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Floorganise participates in
shared fabrication facility

Robotization for a future-proof Northern shipbuilding industry

The province of Groningen is granting the Groninger Maritime Board (GMB) Foundation a 250,000 euro subsidy for the feasibility study 'Shared Facility for the Northern Netherlands shipbuilding industry'. This project investigates how robotization can be applied in the northern shipbuilding industry to improve the productivity of the entire chain. The future of the northern shipbuilding industry is under pressure and orders are being lost due to excessive costs. Collaboration is essential for preserving the maritime sector and employment in the Northern Netherlands. The outcome of the project should be the deciding factor for the construction of the robotics facility.

Floorganise particpates in all R&D aspects of this project to add to the feasibility of the intended outcome; a shared fabrication facility. For this purpose we are developing new capabilities within our Shipyard-MES Floor2Plan.

Non-profit cooperation for a positive social impulse

The Northern maritime sector has always managed to occupy a unique position in the global maritime sector by entering into strategic partnerships, such as Conoship (1952) and Centraalstaal (1972). Based on the cooperative idea of ​​all Northern shipyards, both initiatives ensured a period of prosperity for the Northern shipbuilding and shipping industry.

Fifty years after Groningen and Frisian Conoship yards started working together with computer-controlled steel cutting, there are now great opportunities for the joint production of micropanels in a central robotized 'Shared Facility' for the efficient production of the ship hulls at the individual yards.

From part to micropanel to section
From part to micropanel to section

Cost reduction for Northern Netherlands Shipbuilding

The Groninger Maritime Board has taken the initiative to analyze, stimulate and support cooperation in the chain with new impetus and focused on the future of the shipbuilding sector in the North of the Netherlands. Due to global developments in recent decades, the European shipbuilding sector is in danger of losing its position. The Northern maritime sector, where almost the entire chain in the region is represented, has a major interest in the development and efficiency improvement of this sector. The importance of this is recognized by everyone. The collaboration in the chain to implement the necessary innovations, aimed at sustainable growth towards the leading position of the sector at an international level, is essential!

This 'Shared Facility' innovation project is directly based on the findings and recommendations from the 'Inventory study cost reduction in Northern Netherlands Shipbuilding', into the current situation and future ambitions of the Northern maritime industry. This research was carried out in 2019 by Conoship International and Marstrat in collaboration with the companies in the sector, on behalf of the Groninger Maritime Board, supported by the Province of Groningen.

Feasibility study robotization and automation

One of the main conclusions of the aforementioned Inventory Study is that a significant efficiency improvement is within reach, amounting to 30% per 'kg ready-ship hull'.

Automated processes

The 'Shared Facility' project consists of various applications: from automated assembly of steel plates and profiles, to welding micropanels together in a central robot line, the 'Shared Facility'. Automated processes improve quality and shorten lead times, so that more ships can be built per yard every year. This increases employment in shipbuilding and among suppliers. Geert Huizinga, FME director, states: “With the 'Smart Industry' program we are strongly committed to smart production lines through digitization and robotization in the chain. With a shared facility in the shipbuilding sector, we can further shape this and strengthen our competitive position.”

Innovation and sustainable construction

Fifty years after Groningen and Frisian Conoship yards started working together with computer-controlled steel cutting, there are now great opportunities for the joint production of micropanels in a central robotized 'Shared Facility' for the ship hulls at the individual yards. This will also make the efficient construction of sustainable ships possible more quickly. “In conjunction with a more efficient production chain and the local development of CO2 reduction technology, a major replacement demand can be foreseen for innovative fossil-free and low-emission ships that can be built in the Northern Netherlands instead of in China,” says Guus van der Bles. , director of development Conoship International.

Improving the competitive position of the Northern Netherlands maritime manufacturing industry

The application of robotization and automation is necessary to improve the competitive position of the manufacturing industry in the north of the Netherlands on the global playing field, thus creating more employment opportunities. There are a number of important points for attention within this project:

1. An integrated approach

The shipbuilding industry has a relatively large share of companies that are specialized in producing customer-specific and modular solutions, with small runs per product. Robotizing section construction requires an integrated approach and is therefore less easy to apply at the moment. This is in contrast to the production of large series of products designed for automation, such as in the automotive industry. 

It requires a culture change from design with the digital CAD system up to and including delivery of the hull, in which thinking no longer specifically for the company's process step, but generically about the process steps in the entire shipbuilding chain, in order to realize the significant savings over the to achieve the whole process. A certain degree of standardization of the processes is of great importance here.

Once this threshold has been met, each participant in the chain will reap the benefits of the added value and the improvement in efficiency that this transition provides for the shipbuilding industry in the North of the Netherlands.

2. Tight labor market

The aging population, the low recruitment of young people and the scarcity of experienced workers pose a serious risk to the sector. The integral application of robots means that the older employee can use the experience, but that they do not have to put a lot of strain on the body. 

Moreover, digital and automated production techniques can be used to attract and train a new generation of professionals. In this way, both groups can achieve higher quality and productivity for the company.

3. Artificial Intelligence

The better use of digital data is also central to the robotics theme. The advance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the chain leads to more insight and better control of the information in the chain.

The Inventory Study indicates the added value of making better use of the available digital information in, among other things, the current CAD/CAE/CAM system CADMATIC. This system contains the complete digital model of the new ship to be built, the 'Product Digital Twin'. Production information can be generated from this model, with which not only cutting machines can be controlled, but also automated systems such as welding robots and collaborative robots, in short Cobots (robots cooperating with humans).

Within the project it has now been made possible to generate the product information required for the manufacture of micropanels from the model.

It is anticipated that digital product information will eventually be used in such a way that new digital production processes will also be developed, tested and controlled in a virtual environment. By applying AI, a self-learning production process can then be built, increasing the predictability of numbers and quality even further.  

Positive social impulse

The project has a broad social and economic impact. In the first instance, it is about maintaining employment in the sector and improving the competitive position of the shipbuilding industry in the North of the Netherlands. The application of micropanels from the Shared Facility offers the shipyards the opportunity to build more ships per year with the same number of employees. A large number of suppliers are active in and on every ship under construction, including for the installation of engine room installations and electrical systems, ventilation systems and the application of insulation. Therefore, for more ships per year per yard, more employees are needed at the builders, painters, carpenters, etc. and employment increases there.

The logistics sector, machine builders and training institutes will also notice the positive effect of this. It is therefore about a broad improvement in employment and the concept also extends beyond the Northern Netherlands. In the future, it can also be translated to other sectors such as yacht building. The expected growth in employment in the Northern Netherlands Maritime ecosystem is between 350 and 400 FTE. From a social point of view, digitization and robotization also attract the younger generation, who are thus again becoming interested in the maritime sector.

In summary, the 'Shared facility' project provides a positive social impulse for the Northern Netherlands.

The feasibility study into the 'Shared Facility' will be completed in mid-2022.