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May 10, 2024
Industry Trends

Demand for the digital twin means shipyards need to improve their data management. Construction of vessels and offshore assets is a process without prototyping. As a result, managing changes is a constant, making the capture and distribution of reliable data both essential and highly challenging.  


This article originally appeared in Ship & Offshore


Shipbuilders can hardly be blamed for struggling with this kind of complexity. Projects are unique; not only are there no prototypes, even a series of sister ships will have differences.  

There is a saying that engineering and production planning are enemies in the shipyard. Engineering creates the design and only later does the production department find out they can’t build it. Because most yards operate to compressed schedules, it is possible that they are cutting steel, procuring components and making changes before the design model is complete.  

Early and continuing access to accurate data is needed to improve collaboration and help teams work together efficiently. The ideal model is one with full oversight in which changes to design and specifications are constantly communicated across multiple departments and suppliers. 

A shipyard’s reticence to invest in systems that can deliver this data can be traced to the fact that most non-specialist software vendors do not offer a straightforward path to platform adoption. Most want to completely replace systems and charge for every potentially disruptive upgrade when in reality, many tools and processes can be retained with incremental adjustments that provide continued value.  

Shipyards have not stood still. Instead, they have sought to address their challenges with in-house systems. These can solve short term problems but the resulting silos of information lead to longer term challenges.  

Their need to engage with digital transformation initiatives is set to grow as more of their customers demand a data-led approach to vessel operations and maintenance. The need to manage and share the data that will populate the digital twin is driving the adoption of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) within the shipbuilding sector. 

PLM in practice 

PLM is generally viewed as an automotive or aeronautical industry software application. This is hardly surprising since most available solutions are not shipbuilding-specific and their vendors normally don’t understand the sector’s specific challenges. 

After all, creating the engineering design is not the area of highest cost expenditure, that comes from everything that follows. When changes are necessary, it’s possible that the designers will get to the shop floor and find parts ordered and some of the structure already built. For larger components, the team can spend time putting out fires rather than managing the process in a way that delivers competitive advantage.  

The trend towards PLM reflects the need to move from discrete functions to a cohesive approach to the business of shipbuilding. There is a constant flow of information, dynamic and in real time and all business functions need that information to be accurate, not least because it is likely to change during the project lifecycle, but also because it will be relied upon for future maintenance and eventual decommissioning. 

For vessel operators, it can provide traceability of components down to single part level. Operators can use the data within the digital twin to access characteristics and configuration within the 3D model, including vendor information. 

The asset structure view available within the model provides a level of transparency that simply can’t be gained from 2D plans. It’s far more than a pretty model, it illustrates structural and component relationships, systems data and related documentation. 

Unique approach  

SSI believes PLM has a vital role to play in managing, configuring and controlling all the product data needed by stakeholders from concept to decommissioning. As an established provider of ship design and construction software, we recognised the challenge of providing seamless information flow across the lifecycle of a project, from design to delivery and operations.  

The industry also needed an industry-specific solution; our experience with shipyards and shipowners convinced us of the need for a vertical information management solution that can provide the data all stakeholders need. We chose Aras Innovator as a technology platform as this allows us to provide continuous upgrades at significantly lower cost than non-specific solutions. 

We understand the need for compatibility with other systems – including our competitors – so that best of breed technology can be delivered in partnerships with clients as and when required. 

The challenge of change during the design and construction phase makes PLM a necessity in shipbuilding. It’s a process shipyards should adopt for efficiency and cost-saving but it will increasingly become a necessity for delivery of the digital twin. 

In addition to monitoring performance and maintenance schedules, operators will increasingly demand greater visibility on the vessel’s components. The digital twin can provide a useful digital auditing database to understand whether new technologies, fuels and systems are operating safely and in compliance.  

Perhaps most importantly, the benefits of PLM are shared, accruing to shipyards during the construction phase and owners once they take delivery and are able to perform smarter maintenance and optimized operations across the vessel lifecycle. 


Bruno Benevolo is the Director of Enterprise Solutions at SSI.

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