The Rising Tide of Digitalisation in Shipbuilding: Impact and Opportunities

Sam Hannah

June 28, 2023

The shipbuilding industry, one which has long been associated with traditional craftsmanship and manual labour, is now riding the waves of digitalisation. As technology advances at a rapid pace, the impact and opportunities for improved digital processes in shipbuilding are becoming increasingly apparent. From enhanced efficiency to innovative business models, the digital revolution is profoundly reshaping the industry.

Digitalisation brings forth a plethora of tools and technologies that streamline shipbuilding operations at their core. Computer-aided design (CAD) and virtual modelling enable shipbuilders to create intricate designs, perform simulations, and identify potential issues before physical construction even begins. This saves valuable time, reduces material wastage, and increases overall efficiency. Furthermore, digital platforms facilitate better collaboration and communication between the various stakeholders involved in shipbuilding projects, leading to smoother workflows and faster decision-making.

It also allows for the integration of advanced manufacturing techniques and automation in shipbuilding processes. Robotics and 3D printing, for example, enable precise and rapid constructions of complex ship components, and automated systems can handle repetitive, but time-intensive tasks, reducing human error and increasing production rates. These technologies enhance productivity, reduce costs, and improve quality of the final product.

Access to data has been a long standing issue in the shipbuilding industry, and this is now being solved by moving away from traditional analogue practices. By harnessing the power of big data analytics and machine learning, shipbuilders can gain valuable insights into various aspects of ship performance, including fuel consumption, maintenance needs, and lifecycle management. Predictive maintenance techniques leverage real-time data to identify potential equipment failures before they occur, enabling proactive maintenance and minimising costly downtime.

Digitalisation opens up avenues for innovation and the emergence of new business models within the shipping industry. Shipbuilders can explore the incorporation of renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, into vessel designs, and the integration of smart technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and connectivity solutions allows for intelligent ship systems, remote monitoring, and improved vessel management by ensuring that environmental changes are detected and reported immediately in order for them to be taken into account or acted upon. Moreover, digital platforms enable shipyards to offer value-added services, such as data analytics, fleet management, or vessel optimisation, creating new revenue streams that were simply not possible before.

Digitalisation offers significant opportunities for improving the sustainability and environmental performance of shipbuilding processes and vessels. Through advanced design and simulation tools, shipbuilders can optimise fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and minimise the ecological footprint of ships. Additionally, digital technologies enable implementation of eco-friendly practices, such as waste reduction, energy management, and the use of environmentally friendly materials.

In spite of all of this, there are some systemic changes which need to take place inside the industry in order for it to operate in the modern economy. While traditional shipbuilding skills still hold value, there is an increasing demand for digital literacy, data analytics expertise, robotics knowledge, and software development capabilities. Training programs and upskilling initiatives can ensure that the workforce remains adaptable and equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in a digitally enhanced shipbuilding industry, but this does take time to take effect.

The shipbuilding industry is navigating uncharted waters as it embraces improved digitalisation. The impact of this transformation is vast, as detailed above, and shipbuilders that embrace digitalisation stand to gain a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving industry. By harnessing the digital power that is now available to them, shipyards can streamline operations, drive innovation, and build vessels that are more efficient, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective. The opportunities are immense, and those willing to ride the digital wave are poised for success in the shipbuilding industry of the future.