Is the digital wave coming to shipbuilding?

Few shipbuilders have captured the full benefit of going digital. A decade ago, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry was saying the same thing. They are making progress.

After reflecting on my experience and researching what analysts at McKinsey & Co. were saying, I wanted to share 5 practices that are proving successful for the AEC industry and that may help your company move beyond the pilot phase and unlock the full benefit of going digital.

  1. Focus on fixing pain points, not installing new technology
  2. Build digital twin segments by assigning the creation of model elements to design and engineering teams
  3. Create digital processes that promote communication and collaboration
  4. Role out an execution plan to realize increased productivity by adjusting project baselines
  5. Integrate systems, business structures and processes for an enterprise-wide adoption of the digital twin.

This week let’s explore #1 – Focus on fixing pain points, not installing new technology.

After having worked within the (AEC) industry for many years, I have witnessed dozens of attempts to streamline projects with digital solutions, including building information modelling (BIM) add-ons, that failed to deliver. A few digital tools had succeeded in the pilot phase, but then we struggled to apply those solutions enterprise-wide. The workers grumbled about having to adopt yet another new technology—before abandoning them and returning to their old ways of working. The management team found that construction projects were delayed and ran over budget just as frequently as before, and productivity had barely budged upward.

Experiencing Digital Transplant Rejection

Meanwhile, clients were pushing for better products; buildings that could be built faster and cheaper, be more sustainable and less costly to operate. AEC companies felt pressure to ‘go digital’ to increase productivity. However, we were focusing too much on deploying cutting-edge technology, before figuring out whether the digital tools could improve operations. We were setting ourselves up for digital “transplant rejection.”

Identify the Pain Points

After several false starts, AEC companies realized they could increase the likelihood that a digital solution would make a positive difference by first identifying the pain points in their building process, anything from inefficient construction methods to out-dated contract arrangements. Having a process-centred approach focused on a desired outcome and how the digital tool will be “used” is key to improving productivity. It also suppresses the impulse to chase technology trends.

Setting a Technology Use Case Example

For example, a builder of a large hospital wing identified the pain point of having to re-do steel bolted connections that had stringent tolerances and were fabricated offsite. Defining the technology use case as “reduce losses from rework on steel-concrete connections by 10 per cent by visualizing fabrication details in 3-D models software” is easier to understand and act on. Whereas before the builder would have justified purchasing and rolling out new technology with a use case such as “to provide access to 3-D model software from all devices.”

What Makes a Good Use Case?

A good process-centered “technology use case” should:

  1. start with a desired outcome or process change (not the technology): e.g., reduce costs, accelerate delivery, or improve quality
  2. set motivating targets: to build understanding and adoption in the workforce and track progress against quantitative targets for improvement.
  3. and connect different departments, trades, and subcontractors to have a significant impact on productivity.

Technology use cases defined in this way deliver greater benefits while building the understanding and conviction of the workforce, from the CEO to managers and onsite workers. Such use cases are also easier to replicate on multiple projects and to introduce to new workers.

AEC Productivity Gains and Cost Reductions

This process-centred approach didn’t happen overnight, but it is paying off. Research by McKinsey indicates the successful adoption of digital technologies can result in productivity gains of 14 to 15 percent and cost reductions of 4 to 6 percent in the AEC sector.

The AEC industry continues to undergo a digitally led business transformation. Today, I’m seeing many examples where the shipbuilding sector is following suit. The path to digital shipbuilding will look different for every company, but the ultimate goal will be the same – to achieve greater agility, productivity, and collaboration across the company to increase the bottom line.

Next Week

In next week’s post, I’ll focus on the #2, addressing how the AEC sector tackled building digital twins in segments by assigning the creation of model elements to design and engineering teams.

InnovMarine provides leading edge shipbuilding software and consulting services across North America. Our mission, to help our clients build better ships, faster.

Stay safe everyone!

David Males