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Changing the shipbuilding technology conversation

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As the editor-in-chief of Digital Transformations, I have the chance to highlight the fascinating work my colleagues do, and I also get to see the responses our customers have to their work. One recent series on the blog has been popular with our readers. Tim Nichols, the Director of Marketing Communications for the global aerospace, defense and marine industries at Siemens PLM Software, wrote a series about what we call "the digital shipyard."

Tim Nichols, our Thought Leader for the digital shipyard topic, is the Director of Marketing Communications for the global aerospace, defense and marine industries here at Siemens PLM Software.Tim Nichols, our Thought Leader for the digital shipyard topic, is the Director of Marketing Communications for the global aerospace, defense and marine industries here at Siemens PLM Software.

In the series, Nichols discusses how shipbuilding technology is undergoing massive changes to meet the new needs shipbuilders have for building ships faster, more efficiently and for less. He highlights the role the digital thread and digitalization play in helping shipbuilders accomplish this, and also how a digital shipyard can maintain ships for decades to come.

I talked with Nichols about the response he’s received from the marine industry, and I asked him what he thinks is next for the digital shipyard. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

"Everyone I've had feedback from has indicated this is a top priority." 

The digitalization of shipbuilding is a top of mind issue for shipbuilders all over the world, Nichols says. Countries with emerging economies see shipbuilding as an industry that will grow their economies, not just for building ships for domestic use, but for building ships for export.

"They're very excited about the idea of the digital shipyard and how it's going to accelerate their entry into these industries, and improve their productivity," he said.

He added that a lot of countries want to see how this shipbuilding technology could create jobs, particularly for young people, because the technology to design, engineer and build digitalized ships "requires a [certain] comfort level" to use. 

This series hasn't just resonated with countries which have emerging economies – it's also resonating with leading shipbuilders in the United States. These shipbuilders have concluded they need to build ships at a higher rate than they have in the past, Nichols said.

“They're hoping they can build ships for less money, and to build them on time and in less time."  

"They see the digital shipyard, and the digitalization of shipbuilding, possibly enabling them to move into the 21st century with a much more competitive offering." 

I asked Nichols to tell me more about the feedback he’s received from his marine industry contacts outside of the United States. He said he's heard from people who work for shipbuilding companies in Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

In each case, they feel like creating a digital shipyard is a priority, and they want to use this series as a way to initiate conversations that will lead to this digital transformation in their shipbuilding technology.

"They can use this information to discuss the Thought Leadership concepts with shipyard leaders…who see the need to be more innovative, and to really improve their productivity as they see competition from other parts of the world – and, additionally, with fleet owners and operators to boost fleet availability, reliability and profitability," he said.

Nichols said many of his contacts live in countries that view shipbuilding as an important part of their economic growth. They believe digitalization and this shipbuilding technology will ultimately drive a renaissance of the industry that could put their countries on a common level with leading shipbuilders.

"Shipbuilding is viewed as a really important growth area," he said. "It's very exciting." Digitalizating shipbuilding technology could drive a renaissance that puts smaller countries on a level playing field with leading shipbuilders.Digitalizating shipbuilding technology could drive a renaissance that puts smaller countries on a level playing field with leading shipbuilders.

"As we've expanded our portfolio, we now have the ability to simulate and engineer all the aspects of the complex environment a ship must operate in before you even build a single part." 

As the digitalization of shipyards continues, Siemens PLM's future in shipbuilding technology will focus on several areas.

One thing Siemens PLM is working to change is an idea many shipbuilders have about the relationship they have with companies such as Siemens PLM, he said. That relationship shouldn’t end the day the ship is commissioned. 

Instead, Nichols said, it should be the start of a long-term relationship where Siemens PLM Software helps operators manage and service systems that improve the ship’s reliability and availability so they can perform duties on a consistent basis. 

"Throughout the life of the ship, you’re going to see ships that will be modified and adapted to new missions and new circumstances," he said. "Siemens PLM's software will help manage that process in a very disciplined way."

Recent acquisitions such as CD-adapco and Fibersim give Siemens PLM the ability to offer technology that can be leveraged to design and build quieter, more durable, and more efficient ships, he added. 

Siemens PLM Software gives shipbuilders the ability to manage the flow of all materials coming to the shipyard from suppliers around the world, Nichols said. This shipbuilding technology would also help shipbuilders find the best way to have material flow throughout the shipyard, through the assembly shops and into the dry-dock in a shorter amount of time to reduce the time to build a ship.

"There's an engineering dimension, but we can't overlook that there will be a production-integration optimization aspect of what our technology offers."

In the near future, Nichols thinks there will be a new focus on the "enabling technology" already out there for digital devices. Future shipyard workers could walk around the shipyard with a digital device that contains the full knowledge of what they need to do for a ship, how they need to do it and when they need to do it, he said.

"That's going to vastly enable the workers, supervisors and management throughout the shipyard." 

Special thanks to Tim Nichols for speaking with me about his Thought Leadership topic. Stay tuned to our blog to follow Tim and our digital shipyard topic. 

About the author 
Toni Boger
is the editor-in-chief of Digital Transformations, the Thought Leadership blog for Siemens PLM Software. As the marketing coordinator and content strategist for the Siemens PLM Thought Leadership initiative, she oversees the content creation, management, publication and promotion for all content in the initiative. She graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and English. Prior to joining Siemens, Toni worked as an associate site editor for TechTarget, a technology media company.