Proportions, hull, structures, weight, materials – just some of the considerations that go into designing a ship. The four-phase approach to taking a ship from mission statement to vessel, consisting of concept, preliminary, contract and detail designs – each governed by its own “spiral” of requirements – has been the default for naval architects since the mid-20th century. 

That may be changing. Trudging through a 1950s shipbuilding workstream puts intense pressure on time and profit margins in 2022. Ship blueprints are the work of an intricate combination of siloed teams. Challenges for those teams have become increasingly complex due to growing demands from efficiency targets and decarbonising initiatives. Designers are looking to the future. They are turning to the “digital twin” – a single source of truth that connects all data on a ship in one place – to bring disparate units together in a single, interconnected environment. 

Ships are complex. Designers need to understand, explore, test and optimise everything from individual components to sub-systems, then assess how these interact across the entire ship. Naval architects have more time to innovate when teams are confident about a vessel’s performance from a design’s outset, cutting out internal wrangling between siloes. Multiphysics simulation capabilities in a unified design environment make this possible. 

Dejan Radosavljevic used to work on marine regulation, evaluating reasons for ship failures at sea. He is now Marine Director of Siemens Digital Industries Software, putting him at the forefront of shipbuilding’s digital revolution. “I had the opportunity to encounter many failures on ships in operation and see the impact of poor or wrong design decisions, which I believe were mostly the result of the traditional design process,” he says. “That immediately started me thinking, why don’t we apply simulation at the time of doing the design rather than waiting for things to go wrong, and then try to find the solution?”

Confidence through simulation

Radosavljevic’s question gets to the heart of how simulation-driven design can help naval architects. The key is its ability to look at a design holistically, demonstrating how different parts being developed by different teams interact. Incompatibilities in specifications can be quickly resolved, and algorithms used to identify the best measurements and materials for a given list of requirements – optimal propulsion for a given hull size, for example. 

Over the course of a design, simulation puts three once-elusive benefits at a naval architect’s fingertips. One is cost reduction. Spending on materials can balloon as a design makes its way through the spiral, with teams tackling on requirements as they go. Simulation helps to fix these costs from the outset. Optimal inputs can be algorithmically determined and aggregated via the digital twin. And, as Radosavljevic points out, even if a ship owner does request a sudden specification change, simulated environments insulate designers against the costs: “the existence of a single source of truth and parameterised simulation design will keep the impact of changes to an absolute minimum.” 

This leads onto a second benefit of simulation: innovation. Time pressures and costs make experimentation too risky in the confines of a conventional shipbuilding project. But with simulation software, this can all be handled in a digital environment. The algorithms governing this environment automatically allow designers to devise novel solutions to existing requirements. As Radosavljevic explains: “Things like steel weight calculations or power are all made part of the same simulation analysis. The delivered results are thus applied to a ship as a system, meeting target objectives via optimal performance of every subsystem that was included in the simulation.” 

One other benefit offered by simulation – crucial in the modern shipping industry – is its contribution to hitting ESG targets. The IMO Energy Efficiency Design Index regulations mandate that most ships built before 2022 must be 20% more energy efficiency compared with 2012 levels. This will grow to 70% by 2050. It is a daunting target for naval architects, especially as it means the ships they design now will have to be compatible with the low-carbon technologies and fuels of the future. Once again, simulation can help. It allows designers to nimbly adjust their focus and meet new targets, exploring limitless combinations of arrangements and materials on a ship. The entire carbon footprint of a ship can be evaluated and tweaked – rather than depending on alternative fuels or streamlining of particular features as an ESG silver bullet. 

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Overhauling design methods that have been at the industry’s heart for nearly seven decades is anathema to traditionalists. But, according to Radosavljevic, the pace of change in shipbuilding industry leaves no other option. The rise of renewable technologies means old-fashioned model testing and historical precedents in naval architecture are obsolete. “Today, essentially, designers must start from a blank sheet of paper, which they haven’t done for 150 years. Doing it in a traditional way will be so expensive that no one will pay for such a vessel. And there are other aspects: engineer hours are by far the biggest cost. Simulation, during a ship design, releases a huge amount of their time, allowing them to be more productive.” 

Whether for futureproofing, innovation or just to save time, the arguments in favour of simulation are overwhelming. The question is not if shipyards should implement it, but how: Radosavljevic recommends a “robust CAD setup, which allows full parameterisation” of a ship’s geometry and specifications. This provides the skeleton for a digital twin – the single source of truth on subsequent projects, bringing teams together and slashing costs.  

Fortunately, naval architects don’t have to do it on their own. Siemens Digital Industries Software have the capabilities and knowhow to bring designers into the 21st century and iron out problems that may crop up along the way. Simulation is the key to unlocking the future of Shipbuilding and Siemens hold the key to unlocking the benefits of simulation. 

Download the whitepaper on this page for more information about how Siemens Digital Industries Software is helping naval architects implement and use cutting-edge simulation in their design solutions.