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June 21, 2016

The Japanese shipbuilding market is at a crossroads. This is of course just my opinion, but I have been visiting Japanese shipyards for a number of years and have always been impressed with their ability to never lose sight of what makes them, arguably, the best shipbuilders in the world. They have an unrelenting drive to deliver the highest quality ships (and engineering) without exception.

With that laser like focus comes risk. Risk that when significant change is required to maintain that competitive advantage, they will miss the opportunity to evolve due to the fear of losing what makes them unique. Currently much of the Japanese market uses 2D software to perform engineering tasks and the shipyards focus mainly on Hull Structure, typically near-sourcing the outfitting work (pipe, HVAC, etc…) to other Japanese companies. The software most commonly used for detail-design is MATES, an older Japanese software, created by Mitsubishi but no-longer maintained. Often these yards have built their own production design software, and it is only loosely connected to detail design. Again this software is typically 2D.

Why does this matter? It matters because higher quality and shorter delivery times have always been the hallmark of the Japanese shipbuilding industry but they are losing ground every day. Shipyards in other parts of the world are using 3D and new technologies to increase quality (through better visibility on errors in engineering offered by the 3D model for starters) and shorten delivery times, and they are slowly catching up. Some, perhaps most, of these yards will never be equal to the Japanese shipyards, but the lower cost of their vessels will intrigue prospective buyers as the gap narrows.

Some shipyards, like Sumidagawa Shipyard in Koto have seen the future and have made the move to 3D and are already reporting reduced delivery times as a result. But some experts think it is not enough. At Sea Japan 2016 Professor Shin, from the Laboratory of Practical Technology, urged the Japanese industry to make the move to 3D. At the same time, Professor Shin is wise enough to caution the industry not to lose sight of what makes them great: high quality 2D class approval and engineering drawings that fit the Japanese way of building a ship. After a significant amount of time looking at the available software Professor Shin informed the industry that ShipConstructor, and our MarineDrafting product, is the software that will allow the industry to move to 3D and still deliver 2D drawings, directly from the 3D model, customized to both Japanese standards and the unique requirements of each shipyard.

Whether ShipConstructor will be the chosen solution or not is unclear, and isn’t the point. The point is that the Japanese industry is facing a choice: maintain, and even potentially increase, their leadership position in the global shipbuilding industry OR see that lead slowly eroded by shipyards outside Japan. I for one am interested to see which way they choose.

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