Transforming vessel design with a digital solution

Rebecca Gibson asks CEO Brett Crowther about Incat Crowther’s new Digital Shipbuilding solution and how it facilitated the delivery of a record-breaking ferry fleet in New York

Transforming vessel design with a digital solution
Incat Crowther has created a 3D digital model of the NYC Ferry’s vessels to enable it to build multiple vessels in quick succession

What is Incat Crowther’s Digital Shipbuilding solution?   

The solution helps Incat Crowther to manage all the processes involved in designing, building, maintaining and upgrading a vessel from conception to the end of its service life, ensuring we deliver the best possible value to clients. The key feature is that we can create a comprehensive 3D digital model of a ship, comprising all its structural parts, mechanical and systems components, and associated data.  

Of course, the shipbuilding process also involves concept development, commercial relationships, costing, commercial guarantees, quality management, document management, trials, delivery, maintenance, refits and upgrades and other matters. Digital Shipbuilding brings all these capabilities together in one system. 

Why did you develop the solution?  

Incat Crowther regularly manages projects that involve delivering multiple like-for-like ferries that can be constructed and operated consistently. This can be challenging if we have tight time frames and a limited number of skilled labourers, or if we’re sourcing parts for the vessels from several shipyards in different locations. Digital Shipbuilding was initially developed to address these challenges, but we soon realised that it also offered many other benefits.  

In today’s interconnected world, it’s possible – and often desirable – to construct vessels a long way from home at shipyards that have a concentrated pool of capable labourers, or where shipbuilding costs are lower. Consequently, we expanded the solution to include features that enable us to deliver quality, consistency and great shipbuilding outcomes in more locations and remain highly competitive. We’ll continue to develop innovative bespoke designs to meet customers’ specific needs, and then use Digital Shipbuilding to de-risk and control the design and construction process. 

Can you outline the benefits of designing and building a ferry using Digital Shipbuilding rather than traditional processes? 

Digital Shipbuilding enables us to rigorously control construction and quality management processes, as well as the weight of the vessels, to ensure they will perform as expected. Consequently, we can build technically complex vessels in more diverse locations, while ensuring a high level of consistency and quality across all the ships – whether they’re constructed at the same time or in phases. Importantly, we’re also able to give the operator greater visibility throughout the project. Plus, the data is more reliable and accessible, allowing us to accurately plan maintenance, upgrades and refits.  

How can digital ship models help Incat Crowther plan for future vessel upgrades? 

It’s almost impossible to see what’s coming down the track. Ten years ago, we may not have predicted that operators would be rapidly electrifying their vessels or ordering ferries that can be powered by LNG or hydrogen fuel. However, if we’d had Digital Shipbuilding back then, it may have been possible for us to integrate today’s technologies into existing vessels now. Our digital ship models will better prepare us for dealing with whatever the future may bring. 

What role did Digital Shipbuilding play in developing New York City’s first city-wide ferry system in more than 100 years?  

Since 2017, NYC Ferry has taken delivery of 42 ships in four design variants from five different shipyards. It would have been very difficult to carry out a project of this scale and produce such a large fleet in a short time frame without our Digital Shipbuilding solution – we certainly wouldn’t have achieved the same high level of commonality across the vessels. Now that these vessels are in service, we’re learning new lessons and improving elements of the design. The latest ferry features small enhancements from its predecessors, and we’ve incorporated each change into the digital ship model so we can use the data to perform the same upgrades on the older vessels during their annual dry docks. The digital model will support all 42 vessels throughout their predicted 25-year service lives.  

Is Incat Crowther currently using the solution for any other passenger vessel projects?   

During the pandemic, Digital Shipbuilding has allowed us to overcome travel restrictions and get on with the job, which would have been challenging if we were following the traditional shipbuilding model. We’re working on several projects involving city-based ferries with electrical propulsion, so we’re using Digital Shipbuilding to monitor their complex machinery spaces. We’re also using it to support multiple one-off projects in Asia. We’ll see the fruits of this with deliveries in 2022.

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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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
19 November 2021

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