Sharing an interesting conversation that I recently had Mr GKR. GKR is the head of design at a large naval shipbuilding company. He also leads the digitization efforts at his organization. Having been in the industry for over 25 years, he is widely regarded in the naval shipbuilding community.
We were chatting about one of the challenges that they face during the ship construction process and how technology can be a game changer for their industry.
PB: What do you consider as one of the major challenges during production that leads to delays in completion of projects?
GKR: In warship construction, you cannot install everything at the same time. Ship construction is a complex & time consuming process. Large number of components & equipment need to be installed & integrated together. This effort can take multiple years to complete. Equipment installation in a compartment is a step-by-step process depending on various constraints including material delivery, logistics & planned order of installation. It’s easy to find scenarios where one item will be installed today and adjacent items will come after months or even years.
Now, during this period, how do you ensure that space is reserved for items that are yet to be delivered? Keep in mind that in the beginning, there is simply open space. Production & other teams move in & out all the time. Due to open space availability, in many cases, something else can get installed in the space meant for another item. And when the actual item finally arrives, we need multiple design changes to accommodate this item. In many cases, we need to redo what was done by the previous team leading to significant time & cost escalations. Depending on the complexity, each such change typically costs us $5K or more and a potential delay of multiple days.
PB: Interesting. What do you think causes these errors by the production teams? Do they not have access to the necessary information?
GKR: Well, our design team does provide drawings to production teams in the form of printouts & digital equivalents. All teams have access to the information required to install the equipment that they are responsible for. However, many times the production teams are not able to understand these drawings. Indeed, these drawings, though accurate, are complex in nature. And for many workers, they don’t even know how to read the drawings as they are not necessarily trained for this.
In addition to this, each team is usually concerned with their own sub-system only. For example, the piping person is only concerned with piping. The ventilation person is only concerned with ventilation. Even if we gave all the drawings to all the teams, it would be impossible for them to match these paper drawings manually.
PB: Now, I understand that the production teams can make mistakes due to lack of information, or, the complexity of the available information. But then, aren’t the inspection & QA teams able to find these issues early during their scheduled construction inspections?
GKR: Well, the inspection & QA teams also have access to the same drawings. Note that minor deviations in the construction process are very normal and many times, innocuous. For example, say a pipe has a bend of 45° as per the design. Now let’s say that after the fabrication the actual delivered item has a bend of 30°. Now, even though there is a deviation, the inspection teams will typically accept these as a minor deviation, if they feel that the space adjacent to the pipe is actually vacant. Based on the available information, that could be a perfectly harmless decision. Unfortunately, in many cases, these very deviations cause huge pains later as the production proceeds.
PB: Feels like a complex situation. I have a better understanding now. Then what do you think is the solution for this challenge?
GKR: I believe that 3D visualization is extremely important & useful. If the production team had access to the 3D design model and a mechanism to compare it with the ground reality, it would allow them to see not just their own components, but also the rest of the equipment to be installed in the compartment. If the visualization could be done in an intuitive manner, it would be easy for them to see these potential problems themselves & avoid them right at the source.
Given the current time & cost pressures on the industry, having access to the 3D design model in production is not optional anymore. We need to keep in mind that the production team members as well as supervisors or inspectors are not CAD engineers or designers. For them to understand the information presented, the visualization has to be intuitive and the toolchain needs to be easy-to-use.
PB: Are there any solutions that you are looking at? Is there something specifically that excites you?
GKR: I am personally very excited about the use of Augmented Reality (AR) Technology. AR allows us to visualize the 3D models inside the production environment by overlaying the model directly on top of the actual site. This AR technology works on tablets & smartphones and our production team members are very comfortable using these devices. We have successfully executed a pilot deployment of AR technology with extremely impressive results. We are going ahead with a full blown deployment now and hope to reduce production related rework by upto 50% in our projects.
PB: Cool! That sounds like a pretty neat solution. Are there any barriers to adoption of this technology?
GKR: Access to our live 3D CAD models is an essential requirement for this solution to work. It’s essential that the technology provide enterprise grade security & ensure that our native CAD files are never copied to the devices. I also expect the solution to provide accurate alignment of the digital model with the physical site environment. Lastly, I would expect the technology to provide tools like measurements for checking deviations & giving feedback to the design teams. This will help the design teams in creating as-built drawings.
Luckily, we now have a solution that allows us to access our Aveva Marine models in a lossless manner. The production teams will have access to all part information & associated metadata at their fingertips. We are able to automatically align the digital model with the compartment using QR code based markers. The user can perform measurements, both on digital as well as physical environment using AI & depth sensing technology.
PB: Wow.. I am glad that you have made such great progress identifying a technology as well as a solution that works in your environment. My best wishes to you & your team in helping transform the industry with digitalization driven cost & time efficiencies.
3D & Immersive Visualization industry veteran, Author of multiple IEEE research papers, Technology consultant, Trainer & Speaker