A few weeks ago I was at a conference which was talking about the business of engineering. This simple but very powerful phrase really resonated with me. The idea is that even though engineering is the engine that drives the ship, it is only a portion of what is required to actually build a ship. Since shipbuilding is one of the most complex manufacturing industries, the number of people and activities required to conceptualize, build, deliver and maintain a ship is enormous. During the engineering of the ship we need to take into account many aspects outside of the pure engineering of the ship to meet client expectations, construction resources, delivery, maintenance and operation of the ship.
Business of Shipbuilding
The business of shipbuilding as mentioned is one of the most complex “businesses” in manufacturing today. Some of the reasons are because every ship is unique (bespoke), the number of parts exceeds 5x-10x that of aerospace, combined with the fact that we are procuring material, engineering the ship and constructing the ship at the exact same time.
We are in the business of building ships that meet or exceed client requirements in the most efficient way possible. For our business to be profitable we need to engineer the ship taking into account how/when we will need to purchase material and equipment, what facility resources we have, how we will verify the systems of the ship early in the construction, how items will be serviced and maintained throughout the 40 year service, how we can reduce client change or at least have change introduced earlier, and many more items which are not always considered as an engineering function. However, all these items are required to be considered during engineering.
We often think that improving the way that we build ships is to improve the time and quality of the 3D CAD or the manufacturing aids we generate. It is obvious that refining these activities will improve how we build ships but this is only a portion of the story that is required to actually build the ship. We also need to think about the thousand other activities and jobs that are required. This includes supply chain, configuration management, purchasing, logistics, field support, requirements management, change management, client’s expectations, commissioning, owner operation, maintenance, repair & retrofit, etc.
During engineering we might think some of these activities are out of the scope of engineering…but are they really. For example, one of the most costly activities during designing and building a ship is change. So first we need to think how can we reduce change and/or find costly change early in the phase. This can be by engineering the ship differently. Instead of fully detailing a block/unit completely you detail each block/unit/zone less which will allow more of the ship to be engineered. This will produce less detail per block/zone/unit but you will be able to provide enough detail for a client to identify any issues earlier on and therefore reduce the cost of change. Then you can continue to complete the final detailing. Another example would be to ensure that your production floor team can review the construction model to identify any areas which can be optimized for manufacturing.
Because we are continually striving to improve our business of shipbuilding we are attempting to breakdown all company silos. The greatest improvement we can attain is to share and distribute our information in much better ways. Silos and department walls are handcuffs which limit what we can achieve. If we can provide more information in a method that other stakeholders can understand, then they can take appropriate action early on and you will improve your business of shipbuilding orders of magnitude more than just simply 3D modeling faster.
We are in the business of shipbuilding. The complexity in building ships is much larger than just the engineering of the ship. There are more activities and people outside of engineering that can affect the overall successfulness and profitability of a project.
Engineering is the engine that drives the ship and that will not change. However, engineering needs to break their silos to be able to share information to the rest of the team in order to make their life easier.
But no silos and a seamless workflow to share information is just the start. These two improvements can now allow engineering to re-look at their engineering process and determine what they can do differently, not to engineer a better product, but rather to improve their company’s overall business of shipbuilding.