I just finished wading through an impressive number of comments in a discussion taking place in the LinkedIn group “Shipbuilding Industry and Professional”. The discussion was titled “What are the key factors to make shipbuilding more efficient? Let’s make the ultimate list.” With a title like that you can perhaps imagine the number, range and depth of the opinions presented.
Many of the comments were insightful, and were somewhat in-line with my own thinking on the subject. However most of them targeted one specific area or concern, and I found myself searching for a more systemic answer that I thought was appropriate for this type of general question. For better or for worse I believe the most significant contributing factor to the success of the shipyards I’ve had experience with is simple. It’s so simple I sum it up in a single word: communication.
Now that I’ve trivialized a complex subject let me explain what I mean. I’m not (only) talking about how well one department communicates with another on a daily basis. I’m talking about all of the intricacies involved in the effective creation, sharing, dissemination, and management consumption of information. In my experience the shipyards who are good at determining not only how and when information will be shared, but also where, why and with who the information will be shared are more effective and more successful as a result. Here are just a few real world examples:
Example 1 – Design review
Many shipyards have implemented or are implementing regular 3D design review processes with production. Efficient shipyards involve production earlier in the process thereby creating a sense of ownership in the result provided by engineering. Why ask for review of something when input into the upstream process not only reduces rework but increases engagement?
Example 2 – Drawing packages
Engineering departments in many shipyards know exactly what they include on their drawings and in their drawing packages but the most effective yards know why they are including every piece of information on each drawing. The impact of not knowing this is not just insufficient or incomplete information in production. Over engineering of drawings also has a very real impact. Not only does it take more time to create a drawing with information that is not required, additional information can significantly reduce the clarity of the drawing and thereby its ability to communicate essential information.
Example 3 – Production marking
There are cases where a drawing is not the correct place for certain information. Especially in markets with higher labor costs for tradespeople it is becoming commonplace to mark significant amounts of information on plates, and profiles to aid production. This can be a time consuming process on the burning table (offset by the increased quality and efficiency in these markets) and even with the use of large scale full-surface printers the cost of including unnecessary information can be high. To add insult to injury the implementation of these types of improvements is sometimes performed without a commensurate reduction in the amount of information included in the drawing packages.
Example 4 – Purchasing
It is still common place for purchasing to purchase a piece of equipment with a given form and function, but without the intended fit as assumed by engineering. There are many reasons for purchasing a slightly different piece of equipment including lack of information on intended fit, cost, availability, lead-time and equally many different reasons for that information to make its way to engineering: lack of adequate vendor furnished information (VFI), lack of communication between purchasing and engineering etc… However all of these are rooted in accurate, adequate and timely communication (including with the supply chain).
These are just a few examples, focused mainly around engineering, and taken individually they aren’t going to turn an inefficient shipyard into an efficient one. However taken as a whole, and combined with the thousands of other examples that we could all present, I certainly believe they will turn the tide.
My final thoughts are about a seemingly very different consideration that was discussed more than I had expected in the many of the comments. This was the importance to a shipyard of having a knowledgeable, involved and innovative CEO at the helm. I would amend the idea slightly to indicate that the actual requirement is to have a management team that embodies those attributes.
As disconnected as these two dimensions may seem at first glance I actually think this fits nicely with the idea that communication is the most critical component (when looked at as a whole) of an efficient shipyard. The type of effective and efficient communication that is required in an effective shipyard can be sustained only when it is part of a culture driven and supported by shipyard management.