SMC Design’s model approach to cruise ship design

Michele Witthaus asks SMC Design’s Andrew Brown how building information modelling is transforming the way the company works with its clients

SMC Design’s model approach to cruise ship design
Reviews can be done in virtual reality from the studio, in person and online – allowing access from anywhere in the world

Historically, design companies, operators and shipyards had to work hard at communicating their design plans and visions to one another, with many aspects of the process taking place in separate silos within the individual organisations. However, with the advent of building information modelling (BIM), a more collaborative approach is possible, as shared models can be used for all aspects of vessel design. 

Accuracy is improved as these different information sources are put together to form a federated model, comprising everything from architectural, steel and heating, ventilation and air conditioning aspects to entertainment and lighting designs.  

SMC Design has embraced the possibilities offered by BIM and has been using it for several years in its interactions with major clients, taking advantage of the unprecedented access to information provided by virtual representation of all aspects of projects. 

“The key features for us are insight and visibility into design,” says Andrew Brown, SMC Design’s director. “Because we are now designing in a 3D environment, it enables more control over technological integration and more informed decisions as we develop the design. It provides a greater level of visibility and control, and it allows us to have more in-depth critical reviews with the client because we can stand within a space virtually and really come to understand what we’re creating.” 

These 3D virtual meetings with clients help individualise the experience, says Brown. “Whether it’s a creative or operational review, we can walk the space, essentially to be able to discuss their requirements. it’s about having that direct dialogue with the client to talk about their objectives and to find the solutions that best match their needs.” 

There are also significant operational benefits to this approach when it comes to picking up potential clashes between the various models. “One of the incredible things about the software is that it will actually search out and identify where there are collisions within a design, so you are not relying on human input to find errors,” explains the company’s BIM manager, Ben Nkyi. “The software is automated and does this for us, generating reports to find and identify collisions. It is extremely helpful when we start to work with shipyards, when introducing steel into the space. We can incorporate steel within our design and the software flags up all collisions with the steel and our design. This helps to eliminate risk before the project develops any further. It’s an instant way of addressing project issues before they become a real challenge, so we can resolve them ahead of time.” 

For the yards, this kind of software is very familiar, says Nkyi. “The shipyards have been working in 3D for a long period of time.”  

This means that for designers, it makes sense to be using and sharing similar technologies to improve knowledge sharing across many aspects of projects. SMC Design uses a platform called Revit, which is tailored to architects and, in 2018, the company brought BIM expert Ben Nkyi onboard as BIM manager to integrate the platform in its projects.  

“We recognised that this way of working is very much the way forward for all architects and designers,” says Brown. “It’s not just about efficiency but also enables us to design in a better way that we can bring to more of our projects as we develop.”  

The availability of virtual systems such as those used in BIM has clearly been useful in helping navigate the Covid-19 era of remote working and reduced access to sites. However, Brown points out: “Even before Covid-19, we were seeing benefits from working this way with virtual and augmented reality. We are working mainly with international clients, and it has helped to reduce the amount of travel for meetings, saving money for the client by not paying architects and consultants from various parts of the world to have a meeting. That has just continued, especially when the client is in one country and we are in another. We can have five different countries all meeting virtually.” 

While SMC Design has seized the opportunity to go all-in with BIM technology ahead of some of its competitors, Brown says this is not necessarily a strategy to differentiate the company. “I don’t think there’s going to be an element of competition through this technology, because most companies will adopt it. The last time there was such a change in the way people work was going from drafting tables to computers. This time it’s from 2D to 3D environments. It won’t create a divide in the markets – if anything, we welcome the participation of our competitors in the technology, because it will raise the standard of the way the industry works.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
25 November 2021

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