Parts of the shipbuilding sector has for many years used robots for tasks such as welding and blasting, things that industrial robotic arms are particularly good at.
There has also been a type of exoskeleton developed for shipbuilding work which is worn by workers to help with heavy lifting to reduce the physical stress of what can be a demanding job.
But shipbuilding remains a human labour-intensive sector, and companies are looking to increase their utilisation of robotics and automation technologies.
Two of the companies which are leading the way – at least in terms of research and development – are Daewoo and Hyundai, both of which are among the largest shipbuilders in the world.
According to Marine Insight, the top 10 largest shipbuilders in the world in terms of gross tonnage, or amount of ships built, are:
- Hyundai Heavy Industries
- Daewoo Shipbuilding
- Samsung Heavy Industries
- Hyundai Samho
- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
- Tsuneishi Shipbuilding
- Oshima Shipbuilding
- Hyundai Mipo
- Imbari Shipbuilding
- Shanghai Waigaoqiao
Of these, Hyundai is particularly interesting to this website because it also makes industrial robotic arms.
In fact, towards the end of last year, Hyundai spun out its robotics division and aims to become one of the top robot manufacturers in the world.
Mitsubishi also makes industrial robots, and it’s actually one of the largest producers in the world – at number eight on the Robotics and Automation News list of largest industrial robot manufacturers.
However, despite their success as robot suppliers, apparently they don’t use as much robotics and automation in shipbuilding as one might imagine.
A recent report on KoreaBizwire.com suggested that Hyundai Heavy Industries “will use robots to build ships for the first time”.
The website said Hyundai had recently completed testing of a robotic system that “automatically shapes a vessel’s 3D curved surface” at its shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea.
This would be quite a technical achievement given that some of the larger vessels are 400 metres in length.
It would have to be a very large robot to deal with each individual piece, and indeed it is. (See main picture, courtesy of the Yonhap News Agency.)
Business Standard reports that the Hyundai shipbuilding robot 670 kilograms in weight and can curve and weld steel pieces for the ship by connecting remotely to the computers on which the design software is running.
Clearly, the design would have to be ultra-precise in order that all the pieces fit together perfectly.
Meanwhile, Daewoo is said to be using a smaller robot to weld parts together for smaller vessels.
These are relatively early days for robots in shipbuilding, whereas, in the automotive manufacturing industry, the vast majority of production is either entirely or in large part robotic.
The transformation is probably also driven by advances in information technology. An increasing number of manufacturers are finding the industrial internet of things is creating new opportunities – both in terms of finding efficiencies in production and also enabling add-on services after products are sold.
Meyer Werft, another large shipbuilder, has recently awarded a company called CGI an IT modernisation contract to help advance the shipbuilder’s global growth strategy.
CGI’s work will support Meyer Werft in expanding its business through modernisation on both the production and IT sides, as well as through ongoing digitalisation.
Dr Paul Meyer, CIO of Meyer Werft, says: “Our partnership with CGI is the cornerstone of our IT strategy, supporting not only IT-related work, but also investments in plant and machinery and laying the foundation for future digitalization projects.
“CGI will support us technologically in building a modern infrastructure for our new systems, as well as ensuring the business continuity of our legacy systems, which to a large extent still run the business.”
As part of its work, CGI will leverage its proven automation tools to drive efficiency and reliability, providing a stable and flexible platform for future operations.
The new agreement with Meyer Werft also offers CGI the opportunity to expand its work through additional projects.
CGI’s local proximity, global delivery and operational excellence will be key success factors in helping Meyer Werft pursue global expansion.
CGI will work closely with Meyer Werft in Germany, Finland and around the world to deliver a seamless service.
CGI’s Torsten Strass, senior vice-president in Germany, says: “CGI’s local industry expertise, combined with our global insight, puts us in a great position to assist Meyer Werft in fulfilling its long-term strategy.
“We look forward to supporting Meyer Werft in its transformation program.”