18 years ago, many shipyards weren’t thinking about digital leadership. But by 2004, Austal, the Australian shipbuilder, had already developed a reputation for innovative designs and construction and was looking for a digital foundation for future projects. SSI (then Albacore Research Ltd.) ShipConstructor proved to be the right choice for that foundation.
As we continue to celebrate our 30th anniversary, our team is taking an opportunity to highlight and reflect on our partnerships with long-standing clients. In August, we headed to Henderson, Australia, for a special visit to Austal HQ.
We had two highlights as part of that visit: delivering a plaque to Paddy Gregg and Andrew Malcon, CEO and Chief Digital Officer at Austal, respectively honoring Austal as a long-standing client and for their Excellence in Engineering Innovation and sitting down with Andrew to discuss the history of SSI and Austal, recent successes, and what is in store for the future.
The Genesis of the Partnership
The first Austal project that followed the implementation of ShipConstructor was the 27 meter trimaran ferry Benchijigua Express, then the world’s largest aluminum ship. The trimaran hull design is just one of the innovations Austal has leveraged SSI products to enhance. Being a global shipbuilder, with yards and offices across continents, Austal also looked to utilize SSI WorkShare technology. At the time, Austal said that “this has been a huge thing for us having to work with another organization across the ocean.”
Celebrating Engineering Innovation
Austal has continuously demonstrated that its approach, focused on engineering excellence, forward-thinking, collaboration, and quality, sets them apart in shipbuilding. That focus, combined with a dedication to embracing innovation in materials and designs, highlights Austal’s position as a global leader.
Austal’s long-time support and contribution to the development of our software have allowed SSI to mature as an organization and deliver an increased focus on driving exactly the kind of innovation Austal is known for. We were proud to share this message with Paddy and Andrew during our visit.
Ongoing Digital Transformation Efforts
Austal is currently undergoing a major business transformation and taking advantage of the latest digital shipbuilding innovations to achieve its goal of becoming the premier naval shipbuilding in the Indo-Pacific region. Implementing ShipbuildingPLM is one of the first steps Austal is taking to ensure that up-to-date and accurate engineering information is available to their shipyards in Australia, The Philippines, and Vietnam as part of that transformation.
Simon Crook, Solution Specialist at SSI, sat down with Andrew Malcolm, Chief Digital Officer at Austal, to discuss the keys to a successful business relationship in shipbuilding, Austal’s PLM journey, and the future of their business and digital transformations. Watch the interview below or scroll to the bottom for a transcript.
Looking Towards the Next Decade
We’re excited to see how Austal continues on its business transformation journey. Establishing a foundation for end-to-end information management is a prerequisite step that every shipyard will have to tackle. As digital leaders, it’s no surprise that the team in Henderson is poised to achieve that goal.
To learn more about Austal’s transformation journey to date, make sure to watch JC Piat’s, Austal’s Senior Project Manager, and Denis Morais’, SSI co-CEO, presentation from Shipbuilding and Lifecycle Tech 4.0.
Simon Crook: I’m here today with Andrew Malcolm, Chief Digital Officer at Austal. Austal is Australia’s premier defense and fast ferry builder serving the global market. Andrew, SSI and Austal have worked together since 2004. What do you think are the critical components of a good business relationship?
Andrew Malcolm: It’s a longstanding partnership, I would call it, and it survives a very challenging time zone difference between Canada and Australia as well. But I think part of the spirit of what the two companies bring is always pushing new concepts and really listening to each other in terms of what’s possible, but also what’s required. The customer focus is something that Austal strives for is a focus on our customers, and SSI brings that as well.
We’ve been on a journey, and we continue to be on a journey as the capability of the technology evolves, but I think it’s really just clearly thinking about customer requirements.
SC: Our relationship started with a focus on providing design and engineering software for shipbuilding. Austal has recently adopted SSI ShipbuildingPLM, which is designed to better control and provide access to project information throughout the organization. Can you talk a little bit about your PLM journey and how you ended up choosing ShipbuildingPLM.
AM: Austal’s PLM journey has been a long and interesting one. Clearly, the functionality that the PLMs provide is critical, and we’ve made do with various solutions that we’ve put together in-house for many years, both here in Australia and in our US business as well. But it became increasingly clear as the complexity of our shipbuilding scope was increasing that we needed a professional solution that integrated very tightly with our CAD system but also integrated with the other key systems within the business.
We’re currently underway with a major change out of our corporate ERP system, and making sure that that has a clear interface into the PLM has been key. So when we selected SSI’s PLM tool, one of the key factors was that tight integration into the CAD tool as well.
We had been exploring alternatives, and we’re finding them to be not sufficiently customized for the shipbuilding problem as it stands. As a distinct type of manufacturing, generic sort of PLMs really didn’t allow us to customize the requirements that we needed. With SSI, we found a partner who deeply understands why shipbuilding is different and why it’s not production line manufacturing and was able to link the CAD tool together with the PLM in a way that we would have to have done ourselves separately if we were bringing in two separate tools together.
SC: You’re quoted saying, “our work with SSI is about building the capability to be more effective, agile, innovative.” Can you elaborate on Austal’s digital transformation goals?
AM: Austal’s digital transformation goals are really to ensure that we can build any design anywhere, and historically Austal has always been an integrated ship designer, shipbuilder, and ship sustainer of our own vessels, and we will continue to do that in the future, but as we spread into more geographic locations where we’re now in obviously the shipyards here in Henderson and in Mobile in the US, but the Philippines and Vietnam as well. We’re increasingly building a greater variety of vessels. Not just Austal designs, but we’re now building third-party designs, and we’re seeking to support and maintain those vessels through life, but also to support other vessels as well.
So, the digital transformation really is about increasing the flexibility that we can use the digital tools to support our operational businesses and to broaden that across all time zones and multiple country geographies.
SC: A common challenge these days.
I know this is a phased implementation. How did the first phase go, and what value are you looking for in the next phase?
AM: Our first phase has been very focused on standing up the CAD platform integrated with the PLM but then demonstrating that flow of data into the ERP. The most significant milestone for us in this first phase is actually the ERP system itself going live, control of data, standardization of data, and making sure we have parts libraries linked to all of our supplier information. That’s really been a key focus for our first phase of work.
As a shipyard, we have many ongoing programs that the shipyard doesn’t stop to wait for a digital change or a change in application set. This first phase is really set up to support the existing programs within the ERP and position ourselves for the next program that kicks off as a clean new design and shipbuilding plan where we’ll roll that through the PLM in the second phase.
SC: Austal Australia is set to become the premier shipbuilder in the region, and through some recent acquisitions and commitment to improved enterprise operations like the implementation of shipbuilding PLM, you’re well on your way. How can SSI best support you in that growth?
AM: SSI can really support Austal in improving that flexibility. I think when we look at how important it is to control the flow of information through the design process into our suppliers, into our workforces is building the product and beyond that into our customers. Customers now deeply care about the digital ship as well as the physical ship – particularly naval customers – the delivery of that digital information alongside the keys to the vessel is critical.
With the advent of the PLM system, the ShipbuildingPLM integrated into a CAD platform, and into our ERP platform, really our focus can shift into “how do we ensure control of that data and delivery of a quality digital ship to our customers?”