Exploring the future of shipbuilding – navigating a ship’s digital lifecycle

Posted on May 10, 2024

Change in the maritime industry is happening rapidly and revolutionizing the ways that ships are being built. The landscape is evolving quickly, driven by new rules and regulations to clean up our seas and embrace greener, more efficient technologies. New fuels, digital solutions and artificial intelligence are helping shipbuilders embark on a journey to future-proof their business operations over the lifecycle of a vessel.

We ask three experts from the field to give their perspectives and comments on the marine industry going digital. How do they see the market changes, adoption challenges and using Digital Twins as an opportunity?

Charting the course – the digital lifecycle and becoming a digital industry

According to Patrick Ryan, CTO at ABS, digitalization and digital lifecycles comprise a very wide base of specific technology. The greatest challenge lies in organizing, applying and attracting investment effectively across this spectrum.

At ABS, we have divided digital technology into four themes to find opportunities and then scale up:

  • Visualization
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Virtual vessels
  • Autonomy

The next challenge is connecting the technology to the desired outcomes. It is wrong to assume a certain technology will deliver some specific value. People are the real drivers of value creation – and technology is only a means to that end. 

We find prototyping and executing small projects help to prove the value of a technology. Once successful prototypes are in hand, scaling up is possible.

Becoming digital is often defined as being agile and able to manage change. In our industry, decarbonization is the primary driver of this change. In the end, we need results with greater value and efficiency. This can mean faster design using CAD, simulations or other digital approaches. Managing this change with great results is why it is essential for the maritime industry to become a digital industry.

Digital technology also changes all the time. Becoming digital isn’t necessarily about simply using software to solve problems. It’s about being adaptable to change. It demands a cultural shift, a willingness to grow in the face of uncertainty, find the right people with the right digital skills and a commitment to lifetime learning.

Setting sail – overcoming adoption challenges

For shipyards, embracing a digital lifecycle approach is not without its hurdles, says Pete Sinclair, Director of Technical Services at Fincantieri Bay. It requires evolving IT infrastructure and personnel training, which is not the normal focus for a shipyard.

Departments across the board feel the impact of IT. This includes how technologies reshape traditional workflows for engineering, planning, procurement and production. And the biggest change is on the shop floor, where such new technologies have not even existed before.

With a clear end goal in sight and a roadmap to serve as a guide, shipyards can also chart a successful course toward digital transformation.

The key lies in delivering small victories, showcasing the tangible benefits of digital tools and processes – and then building on them. It is also important to engage the influencers at every level of an organization and have them onboard from the beginning to serve as ambassadors and build momentum throughout the organization.

Navigating the digital seas – unlocking the power of Digital Twins

Amid the waves of change, Digital Twins have emerged as beacons of hope, guiding the maritime industry toward a new era of efficiency and compliance. These virtual replicas offer a glimpse into a vessel’s entire lifecycle, from design to decommissioning, providing real-time insight accessible to all, according to Juan Nunes Prieto, Cadmatic Regional Manager Americas.

Today, the digital life of a vessel is born before its physical life – and buried after recycling has occurred. Those players best able to adapt and offer effective solutions over the digital lifecycle of their vessels will outperform the others.

The biggest obstacle is to get everyone involved. The technology is available. Implementing a Digital Twin is not such a big task if the company is already doing 3D modeling.

Digital lifecycle thinking bridges the communications gap between the different stakeholders in the shipbuilding cycle – between the designer, yard and owner – by using a 3D model with colors and interactions. It also helps departments communicate better internally.

Using Digital Twins is an opportunity to enhance collaboration among all stakeholders – and helps create new designs and solve engineering problems as a result.