SEA | Opinion

Digital twins in naval shipbuilding: taking control of business transformation

Denis Morais, co-CEO of SSI, explains the benefits digital twin technology can bring to naval shipbuilding organisations willing to embrace the digital transformation.

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The one thing shipbuilders ask most about is the digital twin. How can it help give me more control? How can it help me cut cost? Who is already using one? The impression I get from these questions is that by now most shipbuilders know they need to be looking in that direction, but that it is not clear to everyone what can explicitly be solved with a digital twin.

The concept of the digital twin – a digital representation of a physical asset – has become a bit of a buzzword over the years; another marketing term adopted across the industry as important to implement alongside many other innovations such as digital thread, IoT, VR/AR, and so on.

However, the truth behind these new technologies and buzzwords is that, when understood and implemented correctly, they solve the non-digital business challenges across shipbuilding organisations – providing more comprehensive offerings, new products, better support for assets, improving project lifecycles, and even transforming the way we approach the culture and mindset of our organisations.

Ultimately, what we are all looking for is more control over our processes, information, and tools.

Removing silos in naval shipbuilding

It can be challenging for many leaders within our industry to look towards a more holistic business transformation. Any shift or disruption results in additional risk. However, many are misidentifying the potential return and commitment level required from a successful implementation.

Fundamentally, looking at a few key areas and focusing on extracting incremental value from just those areas initially will allow naval shipbuilders to see benefits from early on. These small changes end up resulting in an organization that has better global collaboration, has the ability to find, discover, and re-use information, and makes better decisions.

What will allow for these improvements and for shipbuilders to get the most out of the people, processes, and tools available to them, is the removal of silos across the organisation.

“While the digital twin will (almost) always come alive within the early stages of a project, the benefits of the digital twin span across the lifecycle of our asset and it is built up across every stage.”

It’s no secret to anyone who is familiar with the day-to-day of defence shipbuilding that there are a huge number of silos present. Design, engineering, production, planning, and purchasing more often than not struggle to work with the same information and communicate changes in the same ‘language.’ The sooner even parts of how information is made available within the organisation is democratised and made accessible to more departments, the sooner projects see the benefits and teams can explore new and novel ways of working.

While the digital twin will (almost) always come alive within the early stages of a project, the benefits of the digital twin span across the lifecycle of our asset and it is built up across every stage. Navies have as much incentive as shipbuilders to explore the business challenges they can solve and are asking for more auxiliary information to be delivered with assets than before. The push towards more information, more cost effective IoT implementations, fewer unpredictable failures, and better operational decision-making have made this a natural direction to move towards.

However, shipbuilders cannot rely on navies to drive the digital twin forward alone. It will take clear and targeted investment from shipbuilders into solving their own business challenges by starting to explore parts of the digital twin. Waiting until it is requested from the customer is too late within today’s environment. Decision-makers must finally start taking control over all the information available to them.