DS deepens its bench in naval architecture

Jun 12, 2017 | Hot Topics

News broke this morning that Dassault Systèmes has acquired AITAC BV, a Dutch company that uses the DS suite of products to design superyachts, cruise liners, frigates, tugboats and other smaller ships. As a complement to its services offerings, AITAC devised Smart Drawings, a software application that automates drawing creation from a master 3D model created in CATIA applications. If you’re familiar with the marine world, you’ll know that the industry is driven by classification society and other standards; Smart Drawings automates drawing creation, to speed up and cut the cost of drawing production. That’s smart; much of this work doesn’t create extra value (other than, of course, getting certification) and it’s more likely to come easy when the documents are exactly as required.

DS will integrate Smart Drawings into the “Designed for Sea” and “Optimized Production for Sea” 3DEXPERIENCEs. Alain Houard, DS’ Vice President, Marine & Offshore Industry, said that “AITAC’s long-term experience, expertise and team of naval architects and engineers will help us to extend our marine and offshore portfolio’s capabilities and support customer deployment projects.” In addition to the software, DS says that the deal also gives them “40 percent of AITAC’s marine and offshore engineering office in Croatia, AITAC d.o.o., a provider of naval architecture and engineering services to major shipbuilders.” (It appears that AITAC retains its operations in Germany and France as well as 60% of the Croatian team, and its PLM Solutions and Consultancy based in Netherlands.)

The details of Smart Drawings may be interesting to only me, a naval architect who once worked for the American Bureau of Shipping, but you should find the deal curious, too. DS has been selling in the shipbuilding world for decades, partnering in the late 1990s (early 2000s?) with Intergraph for a major US military contract and showcasing how its submarine and aircraft carrier clients –as well as the far more numerous but smaller commercial and leisure boat clients– use CATIA in design. All of these vessels have to be approved of by regulators and that is typically still done by 2D drawing. Automating this process makes so much sense. What is curious to me is the staff: does DS plan to pursue project work from the Croatian office? Will they bid on new ship design contracts? And will DS use this as a model for other industries? In other words, does DS want to follow the model of CAE-ish companies and build a services capability? That’s a terrific way to get close to customers, partnering with them on complex engineering challenges — but it’s also risky, in that those resources aren’t cheap and need to be kept near 100% utilization.

Of course, this is a tiny acquisition for a tiny piece of DS’ overall business. How tiny? Shipbuilding isn’t even called out specifically in DS’ end-industries-by-number, so I’d guess it’s less that 5% of total revenue, and probably much less. DS does say that its “fastest growing industries in 2016 included … Marine & Offshore in Diversification Industries”, but it was listed last in a category that also includes consumer packaged goods, AEC and EPU (energy, process and utilities).

Bottom line: I like DS’ diversification push into new industries. I like automating tasks that add little value and that can extend the importance of the 3D asset. And I’m very interested to see what DS does next with its team of naval architects and engineers.

This acquisition was closed on 1 June; financial details were not disclosed. But I would imagine no material impact on DS’ top or bottom lines. (And, yes, AITAC is CATIA spelled backwards.