The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has made a binding partnership with Digitread on a research project, the purpose of which is to make Norwegian shipbuilding more internationally competitive.

The research project at NTNU is aimed at the design and production of aluminum vessels. “If we are to produce this type of vessels in Norway which will enable us to compete on a global stage at the Norwegian cost level, we will be completely reliant on automating the processes. As such, this means using robot welding”, explains Olav Egeland, professor at the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at NTNU.
Welding aluminum is far more demanding than steel welding, and while the automotive industry has been working on robotizing this type of production for a long time, the same has not happened in the shipping sector.
“The automotive industry is characterized by the fact that they produce many similar units of each product. Hence, they can spend a lot of resources on automated processes to produce in minute detail. In shipbuilding, on the other hand, the series are small, and often there is only one ship of each type produced. This challenge means that we need to find far more effective ways to specify how the robots perform the welding”, he continues.

Professor at the Department of Mechanical
and Industrial Engineering at NTNU

Professor at the Department of Mechanical
and Industrial Engineering at NTNU

Standardized basic solutions
Hydro, one of the largest partners in this project, produce a wide range of standardized ship panels. These panels can be dimensioned as needed and welded together to different hulls. Hydro has also created an online configurator which is to be integrated into the CAD system.
“This means that boat designers will be able to quickly tailor Hydro panels based on parameterized CAD models and DNV GL rules, as well as specify how the panels will be placed and welded together to create complete hulls”, says Terje Rølvåg who is also a professor at the same department at NTNU.
The professors point out that there are many issues related to this, issues that include how the ships must be designed and manufactured to achieve the right weight, strength and stability.
“Lowering production costs is absolutely crucial since the shipping industry is very exposed to competition. By using the prefabricated panels from Hydro we get a rational and rule-based way of building hulls. Hence, we will not have to start from scratch every single time. We are also researching methods for forming curved panels with integrated struts”.

A competence project for the business community
The project is a so-called “Competence project for the business community”, where the Research Council of Norway is a major contributor. The purpose of this type of project is to contribute to business-oriented research education and long-term competence building in Norwegian research environments. Such projects are based on identified needs for new knowledge among Norwegian companies. Around NOK 18 million has been invested in this project of which 80 per cent is financed by the Norwegian Research Council and the other 20 per cent by partners from the business sector.

A natural partner
Digitread has both personnel and software that cover the entire development of automated ship design, thus they were a natural partner for NTNU in this project. Today, Digitread systems are also used in teaching CAD at NTNU Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

Important for the Norwegian shipping industry
“The overall goal of our project is to bolster ship production in Norway. This way of thinking should not only apply to those who produce larger vessels, but also to those who produce smaller boats. Many manufacturers of small boats struggle financially, and much of this can be put down to the fact that they do not cooperate on designing and producing the hulls. The smartest thing would be if they were to standardize a selection of different hulls and rather made their own variants based on these. In the past there were 18 engine manufacturers in Norway. Today, there is only one left which can be put down to high levels of competition and lack of cooperation. Norwegian boat manufacturers are struggling for the same reasons. This is why this project is so important”, concludes Rølvåg.

The project starts in the summer, will last for four years and will form part of the postgraduate studies of four PhD students and several master’s students at NTNU.

PUBLISHED: January 31st 2019