent conversation with the SVP of Engineering of a large shipbuilder, he stated that designing and installing the cable systems in today’s increasingly more complex military, scientific, and commercial workboats, can be the most expensive part of outfitting these vessels and yet is the least automated design function. So, I asked the question, why? There were many parts to his answer, but it came down to 3 main reasons:

  • Shipbuilders are slow to innovate, especially in the adoption of digital technologies.
  • Cable management is seen as lower priority in the design phase.
  • General lack of awareness of purpose-built, CAD-agnostic tools for cable design & production management.

Other factors mentioned were the availability of a 3D design-intent model, outsourcing of cable design & installation as well as production modeling (subcontractors). All of which presented additional hurdles to overcome. In this first blog post, we’ll dig into these three barriers and share some tips on how to overcome them.

Barrier #1: The Nature of Shipbuilding Demands the Use of Well-Proven Technology

In a recent Above the Deck interview with Greg Goulanian of SSI, co-founders Ian Barnes and Ian Darbyshire of Cloudis (a CMPIC cable management solution) talked about emerging challenges, the value of partnerships, and a single source of truth. Mr. Darbyshire shared his thoughts on why shipbuilders are slow to innovate: [Transcript has been edited for clarity.]

They [shipbuilders] may want to employ these new technologies. The expectation is that digital is everywhere because that’s what they have at home these days and they expect it to go to their workplace as well.    

But the actual reality of that is it’s a bit different sometimes; they do lag slightly. One of the reasons for that is the sheer length of some of the projects that they are involved in, and we’re involved in with them, they could be 10-15 years.

So, they’re often choosing technologies at the beginning which have to be well proven because they’re going to be using those for the next five ten years maybe longer with probably very little change along the way. Once they’ve started these projects, they’re reluctant to do much about changing them part way through.

So, they’ve got to get it right at the outset and that means they’re not necessarily using the latest and greatest technology all the time. But we definitely do see more willingness to do things more electronically. The move away from the spreadsheet is gathering momentum shall we say!

Click HERE to watch the full interview on YouTube.

When considering the use of new tools to automate ship design functions like cable design & production, here are 4 questions to consider asking solution providers: 1) How long has your solution been commercially available? 2) Can your solution integrate with more than one CAD tool? 3) Do you have an integrated Production module, and does it include barcoding? 4) Can your solution scale to handle >50,000 or more cables? 

Barrier # 2: Cable Design is Often Handled as an Afterthought

More than once during my time serving the marine industry, I have heard electrical engineers and designers express their frustration with how, historically, the start of electrical/cable design lags behind the structural and outfitting design and in some cases, is outsourced.  Meaning design authority and control is surrendered which makes change management difficult, resulting in costly errors that are only discovered during electrical/cable installation. 

Virtually all military and commercial vessels are designed today using 3D CAD and simulation tools. Integrating electrical/cable design with the rest of the ship design simultaneously is possible today with the availability of purpose-built cable management solutions like CMPIC from Cloudis that leverage the 3D design intent model and can also utilize 2D single-line drawings! More on that in Part 2 of this 2-part blog. 

Barrier #3: Lack of Awareness of Purpose-Built Tools for Cable Management

Most, if not all, major marine-specific 3D CAD tools have an electrical design module that incorporates functionality for modeling wireways, cable trays, supports, cables and transits, etc. For the most part, the native functionality within these electrical design modules is likely to be sufficient for less complex vessels like commercial workboats, for example. Meaning, the need to look at purpose-built tools is not seen as necessary. 

When you scale up the design complexity and volume of cables, however, as is typical with today’s modern military ships and scientific research vessels, the native functionality within 3D CAD tools is often insufficient. To give some context, a naval vessel typically will have 25,000 to 75,000 cables. Add to this the complexities of routing these cables to ensure technical integrity and material cost optimization, calculating weight distribution and other such factors. You can begin to see the need for a more sophisticated tool to manage this entire process. 

Purpose-built solutions for cable design and production excel over traditional CAD tools because they can offer vastly better functionality which means greater control over the design and routing of cable systems, including multi-hull (configuration management). They include robust Production functionality that goes beyond just pull sheets to include features like spool optimization, intelligent work packages, multi-site support, and more.

Attaining Automated Cable Management is Within Your Reach

Automated solutions for the design and production of cable systems has been around for many years and used on everything from complex military and scientific vessels to less complex commercial workboats. The key is recognizing that manual, paper & spreadsheet-based solutions are no longer your only option; purpose-built software solutions are available that can be implemented easily with your existing 2D & 3D CAD tools and used at the early stages of design, regardless of the size of your project or shipyard. Think of it as the “new normal” and part of your business transformation to digital shipbuilding.

In the next post, we’ll unpack some of the other factors mention that are seen as hurdles to the adoption of marine-specific software technology for managing cables from design through to production.

If you’d like to speak to one of our experts about improving your cable management processes, fill out a short form and we’ll give you a call.