Geert Schouten, Director of Shipbuilder; Source: Shipbuilder

Shipbuilder: Cutting down construction risks for offshore vessels with digitalization

In a constantly evolving world that is striving to transform itself and innovate, digital technologies play a crucial role in shaping new opportunities for businesses and the economy. With digitalization measures in place, companies can curb costs and lessen the risks involved in a particular project. Therefore, the director of the Netherlands-based Shipbuilder is convinced that companies can steer clear of a big chunk of risks involved in the construction of vessels that serve the offshore energy industry if they put digitalization to good use.

Geert Schouten, Director of Shipbuilder; Source: Shipbuilder

While the construction of all offshore vessels tends to be a complex undertaking, Shipbuilder is adamant that 30% of the risks involved in such projects can be avoided straight away with the right digital tools. Within the offshore energy industry, some vessels are primarily used for the oil and gas industry while others are also employed or specifically designed for renewable energy projects.

There are different types of offshore vessels: a platform supply vessel (PSV), rig support vessel, anchor handling tug supply (AHTS), multi-purpose support vessel (MPSV), construction support vessel (CSV), diving support vessel (DSV), inspection, maintenance and repair (IMR) vessel, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), survey/seismic vessel, heavy lift vessel, pipe-lay/cable-lay vessel, dredging vessel, accommodation vessel, crane vessel, well intervention vessel, drillship, floating, production storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel, commissioning service operation vessel (CSOV), service operation vessel (SOV), etc.

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The list of vessels used for the offshore energy industry seems almost endless, as various types of ships are needed to service offshore platforms and subsea installations not only from the beginning of a project but also throughout its lifetime. However, these are all complex vessels and often one-offs, according to Shipbuilder, which explains that it is not always possible to build the next vessel based on the knowledge of previous ships as innovations within the sector need to be developed and incorporated into newbuilds in line with market needs.

Commenting on the construction of new vessels, Geert Schouten, Director of Shipbuilder, remarked: “The risks of new construction projects for these types of ships are huge as they involve many hundreds of millions. At the same time, I still see far too much hand work in these kinds of projects, like entering and managing requirements in Excel files, which implies enormous risks and additional work that can be avoided.”

The risks that come with new vessel construction projects are something that was discussed at length during Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference (OEEC) not just in 2023 but also in 2022 and during previous events. While highlighting the upswing in activity in the offshore wind arena along with the upscaling trend for turbines last year at OEEC 2022, Arnoud Kuis, Van Oord’s Managing Director Offshore Wind, underscored the need for certainty that a project would be developed, as one of the key drivers required for further innovation in the supply chain.

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Along these lines, Mark Couwenberg, Product Manager Offshore Wind Support Vessels at Damen, emphasized at the time that a dedicated installation vessel, different from those used in the oil and gas industry, would be needed once floating offshore wind projects pick up the pace. This type of vessel would need to be optimized for offshore wind installation and taking into consideration the ongoing decarbonization moves in the energy industry, such vessels would be full-electric crew transfer vessels (CTVs) and SOVs.

Damen has set the wheels in motion to prepare offshore support vessels (OSVs) for conversion to run on methanol and is also working on hydrogen as a fuel for ships while pursuing green steel for new vessels with low or zero carbon footprint. This is only a small part of what was discussed during the ‘Opportunities in Offshore Wind’ session at Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference 2022, which saw an interesting discussion about the supply chain and reaching increased offshore wind targets, with speakers from Van Oord and Damen providing insights from the offshore construction and vessel markets.

The trend was repeated during OEEC 2023, as the offshore wind supply chain got new ship designs, with Damen launching its SOV 7017 E – deemed the world’s first fully electric offshore wind service operations vessel – and GustoMSC presenting its Enhydra series, a modular service operations vessel (MSOV) designed specifically for the floating wind market. 

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While delving deeper into the ways to reduce risks during the construction of offshore vessels, Shilbuilder’s director first looks at the huge amount of data that is required to build a complex ship, which is circulating at shipyards before and during construction.

Geert explained: “Take a pipelayer, for example, a common ship in the oil and gas industry. Due to the complexity of a pipelayer, the documentation during construction consists of tens of thousands of documents and some of them easily contain 1,000 pages, including requirements and IO listings. In turn, these documents also refer to documents containing rules & regulations, standards and drawings.

“And speaking of the latter, a shipbuilding project like this easily has 15,000 drawings. Adding that up, such a complex project consists of 630 million data elements. Who will monitor this? Let me be clear: nobody can. It is naive to think that people will read all those pages without running a single risk. You need other solutions for such a project to be successful.”

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Shipbuilder’s director also takes note of the consistent provision of information and mentions drawing up a set of requirements of pipework, as an illustration, to hammer home the point that any inconsistencies in the documentation can lead to “avoidable failure costs.” This can also play a key role in whether a ship can be delivered “successfully and without additional work,” in Geert’s view.

Shipbuilder’s director outlined: “I regularly come across a requirement in the oil and gas sector such as: pipes should preferably be bent instead of using set-up bends. My first question is: what does ‘preferably’ mean? Does it have to do with a specific situation? And what kind of set-up bends are we exactly talking about if they are used anyway?

I could go on and on, and my list with questions would become infinite. In the end it may lead to a lot of problems, because a set of requirements of a pipework is only a small part of the total set of requirements of an offshore vessel.”

Digitalization bolsters innovation

While shedding light on solutions to avoid risks, Geert emphasizes that oil companies could take “a leaf out of the Dutch navy book,” since naval vessels are believed to be “extremely complex” ships, which come with high costs, thus, the construction risks are said to be enormous. However, digitalization helped the Dutch navy to come to grips with these risks.

While presenting Shipbuilder’s software created to help mitigate the risks, the firm’s director said: “With our shipbuilding software Shipbuilder, all data elements are linked. Inconsistencies are filtered and must be adjusted. This requires efforts at the front end and during construction which will largely pay off because the risks are immediately identified and can be eliminated at the front end. In my opinion, oil companies should immediately embrace such systems.

“What’s more, the use of digitalization enables them to work faster and develop more innovations. You can start simple by making document management and approval processes, data-driven. That alone provides huge benefits compared to using solutions such as Sharepoint or Excel.”

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Geert claims that the deployment of digitalization not only enables 30% fewer risks but also brings more innovations to the fore. Using its customer, Ulstein, to make its point, Shipbuilder’s director underlines that information stored in its software enables its client to draw up technical specifications in a few days, instead of weeks as was the case previously, since there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” with every project.

“Data is knowledge and making it centrally available for reuse saves a lot of time. At the same time, consistency increases to 100%. We also see that our users reduce the time to find the right information by 80%. The advantage is obvious. There is now time left to work on real innovations. So, there is good news for the oil and gas industry: companies that implement digitalization well, avoid risks and are more innovative at the same time,” concluded Geert.


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