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A Spotlight on Shipbuilding Innovation

By Jonathan Girroir • 
February 18th, 2022

Nobody gets into shipbuilding because it’s an easy business. While it involves some of the same challenges that any builder or manufacturer faces, the challenges are writ on a particularly large scale.

For starters, rather than producing hundreds or thousands of individual objects, shipbuilders focus on one very large project over the course of several years. This makes the importance of seamless collaboration and getting the details right at the outset of the project incredibly important, because even small design changes and errors can have a significant impact later on in the building process.

At the same time, shipbuilders have to manage multiple aspects of ship design, from optimizing hull performance and hydrodynamics, to ensuring compliance with all the rules and regulations established by maritime safety agencies and classification bodies.

Then, there’s the size. A cruise ship, for example, can be 300 meters long; a 3D model of the structure can contain hundreds of thousands of geometric objects. That’s a massive model, and not one that can be easily visualized without the proper tools.

Given the variety of challenges that shipbuilders face, it’s not surprising that a multitude of software vendors have stepped into the maritime space to help shipbuilders mitigate some of the pain points, carry out their work more efficiently, and enable better results. The innovation that vendors are currently driving in this space is helping to usher in a bold new era for shipbuilding.

Time to Shine for the Cloud

One of the classic problems shipbuilders wrestle with is information management. Data is transferred back and forth between different teams, departments, suppliers, and partners, causing duplication of effort, potential errors, and difficult version control. An engineer working on a shipbuilding project might reasonably expect to spend 20% of her time simply finding information and verifying that it is still correct and up-to-date.

Software vendors are addressing that challenge in several innovative ways, one of which is through the development of cloud-based solutions that connect all the stakeholders in a shipbuilding project by putting a digital ship model and all the relevant project information in a single, centralized location. 

This approach increases collaboration and reduces project risk through access to accurate, up-to-date information – in the process, enabling shipbuilding to embrace the digital transformation that has taken place in other industries.

One of the reasons it has taken a while for cloud-based SaaS offerings to gain traction in the shipbuilding space is because of challenges around visualization, given the size of the models that shipbuilders regularly must work with. Desktop applications have long been the preferred platform for handling the heavy duty graphics processing necessary to render these massive files.

Innovation on the graphics front has effectively removed this limitation and made shipbuilding-specific SaaS offerings a viable option, regardless of whether an end user is accessing the application via a desktop from a shipyard office, or from a mobile device as they’re inspecting the hull of a ship and need to pull up some models. By taking advantage of powerful cloud components, software vendors can ensure that even a regular web browser with a standard internet connection can deliver powerful visualization, regardless of the size of the model being rendered. 

This combination of valuable data and responsive performance makes SaaS a powerful addition to shipbuilders’ “toolbelt.”

Modeling Made Easy and Seamless Information Exchange

Alongside SaaS offerings, shipbuilding software vendors are building innovative new modeling capabilities into their products. This includes “fast modeling” environments where users can quickly model in 2D while simultaneously creating the 3D models that they’ll eventually need.

This combination of 2D/3D modeling capabilities delivers important benefits in several use cases, including when shipbuilders submit their designs to classification societies for review and approval. Historically, classification societies have required 2D drawings to be submitted for approval. 

Today, however, most ship designers skip the 2D drawings and jump straight to creating a 3D model – making the extra step of creating 2D drawings just for the sake of approval little more than extra work on their plate. New modeling capabilities can save time and streamline this process, helping create a seamless digital information exchange between shipbuilders and classification societies. 

Of course, shipbuilders regularly need to exchange design data with other parties aside from classification societies. For instance, the outfitting designers need to know the boundary conditions from the structural design team, whereas the structural design team must consider the piping routes and space that needs to be reserved for different outfitting components. 

These teams need to share information with one another in order to keep everyone on the same page, despite typically operating in a heterogenous CAD environment. Vendors have stepped up on this front as well, making it easier than ever for parties using different CAD systems to import, translate, and then export data in a variety of formats, including as a 3D PDF or HTML file. In this way, software vendors are removing the friction that has long hindered effective information exchange in the shipbuilding space.

A New Wave

Just as these software vendors serve as valuable partners to the shipbuilders, the vendors in turn rely on their own set of partners to continue delivering innovative product offerings to the market.

Notably, the use of third-party SDKs helps vendors ease development pain points while ensuring robust and highly capable products. After all, you can’t enable seamless data exchange if your application doesn’t have fast and accurate CAD data translation capabilities. You can’t visualize massive shipbuilding files unless your application has a world-class graphics engine. You can’t provide new modeling experiences without a powerful 3D geometric modeling kernel. And so on.

In taking advantage of these components, shipbuilding software vendors ensure that their customers have the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century, helping the shipbuilding industry ride a new wave of innovation towards an exciting future.

The Author

Jonathan Girroir, Senior Technical Marketing Manager  

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