Bolstering Competitiveness Through Innovation

Tan Ching Eng

Chief Technology Officer, Environment Engineering Service, Engineering Design Centre, ST Engineering

The requirements for higher vessel performance and lower lifecycle costs have spurred shipbuilders towards greater innovation. We have invited Mr Tan Ching Eng, Chief Technology Officer, to talk about the R&D initiatives taken to boost competitiveness.

Q: What technologies or features are today’s customers looking for in new vessels?

In today’s challenging marine environment, most of our customers are facing budget constraints amidst ever-increasing operational demands. Besides aesthetically sleeker vessel designs, customers are looking for smarter features that can achieve better performance, reduce life cycle costs in areas such as manning and fuel consumption, and provide good aftersales support.

These days, it is no longer enough to offer just periodic or corrective maintenance for some customers. With the emergence of big data and artificial intelligence, there is a growing expectation for predictive maintenance to reduce cost and vessel downtime. Proprietary ship management systems that deliver to these requirements are a key feature in our new generation vessels. We’ve been investing in R&D and innovation to create value for our customers.

Q: What are some of the key innovations and why are they unique?

We’ve been developing advanced hull forms for frigates, corvettes and offshore patrol vessels since 2002. A well-designed and efficient hull form provides the basis for good vessel performance. We have incorporated innovations like an improved shape, a wave-piercing bulbous bow and a built-in ducktail concept into the hull design. These were considered uncommon for fast displacement naval vessels, but they have since demonstrated to reduce drag and improve propulsion efficiency.

A modified version of our advanced hull form was adopted for the Royal Navy of Oman’s Al-Ofouq class patrol vessels. This enabled us to exceed the customer’s stringent requirements for higher speed performance with reduced fuel consumption. The Deep-V hull form design improves the seakeeping qualities for enhanced crew comfort and improved combat system performance.

For high-speed interceptor craft, we researched the possibilities of implementing air cavity into advanced planning hull forms. Model tests showed that our newly developed air cavity hull form can either reduce the engine brake power by some 15% or improve the speed by about five knots for a 17-metre interceptor craft.

More recent innovations include the highly automated Littoral Mission Vessels (LMV) for the Republic of Singapore Navy. LMVs feature a state-of-the-art Integrated Bridge Platform Management System (IBPMS) with combined Bridge, Combat Information Centre and Machinery Control Room. Equipped with powerful sensors and software algorithms handling several thousands of input and output points, the IBPMS monitors and controls all shipboard systems and machinery, including functionality, safety and security. As a result, the LMV can be operated with a very lean crew. The Quick Launch and Recovery System on board the LMV is another innovation and the first of its kind. It is able to automatically launch and recover Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats and other assets without the use of a conventional winch in open seas.

We’re applying these R&D successes into future naval vessels, which will apply a concept of “One Design, Multiple Classes and Modular Capabilities”. The ship is designed with an optimised baseline hull form, equipped with hybrid propulsion systems, commonality engineering and machinery for higher propulsion efficiency, faster speeds, better firepower and lower equipment running hour. The idea is to meet customers’ operational requirements with a leaner crew and lower lifecycle cost, while enabling vessels to be out at sea for longer periods of deployment away from the home port.

Q: How do you manage the innovation culture and how has the R&D process evolved over the years?

Changes in the industry have affected the conduct of product development and R&D. As a shipyard with both defence and commercial clientele, we’ve had the added advantage to tap into dual-use technologies – which means applying more cost-effective commercial solutions into naval platforms, and naval solutions into commercial ships, as and when required.

We’re constantly monitoring the customers’ needs and technology trends in the quest to drive innovation. Demand for higher operation and technical (ops/tech) integration and shorter time to market have spurred greater collaboration and investments in R&D and technologies. We have progressively invested in a range of engineering competencies and design tools, such as Computational Fluid Dynamics, Stealth and Digital Ship Twin capability, amongst others, to enhance our capabilities. Take the Digital Ship Twin for example, by creating a digital twin of a vessel prior to its construction, we’re effectively enhancing the quality of system design while optimising engineering and reducing material and construction costs.

We have over 80 engineers in our Engineering Design Centre in Singapore, including specialists with post-graduate degrees and many years of hands-on experience. We also work with our US colleagues at VT Halter Marine to share ideas and engineering best practices, and have joined forces on occasions to bid for projects or develop new concepts. Through our R&D Committee and ST Engineering’s Communities of Practice, we have access to larger platforms for innovation and collaboration with local and overseas Institutes of Higher Learning, research centres, design consultants, ship owners, equipment suppliers and even shipyards. We organise competitions and workshops, and give awards and recognitions to cultivate innovations.

Q: Where do you see yourself bringing a competitive advantage?

First and foremost, our deep experience in shipbuilding and shiprepair enables us to evaluate the full spectrum of the customer’s operations. Oftentimes, we’re able to help customers improve on vessel specifications to achieve the desired parameters. When we were contracted to design and build the City of Hamburg, a Roll-on/Roll-off vessel for the transport of large Airbus A380 modules, we offered detailed technical advice on how to optimise the vessel design to meet the speed and deadweight requirements. This gave the customer a greater sense of confidence and we were entrusted with a separate contract to design and construct the Roll-on/Roll-off passenger vessel.

The heavy fire vessel (HFV) for the Singapore Civil Defence Force is another recent achievement. Entirely designed and developed in-house, it is the most cutting-edge HFV at present. Incorporating dual-use technologies, the HFV delivers the required specifications with lower fuel consumption and lifecycle costs using smaller engines. It also offers higher speed and fire-fighting power, greater automation and lower manning requirements.

We’re also delivering value through our Vanguard series of future naval vessels mentioned above.

Q: What do you foresee as the landscape for the next 10 years, and what are you working on now to cater for the future?

With growing competition from the regional and global market, the landscape for ST Engineering is likely to be fast changing and challenging. It would be crucial to stay innovative and collaborative, and be able to provide a one-stop solution as well as total lifecycle support in the niche market. We will also continue to develop new capabilities and competencies to address customer requirements.

We are working on a few key innovations for the future. Firstly, we want to build smartness into our platforms through our NERVA Ship Management and Sensemaking Systems that would not only enable lean manning through automation, but also provide big data analytics to support predictive analytics, sensemaking and decision-making.

We also aim to adopt multi-mission platforms for naval and commercial applications with the modular payload to be carried at the mission space to achieve plug-and-play capability. Thirdly, we want to develop our capabilities in long-endurance unmanned systems, robotics, lightweight material and other similar technologies.

Last, but not least, we are looking into green and energy saving innovations such as hybrid propulsion, advanced DC power system and the dual-fuel LNG electric propulsion system. We need to be able to identify our customer’s needs as well as industry and technology trends, be cost effective, and create value in added services. We need to differentiate ourselves from our competitors to stay ahead of the competition.

First published in

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