Naval shipbuilding: a digital future in advanced manufacturing

The Australian delegation in Mobile, Alabama, with an Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship at Austal USA

Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

Victorian businesses are poised to capitalise on the next revolution in manufacturing, dubbed Industry 4.0.  

Manufacturing is going digital in a big way. And a recent program offered by the Victorian Government, called the Global Discovery Exchange, is helping Victorian manufacturers harness that trend by starting with an Exchange to the US, focusing on Industry 4.0 and Digital Shipyards.

The recent Exchange saw delegates from 11 Victorian-based organisations including advanced manufacturers, designers and researchers – plus defence heavyweight BAE Systems Australia and global shipbuilder Austal Australia – visit three submarine and shipbuilding companies in Connecticut, Virginia and Alabama.  

Distinct from trade missions, which have an explicit export focus, Global Discovery Exchanges aim to help encourage Victorian manufacturers to benchmark their processes against globally-leading companies and potentially adopt new or improved technologies.  

The key takeaway from the trip? There’s a growing opportunity for manufacturers to boost their capabilities, efficiency and quality by using Industry 4.0 technologies. (In short, Industry 4.0 refers to automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and is also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.)

Getting acquainted with such technologies is already well underway in the US, with all of the shipbuilders visited undertaking leading edge research and development and making significant investments in digitising their processes by 2022.  

"Shipbuilders visited ranged from the most recently established in 2012 to the most experienced established in 1899," says Jürgen Schneider, chair of the Victorian Defence Alliance – Submarines, and the Exchange’s leader. "They also ranged from the latest generation of Nuclear Submarines to the most nimble Littoral Combat Ships through to the life support offered by Aircraft Carriers. All are making significant investments in digitising their processes from concept to ‘as built’ in the next five years."

Industry 4.0 is also unlocking opportunities for businesses in software and augmented reality applications in a wide range of sectors, including other manufacturing and construction processes.  

"Virtual and augmented reality is integral in future shipbuilding – as well as other digital manufacturing and construction processes – as it allows tradespeople to not only transition from paper-based information but also to see the final product superimposed over the current reality, showing where various components should be installed," Jürgen explains. "It can therefore also be used in quality assurance – making sure everything is in its place as per the design. All of the shipbuilders we met with are working to integrate this technology."

Digital shipbuilding is just one example of how Industry 4.0 is a game changer that allows businesses to compete on the world stage and potentially capture new markets.  

Indeed, Industry 4.0 is increasingly becoming recognised as a powerful globalisation tool for commerce. As more and more Victorian businesses grow their digital capability to capture new work and be part of global supply chains, their workforces will be exposed to great opportunities to upskill as new technologies and techniques are implemented.

Poster text says: Australian International Airshow 2019 - 1-3 March, Avalon Airport, Geelong, VictoriaUS Department of Commerce delegation to visit Geelong

In a move that will help deepen the potential relationship between Victorian and US shipbuilding defence and aerospace enterprises, a US Department of Commerce delegation will attend the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport in late February.

Discover more

Read further about the Victorian Government’s Global Discovery Exchange initiative and find out more about the next Exchanges to take place from early 2019. For further information about the Defence Industry in Victoria, visit the Defence Victoria website.