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The Road to Shipyard 4.0

The shipbuilding industry faces several challenges, but two are more pressing than the others. First, demand for new ships is increasing – the market is expected to grow by more than 4% annually. Second, international efforts to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions means that shipbuilders are under pressure to develop cleaner, greener vessels – and to reduce the carbon footprint of their existing fleets.

The yards that continue to be successful need to be agile and develop areas of specialization in making that capability best-in-class. They will use technology to streamline planning and yard operations, implement modern production methods and get new employees to replace, retiring ones. The key to becoming best-in-class is digitization – using data more intelligently to solve problems, improve efficiency and build proactive strategies that can quickly adjust to changes in the market and the supply chain.

The road to digitalization for shipbuilders

Following the COP26 summit, most of the world has committed to drastic greenhouse gas reduction targets that will affect every industry – particularly as the timeframe for change has shrunk by 20 years. According to the European Parliament, the global shipping industry accounts for 2.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In recognition of this, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed to a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, rising to 50% by 2050. Shipbuilders can go some way to reaching these targets through closer coordination between design and operation on new builds.

But designers will have to help operators ensure they are running existing vessels in the most efficient way to reduce emissions too. Technology, like digital twins, will help them bridge the gap between as-designed and as-operated – and reduce dependence on environmentally unfriendly fuels.

Naturally these changes will be complicated and chaotic – but they are also unavoidable. The only way to balance competing demands from naval architects, designers, shipyards and customers will be through the use of an integrated digital framework. Such a framework will allow all stakeholders to collaborate on developing the best possible designs.

Implementing an integrated framework will also position shipbuilders for the advent of smart connected ships, digitally integrated yards. It also opens the prospect of delivering new services to clients, including digital twins of the physical ship.

Operating a smart ship relies on connecting disparate data sources so it can be analyzed by operators. More than the vessel itself, data can (and should) be sourced from the wider supply chain to better inform projects and strategy.

How the 4th Industrial Revolution will affect shipbuilding

The 4th Industrial Revolution (aka Industry 4.0) affects every aspect of a business – design, manufacturing, operations, shipping, services, production systems, maintenance and value chains. Shipbuilding 4.0 will require similar end-to-end transformation.

In the past, shipbuilders could drive improvements by investing in new software, machines and restructuring the organization. However, once these changes have been made, there is little room for further improvement, a factor that becomes ever more important as eco concerns climb to the top of the corporate priorities list.

In future, shipbuilders will need to implement top-down transformation. They will need to embrace new tools, methods and techniques that modernize and improve organizational processes for greater efficiency. Strategic redesign will enable better allocation of resources, investment funding and quality systems.

Again, shipbuilders can take their lead from manufacturing industries. Their efforts to achieve flexible manufacturing results in very low waste and improved quality of deliverables. They are also committed to evolution, constantly changing and refining processes to drive productivity and efficiency. Disruptive methodologies and information sharing technologies bring companies, customers and suppliers closer, to collaborate on building complete solutions.

By applying Industry 4.0 digital transformation techniques, shipbuilders can develop their own “Shipyard 4.0” concept. Digital technologies and data-driven systems will allow you to build a fully accurate visual representation of each vessel before construction begins – a digital twin.

To make the digital twin deliver maximum value, Shipyard 4.0 also needs to streamline the flow of information between disconnected systems. This goes beyond design team – and the organization itself. Digital platforms will need to connect supply chain management and yard manufacturing operations to provide complete end-to-end visibility of every process and outcome.

What you need to become 4.0 ready

Developing your Shipyard 4.0 strategy will be heavily reliant on smart technology investments. As you move forwards, these are the solutions your business will need to consider:

Digital twin capabilities

Developing an accurate, 3D model will be essential for better understanding each vessel, new or existing. For new builds, the ability to map out every ship and project stage before work begins will help to avoid delays and overruns. It will also provide a valuable ongoing information resource regarding operations and maintenance for the operator.

The digital twin will help to solve the disconnect between as-designed and as-operated, ensuring that even existing vessels can be operated optimally to reduce carbon emissions.

Digital fabrication capabilities

The ideal solution will connect different disciplines, such as design, planning and production, into a single management platform. This allows for centralized planning for material availability, project schedules and resources. Ideally the platform will also support direct connection to the production line, including fabrication machines, automated storage and unmanned cranes.

With enhanced, granular visibility of every asset, it becomes possible to refine and improve every activity. Tiny, incremental improvements will assist with efficiency gains and carbon reductions throughout the entire shipbuilding and operation process.


The digital twin and project performance management systems are just the start, providing a platform for future development. Over time, you can assess how advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and 3D printing can drive further advances.

Shipyard 4.0 is not a destination – it is an ongoing process of continuous improvement. The required efficiency gains and carbon emission reductions will not come as the result of a big bang change. Instead, shipbuilders will need to focus on improving the capture and flow of data across the entire construction process, allowing them to identify and implement incremental changes that add up over time.

To learn more about Shipyard 4.0 and how Hexagon can help your business achieve it's growth and carbon reduction objectives, please contact us or visit our website for more information.


About the Author

Ismo is the Pre-Sales Director at Hexagon and responsible for the development of the fabrication market mainly in the EMIA region. He is based on Oulu, Finland. He has a broad experience within b-to-b sales, pre-sales and business development in the metal industries, steel prefabrication and shipbuilding.

Profile Photo of Ismo Piirainen