Shipbuilding 5.0 – an evolution of the CAD/CAM technology

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Written by Ludmila Seppälä

Posted on June 16, 2024

This article was first published in The Naval Architect, April 2024 edition.

Changes in society, industry, and shipbuilding

The levels of the Industrial Revolution are conceptual simplifications capturing the core changes in the social-technology landscapes and related processes understanding. To illustrate this, we can think about society's transitions from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, industry, and information society. The changes in the industry are typically separated by their timescale, with the main stages of mechanization, mass production, automation, computers, and cyber-physical systems. The last one constitutes the core of Industry 4.0, a used term for shipbuilding. A recently introduced concept to the shipbuilding world is Industry 5.0. Initially developed by the EU, it takes the previous idea of Industry 4.0 to the next level. The main difference is the introduction of human-centricity into the discussion. This brings perspectives of sustainability, resilience, and human skills to the center of the design of future complex industrial systems.

These levels should not be interpreted as an assessment of the technology use or advancement in digitalization, as these only indicate the stage of transformation in the industry and a conceptual framework in a simplified way.

Timeline depicting the evolution of industries from mechanization (1800) to human-robot collaboration (2020), along with societal advancements from hunter-gatherer societies to smart societies.
Illustration of the changes in the society and industry, conceptually showing leaps in the use of technology.

Shipbuilding 5.0 and CAD/CAM in shipbuilding

Applying the same concept of steps in evolution to shipbuilding, one can present it as a synergy of changes in how and what type of vessels are built. These steps would be the introduction of steam engines and mechanization around 1800, the use of steel hulls in 1900, the first applications of CAE/CAD/CAM in early 2000, and fast pacing in the development of the technology later. The last decades were a remarkable fast development of shipbuilding technology, especially targeting the CAD/CAM area. Technology enabled complex 3D models and data availability on demand and in context. It is possible to have the same 3D model with applied layers of information serving different purposes in planning, production, construction, and after-delivery purposes later. Providing production status to design teams and getting planning data based on available resources and machinery using AI and accurate time control is now possible. Welding automation and the use of robots for assembly lines have become the mainstream of production at shipyards. These and many other advancements focus on blurring the borders between the digital and physical world. For shipbuilding, it means using digital twins for the design, production, and enabling the use of design data after delivery.

It is impossible to say that the industry has achieved the highs of Industry 4.0 overall, as adaptation of the technology varies, and the shipyard's processes might work differently. However, one can say that technology enabling Shipbuilding 4.0 exists and is in practical use.

A timeline depicting the evolution of shipbuilding from 1800 to present: Shipbuilding 1.0 (mechanization) to Shipbuilding 5.0 (AI, sustainability). Key milestones include CAD/CAM, digital twin, and advanced automation.

What changes shipbuilding 5.0 will bring?

As technology develops at giant leaps, the next generation of technological advancements is already emerging and fighting for its way into shipbuilding. These are mainly about the metaverse, the use of various AR/VR/MR, applications of generative AI, and robotics developments. At the same time, the focus on shipbuilders shifts towards sustainability and green targets. The change is happening in society, where a shared understanding of the importance of sustainability accelerates this shift in the form of IMO targets, green initiatives, investments in R&D projects, and overall societal expectations.

Industry 5.0 heralds a paradigm shift by reinstating the significance of human collaboration alongside technology. Incorporating human centricity into shipbuilding aligns with the imperative of facilitating sustainable goals in the industry. Focusing on human skills and aspirations alongside technology offers a viable path to expedite the adoption of new technology into the mainstream, aligning with the evolving needs of the shipbuilding industry.

What can be expected ahead in the future?

Shipbuilding 5.0 as an enabler can be interpreted in many ways. Three main trend categories can be identified: technology, digital tools, and sustainability. Many technological advancements are used in shipbuilding, significantly impacting how ships are designed and built, and even more influence can be expected. The main trends are robotization, the use of new materials, and shop floor automation systems, and the list can continue. Digital technologies are digital models, twins, threads, generative AI, and overall increase of computational power, enabling management of information of various types. Sustainability is the most visibly impacting trend in the industry now. According to data from DNV, over 25% of orders for new ships in 2024 will be using non-fossil fuels, such as hydrogen, LNG/PLG, hybrid, or more. More must be done to meet IMO sustainability targets, so the pressure will only intensify in the coming years.

Shipbuilders face the need to address three areas:

  • Complexity of the projects to meet electrification needs and incorporate new technologies for energy generation and use
  • Evolution of the project execution process with new technology and tools, including those powered by AI
  • The extended use of digital models through the life cycle of the vessels and the possibilities for lifecycle services, predictive maintenance and refit

Connecting the dots and looking into the future, we witness accelerating innovation. Conceptually, we are entering an era where the main focus lies on human-cyber-physical interactions. It is a welcome step forward from a limited Industry 4.0 framework, as it places the people in the center of technology use. We can expect even more co-bot applications in the generative AI, and digital technology uses as well as in construction processes and focus on incorporating sustainability goals instead of a limited focus on efficiency and profitability.