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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > Faster ships, faster shipbuilding for Europe
Graphic element Faster ships, faster shipbuilding for Europe

European shipyards are locked in a fierce battle with shipyards in other parts of the world where labour costs and other overheads are lower. To compete successfully, EU shipbuilders must speed up production times, become more efficient and cut costs. To help the industry harness new technologies and improve its expertise all areas of the process the European Commission is backing the Competitive Engineering and Production in Shipbuilding (CEPS) thematic network.

The CEPS project co-ordinator is Patrick Person of Alstohm Chantiers de l'Atlantique, the yard in western France that won the contract to build the new Queen Mary cruise liner. He has no doubt about the most important challenge facing European shipyards. "Improving our competitiveness is the over-riding priority. To do this, we need techniques to improve our lead time and cut costs."

As a result, the CEPS is examining the current state of EU shipbuilding to find the gaps in European expertise. The state-of-the-art review divided shipbuilding into its two main areas: engineering and design and improving materials and production methods, and set up small teams from the participating companies to examine individual topics in both.

Why a thematic network?

CEPS operates through a thematic network, a mechanism for recruiting the expertise of companies and research organisations in a specific industry to identify significant future research needs. The network was established under the Fourth Framework programme in November 1998, and has three years to complete its task with a budget of nearly 1 million. When needs are identified, it formulates research projects to meet them, to submit to the various FP5 calls.

As the marine sector has to compete with road transport and railways for EU funding, the use of a thematic network has proved very effective in co-ordinating project submission, targeting the most useful research projects and gaining funding. The first CEPS objective was to submit as many projects as possible under FP5. About 40 projects were proposed of which 25% have been accepted.

Engineering and design

The engineering and design area is led by Chantiers de l'Atlantique, assisted by Italian shipyard Fincantieri. Highlights include:

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) continually evolves safety rules for ships through a process of international consultation. It can take several years before the rules it proposes are adopted, so naval architects can work on ways to prevent increased IMO safety requirements from leading to massively increased costs at shipyards. Three CEPS projects concern the effects of new IMO rules on shipbuilding:

Crashworthy side structures for improved collision damage survivability of coasters and medium-sized ro-ro (roll-on, roll-off) cargo ships

Under the 1998 IMO resolution A.684(17), ships between 80- and 100-m long must have a good probability of survival when struck by another ship. Conventional design to assure this survivability could have adverse effects on the operational range and even the safety of ships of this size. The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) is looking at the crashworthiness of side structures of ships in the CRASH COASTER project with the aim of introducing the crash resistance of materials into the ship design process. The need for conventional survivability measures could then be reduced as far as possible.

Design for safety: ship fire engineering analysis toolkit

The IMO is also developing new rules for fire-protection design. As well as traditional prescriptive design rules, IMO will permit a new approach based on 'fire-risk analysis'. Under this approach, a design that does not comply exactly with the design rules will still be permitted if the analysis shows that it is equally safe. In the SAFETY FIRST project, Fincantieri is leading a team compiling a reliable 'toolkit' for fire-risk assessment for ships by 2002, when the new rules enter into force. This will enable European yards and ship owners to take instant advantage of the new safety regulations.

Harmonisation of rules and design rationale

Det Norske Veritas is leading a project to harmonise the rules and design rationale behind the proposed IMO damage stability regulations that are based on a probabilistic approach. The HARDER project will be a concerted effort at European level to address the worrying lack of rationale in the choice of parameters to be considered and poor consistency in the results of calculations based on them.

Other projects in the design area are looking at a model-based integrated ship design process to develop an overall design methodology, and a functional design process to replace the slow 'trial and error' methods that reduce competitiveness.

  Improving materials and production methods

The fabrication and production area is also led by Chantiers de l'Atlantique, assisted by Odense Steel Shipyard of Denmark. Its four key areas are:

1. General production technologies, piloted by Odense
2. Quality assurance and quality control concepts and methods, led by German shipyard Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft (FSG)
3. New processes and materials, led by The Welding Institute of the UK
4. Computer integrated manufacturing logistics in shipbuilding, also led by FSG.

There are two subsidiary thematic areas:

  • Concurrent engineering and multi-site production, led by Odense
  • Application of IT and computer technology, led by Astilleros Espaņoles, now part of IZAR Construcciones Navales.

Projects underway in the fabrication and production area include:

High-tensile steel in fast ship structures

High-tensile steel has potential for building high-speed ships because structures can be lighter in weight without loss of strength. In the FASDHTS project, TNO is investigating the possibility of a new generation of fast, large mono-hull vessels made from HTS 690 grade steel. The goal is to develop new structural concepts for cost-efficient vessels longer than 150m, with a speed of 50 knots. The ambitious targets are to reduce ship weight by 40%, construction time and cost by up to 20%, CO2 emissions by 15% and operating costs by 30%. Necessary tools will be new joining techniques and new maintenance, inspection and corrosion protection systems.

Shipbuilding, low-cost, versatile and safe welding by the YAG laser

The SHIPYAG project aims to develop a solid state (YAG) laser for welding in shipbuilding. Present gas-based lasers, which transmit the laser light by mirrors, are expensive and inflexible in use. Fincantieri, manager of the project, will use optical fibre transmission to produce a compact, flexible laser welding system suitable for robotic application. Its more efficient use of the laser energy should enable medium to thick steel plates to be welded in shipyards, with savings of 6 to 8% of hull fabrication costs.

The YAG laser project is one of a cluster on joining for shipbuilding, which include the use of adhesives - such as the BONDSHIP project being led by Det Norske Veritas. A big advantage of gluing is that it takes place at ambient temperature, whereas the heat of welding can produce distortions in steel. It can also be used to join novel materials such as composites and innovative designs such as corrugated steel that is strong but light in weight.

Developing low density steel sandwich materials

Another new lightweight material is the steel sandwich. The 'filling' in the sandwich is a low density material, usually a composite. The SANDWICH project, which has 13 European partners, is developing such materials for a wide range of transport uses including shipbuilding. Their advantages include savings of space and weight, noise and vibration reduction, fire safety, crash worthiness and corrosion resistance. The project will test sample sandwiches and collect performance data to produce a design tool that can be used to formulate tailor-made products for specific applications.

  Second round of project applications

The CEPS thematic network has been hard at work during the first part of 2000 preparing research proposals for the second round of FP5. Another 40 or so proposals were submitted at the end of March 2000, and an announcement of the successful projects is expected in the summer of 2000.

  Participants in the CEPS thematic network

Participants in the CEPS thematic network
Shipyards, research organisations and classification societies participating in CEPS include:

FP5 national contact points can give details of present and future CEPS projects.
Why a thematic network?
Engineering and design
Improving materials and production methods
Second round of project applications
Participants in the CEPS thematic network

Key data

The Competitive Engineering and Production in Shipbuilding (CEPS) thematic network, within the Land transport and marine technologies key action, aims to encourage the development of new techniques to speed up production in European shipbuilding. It involves all the major EU shipyards, several ship classification societies and university departments with strong marine interests. This thematic network is looking at: engineering and design; fabrication and production; concurrent engineering and multi-site production; and the application of IT and computer technology. Projects under way within CEPS include:

CRASH COASTER - developing crashworthy side structures for improved collision damage survivability
SAFETY FIRST - improving ship fire-risk analysis
HARDER - harmonising rules and design rationale to meet IMO damage-stability regulations
FASDHTS - developing high-tensile steel for new generation fast mono-hull vessels
SHIPYAG - shipbuilding, low-cost, versatile and safe welding by the YAG laser
SANDWICH - developing advanced composite sandwich steel for transport use.

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