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With a new year just starting (2019) I want to look at what this year has in store for our industry. As the saying goes, we need to look at the past to better forecast the future. I started with the question, “Did shipbuilding make progress in 2018?”

The simple answer is, ”Yes,” as I believe most industries have made progress, but I guess the real question I am asking is how much progress? To do so I reviewed my blog posts as well as my notes from all the conferences, shows and discussions with industry experts throughout the year to try to summarize 2018 from my point of view.

1. Business Transformation

All companies are going through some sort of “Digital Transformation” or what I call more accurately a Business Transformation. Most companies have invested time, money and resources in attempting to progress their transformation. This is in comparison to 2016 & 2017 when companies were just talking about a transformation. This is good news as it means the companies in our industry understand they need to change but more importantly they are acting on it.

The majority of their investment is based on looking at improving their current processes as well as investing in tools or conducting pilots that will help them get control of their data. The goal is to get rid of departmental silos and allow the various disciplines and stakeholders to work more seamlessly.

Another general area I have seen investment in is automation of the production floor. Even though we are moving in the right direction, 2018 was a year that many organizations did not achieve the benefits they envisioned but more importantly did not achieve the benefits they need. This is not unique to shipbuilding as other industries had the same challenge.

“Only 16 % of respondents say their organizations’ digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term. 7% say that performance improved but that those improvements were not sustained.”


The challenge in 2018 was our industry was focused more on implementing new technology or software and not really understanding how our business could/should change. This is one of the reasons why our progress was slower than it could be. New technology and available tools will require us to work differently, which means we need to change how we do things. If we just apply the new innovations to the same way we are accomplishing tasks today, we are just making a faster caterpillar rather than transforming into a butterfly.

2. Digital Twin / Digital Ship

The digital twin is now a mega buzz word throughout our industry and you will hear it  in almost every presentation. At a high level it is understood what a digital twin is but when you start to scratch the surface you quickly find that there are differences in people’s understanding. Overall, I see the term within an organization being beneficial as it creates a common language throughout the company. It also has helped companies stay more focused on their digital transformation by having a strategy that any new technology, process, tool, etc. needs to either leverage information already contained in the digital twin or add to the digital twin no matter which department you are in.

I do find that there are usually two different “versions” of the digital twin being used in shipbuilding. The first is focused on the digital assets from the design and production phase which includes your 3D CAD model. The second is from an operations perspective where the digital twin incorporates IoT data to improve operational excellence. Both versions can be and ideally be the same digital twin representation. However, since the value of the digital twin for shipbuilders and operators is different, it does make sense that they start from the point where they can get value first. They will meet in the middle eventually.

3. Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

In 2017 I wrote a lot on AR and VR because of the advances it was making, but in 2018 I did feel that there was not as much progress as I would have expected. To clarify, there was a lot of progress on the technology side and a lot of cool stuff which will eventually be beneficial, but the workflow of leveraging our 3D model linked to item information in VR seamlessly still is not where it needs to be to be used throughout our industry.

In addition, here is an article which covers Virtual and Augmented Reality in Shipbuilding.

4. Additive Manufacturing (AM) / 3D Printing

There was some progress with AM in our industry. Here are some articles related to how shipbuilding is innovating with 3D printing

We are still a long way before additive manufacturing becomes a common technology used in shipbuilding, but I found the fact that class societies are creating rules for additive manufacturing very exciting. In shipbuilding it will be imperative that class societies approve the use of additive manufacturing for it to be something that we can use in our industry. Without class rules accepting 3D printing, there simply would be no future for additive manufacturing.

5. Autonomous ships

Autonomous or unmanned vessels have seen a tremendous amount of progress. This is one area where shipbuilding is leading other industries. It will be a while before we see any level of autonomous ships common in our industry; however, it does seem that we are progressing at a respectable pace. Autonomous ships will change the way we design our ships as it will change the requirements and constraints our ships have.

Here are some articles to give you a sense of how shipbuilding is progressing with autonomous ships:

6. Drones

It is mainly the Navy and Class societies that have been investing heavily in drone technology in 2018. They are both tackling different problems and therefore have different strategies and uses. Navy seems to be using it more for surveillance and for missions which are too high of a risk for human causality. Class societies are looking at how they can improve the way they inspect ships. Drones offer the ability to reduce the effort and cost but increase the quality of inspections. I can see that if drones become a way that shipowners can reduce the cost and time to conduct inspections from class that it will filter down to requirements of how the ship is designed to allow for drones to conduct more inspections.

Here are some links related to drone technology in shipbuilding in 2018:

7. Class, Navy and Shipping Companies Continue to Lead Innovation

Class societies and owner/operators such as the Navy and shipping companies continue to be leading the industry into the modern era. I am glad to say this is one thing I did predict in my future of shipbuilding blog series and I think it is great for our industry.

As mentioned before, it is extremely important for Class to be on the cutting edge of technology because at the end of the day if they do not approve the ship then you have one very expensive paper weight.

The owner/operators are also positively forcing the entire industry to innovate. They understand that to improve their operational efficiency (which dwarfs initial investment of the ship) they require more digital information that they can use. This requirement filters down to the shipbuilder and is the main driver for shipbuilders’ digital transformation as well as embracing the strategy of a digital twin.

8. Additional “Business” with new Products and Services

Several discussions I have had in 2018 revolved around shipbuilding companies looking at expanding their business. This is mainly focused on how they can create additional products or services to their existing products (ships). There are several interesting and unique strategies that are being discussed but not many are being implemented at the moment. Some examples are similar to how the aerospace industry uses the fly-by-the-hour strategy for their engines as well as being involved in the ship sustainment for its 30+ years of service.

Closing Remarks

2018 was generally a good year for progressing innovation in shipbuilding. There were many challenges and setbacks, but it is 100% expected as going through business transformation will have many obstacles.

Shipbuilding has been known to be a very conservative and a traditional industry–not innovating for the last decade or two or three. However, this is really changing and last year has a lot of evidence that we are moving and in the right direction. Nevertheless, since this process of continuous change or “transformation” that we are going through is relatively new (not the technology, but the process of innovating) we need to make sure that we change our mindset regarding how we implement these advancements. The ability to change continuously requires a new way of thinking.

From my 15+ years in the shipbuilding industry I have to say that I have never been more excited and challenged than I was in 2018. I expect this to continue in 2019.

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