By Alex Binkley

Davie Inc. is looking for ways to deliver quality ships at lower costs by focusing on what its workforce can do best, and hiring subcontractors for the rest, says John Schmidt, Vice President, Commercial. The current iteration of the shipyard at Levis, Que. was incorporated two years with 35 employees, Schmidt reminded the Shipbuilding Technology Forum. It now has about 1,000 on the payroll and a group of contractors it will employ in future business.

Schmidt began his presentation with a video about the Cecon Pride, a multipurpose construction and offshore vessel that was delivered by the yard to its Norwegian owners this year. “It is the largest, most complex ship exported from Canada in 20 years.” It showed that Canadian companies could build state-of-the-art ships.

While he mostly talked about the challenge of coming up with competitive bids for new ships, he urged the nearly 200 delegates to support a strong voice for Canadian shipbuilding and the marine industry. If the government maintains the import duty on ships under 130 metres in length, “then we have a chance to build specialty ships for export markets.” As for preparing a bid on a shipbuilding contract, Schmidt acknowledged there the process “contains a bit of black art.” Builders develop proposals that allocate 40 per cent of their price to cover of labour with the rest going for materials.

An example of the changes Davie has made is to subcontract the insulating of ships, which is a speciality its workers aren’t experts in, he added. The company plans to talk to its employees about the reasons for greater use of contractors.

Davie has won two contracts recently that will keep its workforce busy for months. It will be conducting repair and maintenance on CSL’s Baie St. Paul in the New Year and a life extension work on the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Des Groseilliers. Davie has also signed an agreement with Aecon Atlantic of Pictou to work together “to compete internationally in the ship export market.”

Jason Aspin, CEO of Aspin Kemp & Associates, a Canadian systems integration company, told the conference that builders need to keep investigating the potential application of new technologies to their industry. He cited the response to the offshore exploration industry’s request for more reliable power plants in their ships. “There was no silver bullet in this challenge,” he said. “It took a lot of subtle changes to deliver the reliability they wanted. At the same time, more technology doesn’t mean higher reliability. It can be more complex and less flexible.”

Canada could be a leader in shipbuilding “by not following the status quo approach in the industry. We have to learn how to change.” The federal shipbuilding program “gives us a chance to get all the stakeholders together to develop new technologies that will give us an attractive capability. We just have to push ourselves because problems in ships are not always what they seem.”

Alain Bovis, President of Innovis, a French R&D consulting company, said shipbuilding “is among the most complex pieces of human engineering, especially submarines. The design is the ultimate output of a comprehensive research and development process.”

Builders aim to avoid cost overruns and delays, and new technologies help meet those objectives and also requests for last minute variations in the design. Ship data management systems have also become increasing complex as the tasks and size of ships evolve, he said. Builders “have to make sure all the systems work across the ship. It is important to have partnerships with industry and universities to make sure all these systems can work together.”

Paul Barbeau, principal naval architect with Navtech, said the art of ship design has been changed remarkably by new technologies including CAD, simulation tools and virtual 3D ship modeling. “The current state of the industry is beyond anyone’s dreams.”

The new technologies “have allowed for careful management of projects to control costs. There are fewer designers and builders and they are expected to keep doing more with less.” The relentless advance of technology “creates permanent pressure for innovation to provide a competitive edge.” Naval architects will always be needed for ship design and there is no need to fear automated ship design technology, he pointed out. “It should be seen as a tool for better design.” The industry also has to cope with the loss “of traditional skills in terms of design and building,” he added. “As well, the shipbuilding industry isn’t attracting much interest from students because there are fewer projects and less steady employment compared to many other trades.”

Randy Frank, Director of Research & Development with 3M Canada, urged the conference to look at combining multiple technologies to tackle industrial challenges. Shipbuilders should “harness the power of technology to drive their operations. He said his company’s wide array of products could offer “all sorts of ideas to shipbuilders.” The company’s LED lighting system could be used on ships reducing weight and increasing durability.

Norm Duinker, Operations Manager East for SNC-Lavalin Defence Programs Inc. urged builders to improve the amount of building information they provide customers before the ship goes into service, to enable the owners to plan its life cycle maintenance and repair regime.

Davie’s Schmidt said the industry has to “debunk the myth that yards buy the work.” A builder has to take a cold hard look at how much it needs the business and which companies it might be competing against.” As part of bidding on a contract, Schmidt urged builders to talk with potential contractors well ahead of time to help create the winning conditions. Steelwork is the biggest cost in a shipyard so “a builder has to be able to lower that cost if it’s going be more competitive.” The answer seems to lie to in concentrating on the welding process, he suggested. The second largest cost is the piping and cabling required in a new ship. To control that expense, a well-planned building process is needed to reduce waste and the required installation time.

Machinery and propulsion systems in a ship are another major cost item and are areas where contractors could play a useful role in cutting expenses, he noted. This is also part of the building process where the owner has to be supplied with as much detail as possible to be able to maintain the ship in service for as long as possible.