Honey... they blocked the door!
Rework in shipbuilding & How technology fixes it
Thanks to all of you for encouraging me to write this blog on shipbuilding challenges & how technology can help in addressing them. Also a BIG thank you for your comments & feedback on my last blog.
Couple of weeks back, I had an interesting visit to a large shipyard. Like many yards, this “once-very-famous” shipyard has been struggling to get new orders. On the other hand, it has been facing crazy delays in delivering projects adding to their cash flow challenges. The yard takes up both Naval as well as Commercial projects though a bulk of its current orders are from the Navy.
The yard’s senior management was kind enough to invite me to visit them and share my experiences of working with other shipyards. On my request, I was allowed to visit their production site to see their processes and also speak to the production teams. On reaching the outfit jetty, I was greeted by one of the production supervisors. The yard had received an order for 4 tugs from the Navy. This 6’3” tall, extremely soft-spoken, supervisor informed me that they were working hard to complete the tugs scheduled for delivery “soon”.
Note: the following picture is NOT from the actual site.
Initial Impressions: The production operations were quite neat with production workers busy working through their tasks. The supervisor was kind enough to take me to the deck and show me various operations. We walked around as he proudly showed me the semi-finished compartments of the boat.
When I asked about his list of challenges, he walked me through their piping fitment issues as we saw another worker doing some welding & joint work on a few pipes. More on this topic for a future blog.
Oops: We then went downstairs into the engine room where I saw this amazing equipment from a leading global manufacturer (sorry, can’t name them here). The supervisor pointed out that due to limited space available, the adjacent service room was not accessible anymore. Unfortunately, they realized this only once they had installed all the equipment. They were now planning to cut part of the ventilation ducts to make them narrower. This would make the service room accessible. Though it would come at an additional cost & potential inefficiency in the system. The supervisor was clearly embarrassed (I wonder how he would explain this to his customer during the inspection!). But also in his defence, he mentioned that they were simply not able to visualize this issue from the given drawings. Multiple equipment had to be installed and accessibility aspects weren’t top of mind for them considering all the other things at play. By the time they got to know of the problem, it was too late.
Blocked: We went upstairs and reviewed the cabins. We then went over to the bridge where some of the equipment was still to be delivered. Everything mostly seemed Ok. On the way out, something caught my attention. As we walked out towards the main deck & came out of the door on the starboard, we realized that the door did not open completely. The supervisor pointed out that unfortunately the door was being blocked by a single bitt bollard by about 6 inches. Normally, the door would be designed to open by full 180°. However, here we were barely able to get to about 95°. The door would block the side passage when open. Due to the door thickness, moving equipment in and out will be a challenge during live operations. In this case, he wasn’t sure how they would actually address this issue and would let the management take a decision. Mostly, they might cut the bollard and weld it at a new location!
We looked around a bit more and then it was time to leave! I thanked the supervisor & went back thinking about my various observations. Also made some notes on the way.
But…. why?: In retrospect, when I remember myself walking on the boat, many of these issues seem way too obvious to be missed. However, when there is nothing but empty space in the compartment, it would definitely not have been obvious. The multiple paper drawings did not help pointing things out either.
Clearly, no one at the yard had any ill intentions but the errors still happened! So where’s the missing gap? Though there might be other complexities involved, at a high-level, I see two main issues here:
So what is it that makes these issues so obvious when we walk on the boat but not so obvious when you look at the 2D drawings? You can clearly “feel” the place while being on the boat and “see” the issues for yourselves. But that same feeling & sense of presence is not there when you look at a set of static paper drawings. When I think about it some more, there has to be a mechanism to replicate the reality of the physical boat before we actually construct it. In the past, I have seen some yards making physical prototypes of a few critical compartments or equipment and reviewing the layout with their customer. This was not just slow & expensive, but also stone-age in many ways!
But then isn’t the design team already providing a 3D model created using standard CAD applications? Why is it that despite having the 3D model, these issues weren’t detected beforehand? The answer I think lies in the User experience. The sense of presence provided by the sheer act of walking on the boat, being able to look around the environment & being blocked by the machinery parts which come in the way. That same User experience is simply not provided by a mouse and keyboard. Moreover, the use of traditional desktop computers and monitors do not really provide a 1:1 scale reality view representation of the 3D CAD model.
Virtual Reality?: IMHO, the first problem of being able to visualise the space and being able to navigate it with a “human experience” should be solvable, if we are able to bring in the 3D CAD model inside a virtual reality experience. Aren’t the cool gaming headsets that are being invented by the likes of HTC & Facebook and sold for $299 a piece meant to solve the problem of “presence” when being in a “synthetic virtual world”?
So the simple solution is the following: before going into the next stage of planning & production, can we make sure that a virtual reality design review of the complete model is made a mandatory step before signing off? Can we bring in multiple stakeholders including the customer representatives, who are going to operate the equipment for the review? And the planning & production teams who are going to build this? Simply conduct a design review in VR so that the design can be fully validated and such issues identified and fixed at the design stage itself? The Automotive industry who have been doing this for over 20 years now! Back then, each VR setup used to cost millions of dollars. But now, this is a commodity.
Interferences et al?: The second issue is a little bit more involved. We are not just talking about doing a virtual reality walkthrough of the model. What we need is a mechanism to interact & calculate part interferences with the CAD model. Traditional CAD tools provide solutions for this kind of analysis. However many of those are not used by design teams based on my experience. Probably because they are cumbersome and time consuming. Would it not make sense to have simple functionality in the VR experience where all the movable parts like doors, drawers & valves are identified & the user can interact with them just like operating in the final vessel? With this human experience, the user will be able to walk through the environment & identify any space and arrangement related issues. In addition, the user will be able to perform various actions like opening a door, pulling a drawer or reaching out to & operating a valve in a very similar manner that you would do during the physical operation of the equipment. The software would check for interferences with other parts in the model during these interactions and highlight these issues visually, say by making the part red in color!
With this kind of experience, I am sure we will be able to identify and fix multiple issues related to the operability of the equipment that pop up during production or worst case, during inspections & acceptance! These have unfortunately been hard to identify during the design stage as well as from the production drawings.
Do any of these issues sound familiar to you? Are there any specific examples that you would want to share with us? I would love to hear about your experiences & help the industry move forward towards a more digital future.