Industry 4.0 – with its battalions of new technologies – is now the driving force in the transformation of the manufacturing sector. But larger project manufacturing, particularly shipbuilding, is only just beginning to come to grips with the potential of transformative technologies. Here, Matt Medley, industry director for aerospace and defence manufacturing at IFS, charts the rise of digital shipyards for both military and commercial shipbuilding—and stresses the need for an integrated data environment to support an increasingly digitised manufacturing and construction ecosystem.
There is no doubt that industry 4.0 has driven dramatic changes in the manufacturing of products, machinery, and equipment. The impact of industry 4.0 can clearly be seen in many aspects of discrete aerospace and defence (A&D) manufacturing, such as the creation and assembly of items by components used to manufacture highly complex military platforms such as aircraft.
Shipbuilding, however, takes this complexity to a whole new level by combining the disciplines of manufacturing, construction, and project management. It now has 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and AR/VR, not to mention digital twins, machine learning and high-performance computing – all proven technologies and key players in an increasingly digitised sector. The stage is set for the arrival of maritime 4.0.
Shipbuilding is poised for digital change
The rationale and motivation for the adoption of maritime 4.0 is clearly explained by the Australian Industrial Transformation Institute: “In line with all other forms of manufacturing, industry 4.0 offers a vision for transformation of the shipbuilding industry though the establishment of ‘digital shipyards’ and adoption of a ‘shipyard 4.0’ agenda.
“It is important to acknowledge just how transformative such a vision is and how challenging it will be to realise. The motivations and drivers must be powerful and the benefits extensive. The ideal of digital shipbuilding and importantly, sustainment, is propelled by the prospect of significant improvements in productivity, efficiency, reliability, quality and safety over the lifecycle of vessels.”
Market projections support this growth trajectory. ResearchAndMarkets data sees the digital shipbuilding sector poised for explosive growth – from $591m in 2019 to $2.7bn by 2027, with an impressive 21.1% compound annual growth rate.
What does maritime 4.0 really mean?
According to a recent study in the Procedia Manufacturing industry journal published as part of the International Conference on Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing, maritime 4.0 allows for:
- The automated integration of real data into decision making
- The adoption and implementation of connected technologies for design, production and operation
- Reduction of vessels’ environmental impact, related to production, operation and disposal, including emissions, underwater noise and material utilisation
- Affordable and sustainable operation
- Reduction of risk, increasing safety and security
It is essential that shipbuilders prioritise digital advancements. The digital oversight of maritime and naval assets begins not at sea, but right at the beginning of a ship’s lifecycle, in the design process and at the manufacturing stage.
The success or failure of maritime 4.0 implementations depends on addressing four critical areas. Firstly, implementations must cope with a breadth and depth of complexity that industry 4.0 never encountered. As a result of that, secondly, technology implementation must not be piecemeal but part of a much wider integrated environment. Thirdly, all implementations must establish the highest possible security within this digital thread, and finally, no implementation can ignore the need to build in sustainability.
Complexity comes with the territory
Difference in scale means difference in kind – manufacturing a ship is more akin to managing a full-scale construction project than traditional manufacturing of parts and products. Consider the latest aircraft carriers currently in service and under construction, such as the US Navy’s Gerald R. Ford class.
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) features a 78m wide flight deck equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system and advanced arresting gear. The carrier has the capacity to carry more than 75 aircraft and can accommodate 4,539 personnel. Manufacturing such a complex, state-of-the-art asset requires supporting systems to effectively manage a full-scale construction project.
Even commercial shipbuilding, although often less complex in design, comes with its own set of complexities, such as stringent import/export rules that vary widely by country, new requirements for infectious disease control and high labour costs, just to name a few. Global competition in shipbuilding is fierce and dominated by low-cost labour countries: More than 90% of global shipbuilding takes place in just three countries: China, South Korea and Japan.
Coming to grips with such complexity needs the support of an industry-specific and enterprise-breadth system that can manage such a unique manufacturing process. These kinds of complex builds take years to complete and must be managed extremely closely from a time and cost perspective. That means support for project management is critical.
It means managing supply chain processes to optimise scarce resources and parts that are delivered from multiple tier two and three manufacturers around the world.It means asset management functionality that can manage maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) throughout the lifecycle of a vessel for those shipbuilders who continue to support asset management after initial construction and deployment.
