Tanker and tugA long time ago I took a job at Bath Iron Works, in the Hull Drawing Room. MIT hadn’t taught me anything as practical as how a ship was actually built (although I could analyze the heck out of it), so the Drawing Room foreman sent me on rotation through the shipyard’s departments. It was amazing: I crawled all over ship units trying to resolve interferences during construction, spent time in planning and in the weld shop, learned how to loft steel for the ship’s hull … The hard hat I earned at BIW is still one of my proudest possessions.

Once my real job began, I was asked to create a drawing management system using the state-of-the-art database engine BIW had just installed. This was in ancient times, so we managed information about paper/mylar drawings, not the drawings themselves. We noted revision history, who had the drawing checked out, whether it was approved by the design firm, the schedule of changes and how many copies of each rev had been printed. It was a manual process, not connected to other management systems — inventory, billing, personnel, yard scheduling and so on. When it came time to start a job out in the yard, the shop foreman had to have drawings duplicated, get material lists, pull from inventory and assign crews.

Fast forward to 2014. From recent conversations with shipyards,we’ve made significant advances in ship design, but still have a lot of work to do at the construction end of a ship project. We may create CAD models, and manage the objects in those models, but often fail to link everything together to help decision-making and tracking in the yard. As ASNE Day proved, these are tough issues with cultural, technology and organizational barriers — but some yards are making progress.

Did you know that one major shipyard had at least 80 systems tracking yard operations? The realization that this was (at best) inefficient and (at worst) costing the company money led it to search for an alternative. It wanted a single solution that could tie together operations, improve communications and offer yard-wide visibility into material, facility and crew availability. Across the entire enterprise, not just one project or facility at a time. Better visibility means greater accountability, less duplication and waste, and perhaps shorter timelines.

This yard first looked at its incumbent ERP system to see if that solution could expand to waterfront operations, but ultimately decided that this vendor just didn’t “speak shipyard”. The team settled on the marine-specific MARS product from Logimatic. MARS, the “MAterial Requisitioning System”, came out of a project for the Kvaerner Masa Yards in back in 1990. Since then, MARS has grown in scope and complexity, incorporating best practices and the “compact shipyard”, where production processes are standardized and automated, and non-ship-specifc activities are outsourced or at least moved off the yard’s facilities (hence, “compact”.)

MARS merged into AVEVA in June 2010 and re-emerged as ERM in 2012. AVEVA ERM blends the best of shipbuilding-specific processes with the lessons learned by EPCs on a huge variety of plant projects. It includes modules for planning, material management, construction/production planning, and catalog and spec management. Those modules integrate to enable shipyards to break complex ships into buildable units and systems; create project budgets and requirements and manage the budget through procurement, material receipt, warehousing and issuing; plan construction, and schedule, manage and control work orders.

The yard with 80 systems is probably more common, but upheavals in the shipbuilding industry have led to consolidation. New yards are emerging and reinventing themselves. One example is China’s Guangxin Shipbuilding & Heavy Industry (GSHI) which talked about its ERM implementation at a recent AVEVA user conference. GSHI started operations in early 2009 and delivered its first vessel just 8 months later. Mr Jie Ning Ma, Head of IT at GSHI, told us that this was possible because of a combination of strategic technology and business practices geared towards efficiency. GSHI selected AVEVA ERM because it was shipbuilding-specific. It sounded as thought GSHI’s clean slate enabled it to adopt many of the best practices embodied in MARS while tailoring it to meet GSHI’s specific goals.

Mr. Ma said that “AVEVA ERM [is not] just software; we are deploying a strategic management system.” GSHI first implementedAVEVA ERM material management. Mr. Ma told us that creating basic material data standards across the shipyard actually resulted in a coding strategy that simplified many other processes. The coding process led to the development of material handling process for receipt of incoming material and issuing of outgoing inventory, replacing manual methods and their resulting discrepancies.

Back to the bigger picture. Material handling is an area where even small improvements could have significant impact on productivity, cost and schedule. Accurate and complete material data lets us plan prefabrication, simulate materials moving through the yard, and pre-configure assembly processes. Getting to “accurate and complete” is the challenge, and one that yards around the world are working towards. It’s a business transition as much as it is technological and it transcends the shipbuilding industry.

Better project controls can lower material and production costs. Better planning, no surprise, leads to more efficient scheduling, which leads to shorter project timelines. Shorter projects lead to more projects per year — which leads to more revenue and, we hope, to more profitable operations.

Stay tuned. There is a lot more to say about ship design and construction. Work packages, workface planning, bills of material, managing variants … It’s a long list! Leave a comment if you’ve got something specific you’d like to cover first.