Digital Shipbuilding and Digital Transformation (similar but different)

In the first edition of The Chart Room, we shared our vision of how to take a “People First Approach to Digital Transformation.” In this next article, we will focus on the topic of digital shipbuilding – an outcome from the business transformation underway in the marine industry today. This article will focus on the terms and technology aspect of the “people, process, technology” model

Digital Transformation 

According to Wikipedia, digital transformation is defined as “… the adoption of digital technology by an organization to digitize non-digital products, services or operations. The goal for its implementation is to increase value through innovation, invention, customer experience or efficiency.” Digital transformation is supported by technology, and, at InnovMarine, we believe a “people first” approach is paramount to a successful outcome. 

Digital Shipbuilding 

There is no entry in Wikipedia for “digital shipbuilding” (surprisingly). Turning to the internet, a Google search of the same term yielded 7,030 results! Sifting through the first couple of hundred, I was unable to find any authoritative definition. However, there are certainly enough vendor-specific descriptions of how their solution enables digital shipbuilding, including our partners at SSI

For simplicity, let’s just say that digital shipbuilding is the application of digital transformation to the business of shipbuilding (or, as we like to say, business transformation to digital shipbuilding). This leaves us to focus on the digital technologies that are seen as the building blocks of digital shipbuilding and the digital shipyard.

Part 1: The Digital Shipyard

The “digital shipyard” is the term applied to the adoption of Industry 4.0 capabilities in designing, building, maintaining of ships and submarines as well as using this technology to monitor and maintain the associated infrastructure (design/build/sustain). In a March 2021 paper published by the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute (AITI), The vision of the ‘digital shipyard’ aligns with the wider Industry 4.0 agenda that seeks to accelerate the growth of advanced manufacturing through the successful uptake and diffusion of digital and advanced manufacturing technologies and processes. 


Part 2: Technologies of the Digital Shipyard and Digital Shipbuilding. 

One of the best “deep dives” I’ve come across is recent years on what I think of as enabling technologies, can be found in an article written by Bernard Ash, Accenture’s (Australia) Director Aerospace & Defense and posted to LinkedIn in October 2018: Digital Shipyard sounds great but what is it? The technologies making it possible… 

In the article, Bernard describes the “Thirteen capabilities that can successfully propel a shipyard into the digital age”, what they are and why they’re important. In order presented, they are 3D Modeling, Digital Twin, Industrial IoT, Additive Manufacturing, Virtual Design, 3D Scan, High Performance Computing, Augmented Reality, Master Data Management (MDM), Machine Learning & AI, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Supply Chain Tower, and Secure Collaboration.

Several, such as Supply Chain Tower and Machine Learning & AI, may still be considered emerging technologies and have yet to see widespread adoption and use. The remaining ones mentioned above are at or near the tipping point of adoption in shipbuilding today and several I would consider to be mature, having achieved critical momentum. 

Let’s take a brief look at MDM – Master Data Management. In his article, Bernard states that MDM “… is underpinned by a set of technologies that makes it possible to have a single view on all the data across an enterprise.” Sound familiar? If it does, you may, like many of us, be thinking the same thing: PLM, ERP, MRP, MES, CPP, etc. While all are important, PLM is seen as one of the foundational technologies that the marine industry, including designers, shipbuilders, class societies, and owners, are betting on as key to achieving a successful transition to digital shipbuilding and the digital shipyard.   

Part 3: Digital Shipbuilding and the Digital Thread

An important outcome of a successful transformation to digital shipbuilding is the creation of a digital thread.  Digital thread as defined by Wikipedia, is “the use of digital tools and representations for design, evaluation, and lifecycle management.” In shipbuilding, this is represented by the creation, capture, and storage (think PLM) of all the digital data created by stakeholders in the vessel lifecycle. This can include everything from the owner’s original ship specifications, the builders as-constructed digital twin, and the vessels operating data and maintenance history. No digital shipbuilding, no digital thread!

For a good read on the digital twin vs. digital thread discussion, check out a November 2019 blog post by Denis Morais, SSI’s CEO. 

The Last Word

Digital shipbuilding, if not already, is becoming a business imperative for today’s modern shipbuilders, big and small. The many factors affecting the marine industry today, including global supply chain challenges, skilled workforce shortages, vessel complexity, ever increasing owner demands, global competition, etc., is what is driving smart shipbuilders to adopt digital shipbuilding methodologies.  In the words of Andrew Grove 3rd CEO of Intel Corporation “There are two options: adapt or die.”  

Up Next

In our next feature, we’ll look at trends in digital shipbuilding adoption in North America and global