No shipyard in the world is entirely analog. At some level, every shipyard uses digital technology – even if that just includes spreadsheets, PDFs, and email. But using digital tools like this is not digital transformation. It’s just a digital version of the same old processes. So, what does real transformation look like, and how does a shipyard get started?
Austal as a leader
Austal is currently undergoing a real business transformation thanks to a renewed focus on innovation, digital-first processes, and information management.
We asked Richard Liley, Austal’s Head of Business Transformation, what the concept of business transformation meant to him: “It’s about how we evolve the business to meet our strategic goals. We need to evolve constantly to stay competitive, and part of that is making the business run much more efficiently. We’re looking to leverage technology to do that, and we’re looking to upgrade our existing technology. Unless we continue evolving the business, we’re not going to stay competitive.”
Key to a successful business transformation
Mature shipyards usually develop a formula for the way they build and design ships. When you ask people to tweak those existing methods or use tools to get better outcomes, it can introduce some friction. Organizations may need to extend their comfort zone to take advantage of the growing digital ecosystems they are creating. What are the strategies that make that type of change possible?
“Collaboration and communication are key,” said Richard. “We have SMEs throughout the business who are embedded in our transformation project. We make sure their voice has really been heard in areas where we’re asking them to change how they do things. There’s real buy-in and ownership, and they’re helping shape the solution. They’re driving the solution so that we can make sure to provide what those areas of the business need.”
Watch the full interview with Richard Liley, Austal’s Head of Business Transformation
Identifying business goals and challenges
Austal is very good at building ships, and the formula they have developed to date is a good one. They are great at engineering, manufacturing, and innovating – but the Austal team recognized that communicating, sharing, coordinating, or exchanging information between individual operational units could be significantly improved in their existing digital ecosystem. Cross-functional process efficiency is a natural by-product of an intentional digital transformation strategy.
While factors like culture or disparate locations of departments play a role, one of the key reasons Austal identified was the inadequacy of its systems to support a seamless information flow between these operational cells.
The impact this had on the business was multi-faceted and affected every department to a degree. Not having a seamless flow of information created a risk of working with inaccurate information, wasted effort in duplicating information, solving problems others had already solved, and slowing down the speed of engineering change.
Austal’s digital transformation program
To tackle the information flow challenge and get control of their data as part of their transformation, Austal identified three key steps: working with one operational dataset, starting with a reduced scope, and working with a partner that understood both Austal and shipbuilding. Each of these steps is proving key to the transition.
Working with one operational dataset
The complexity of shipbuilding projects means many data sources need to be accessible by the right departments at the right time and is where most information architectures fall flat. Without confidence that the information an individual is working with is the latest and most up-to-date, there will never be trust in the solution.
Austal selected SSI ShipbuildingPLM for their PLM solution, IFS for their ERP, and PROSTEP OpenPDM as our integration platform. Working together, these solutions allow Austal to have manufacturing, execution, and supply chain operate within the same dataset as engineering. Achieving this single source of truth is a massive leap towards optimizing cross-functional operations.
Starting with a reduced scope and test dataset
The key to taking advantage of transformation is quickly achieving a tangible return on investment without destroying what is already in place. Avoiding massive, big bang implementations in favor of an incremental implementation that adds value from day one is crucial.
Austal opted to start with a smaller targeted business scope. They started by exporting their detailed design process outputs (BOMs (Bill of Materials), BOM structures, model, and drawings) into ShipbuildingPLM for review, approvals, and configuration control. Once under control, they release these outputs to their ERP for execution management using work orders. Taken together, this workflow is a solid foundation to build upon.
The complexity and scale of shipbuilding meant that taking on such a project with a live vessel model can be a risky approach, no matter how smoothly it goes. Instead, Austal opted to work with a small section of a pseudo-vessel.
Working in this way made it easier to organize the dataset to fit future workflows, trial concepts quicker, and share complex concepts with the organization. Overall, starting with a focused initial scope made it easier for Austal to understand its new ecosystem and workflows and mitigated the risk of an all at once implementation.
Working with a technology partner that understands shipbuilding and Austal
Austal has been an SSI client since 2004. Shipbuilding is a unique industry, and understanding those subtle nuances is key to providing the right advice. Our team has worked closely with Austal on their implementation of ShipbuildingPLM and integration with ShipConstructor and the rest of their organizational infrastructure.
Austal is a true leader in digital shipbuilding. They are well on their way to becoming a true digital shipbuilder from design and engineering to production. The steps they are taking today are well-placed to set them up for many years of future success.