Enabling transformational change in the shipyard and at sea
Naturally, the transformational technologies that are an essential part of industry 4.0, from AI and machine-learning to 3D printing and digital twins, will play a defining role in maritime 4.0 strategies, and taking advantage of these technologies requires digital transformation. In response, major naval forces have been taking steps to digitise in recent years.
In 2017 the UK Royal Navy announced project NELSON, specifically designed to deliver digital transformation across the service. Likewise, the US Navy has made great strides with its Naval Operational Business Logistics Enterprise (NOBLE) project. The programme will eliminate over 700 database/application servers and consolidate over 23 currently isolated application system, ultimately aiming to improve asset readiness both on a shore and material basis.
Now shipbuilders must cross the digital chasm. Any successful naval or maritime digital transformation programme means putting in place a full integrated data environment (IDE) requiring close collaboration from military organisations, industry players and, of course, software providers. It’s clear that a fully digital shipyard needs to be underpinned by a software system that’s agile enough to act on the increasing data volume and complexity to deliver quantifiable operational benefits.
Take IFS customer, submarine and warship builder ASC, Australia’s largest defence prime contractor, that recently announced a company-wide digital transformation programme. The comprehensive programme will set the ground for the ASC transition to becoming a digital shipyard, facilitating more streamlined processes, enhanced integration between systems and the expanded use of real-time data to drive optimised decision-making across the organisation.
Security in a digital maritime ecosystem
But the IDE and digital backbone supporting maritime 4.0 will not come without its challenges. Cybersecurity will be just as pervasive in the shipbuilding sector as in any other. This is recognised by a recently published US Congressional Research office paper on U.S. Navy force structure and shipbuilding plans:
“The digital thread from manned ships and autonomous platforms provides enormous opportunities for efficiencies in coordination, operation, maintenance, and cyber-resilience,” the paper states. “However, this thread of critical data, including location, heading, and platform health, presents one of the biggest opportunities for cyber threats and cyber-attacks to navy vessels. End-to-end cybersecurity and anti-tamper technology need to be addressed for a wide range of systems, from small man-portable autonomous vessels to systems as large as carrier groups.”
The defence sector has been well ahead of the curve when it comes to cybersecurity best practice and shipbuilders servicing military customers will need to ensure compliance with strict regulations. Regulatory-compliant software can be a key differentiator when bidding for ship manufacturing contracts.
To this end, enterprise software should be a strategic enabler for information assurance and cybersecurity. It should be designed from the ground up with security in mind, and address risks and threats throughout all phases of the software development lifecycle.
Sustainability is now part of any progressive manufacturing business strategy
Maritime sustainability has been a huge focus area in recent years and maritime 4.0 will, of course, positively impact sustainability. The IMO has been spearheading an industry-wide effort to accelerate a major fuel and technology transition in response to the climate challenge. Its goal is to reduce annual CO2 emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
At the same time, military forces are also looking at greener operations for newly built ships. The UK Royal Navy has recently implemented a catalytic reduction system in two of its newest warships that reduces emissions of nitrogen oxide by up to 97%.
One recent academic paper from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design at Cadiz University highlighted 12 key industry 4.0 technologies as most impactful to make the shipbuilding supply chain more sustainable—including additive manufacturing, big data analytics, augmented reality, and more. In all of this, supporting enterprise software has an essential role to play in this green maritime future.
Good supply chain optimisation can help manage composite materials and new manufacturing techniques that will drastically reduce unnecessary emissions. Again, IDE has a key role to play here. When shipbuilding data is funnelled through one system, enterprise software can actually assign a sustainability score to every process across a shipbuilding organisation’s value chain.
Maritime 4.0: powering the digital shipyard
The link between maritime 4.0 and the digital shipyard of the future is clear to see for both commercial and military shipbuilders. But making this digital shift involves grappling with complexity of projects, components and data on a scale way beyond traditional A&D manufacturing.
As a result, ship manufacturers and naval organisations recognise the need to move towards an integrated data environment because only this way will they be able to capitalise on the efficiency, visibility, security, and sustainability benefits of maritime 4.0 in an increasingly digitised sector.