10 ways robotics are disrupting the shipbuilding industry

Robotics is an essential part of any manufacturing sector, and shipbuilding is no different. As the robotics in shipbuilding improve, the technology in the ships themselves will become more advanced, says Megan Ray Nichols.
10 ways robotics are disrupting the shipbuilding industry
Robotics is an essential part of any manufacturing sector, and shipbuilding is no different. People have been creating vessels for millennia, but shipbuilding today is as modern an industry as anything else. Like any other area of production, robots have revolutionized the sector.

1. Filled Labor Shortages
Although ships are still a crucial part of global trade and travel, shipbuilding isn't as prominent as it used to be. As a result, the industry's faced a labor shortage in recent years. Shipyards have turned to robotics to meet demand in the face of this shortage.

It can take around 200 people to build a ship traditionally. With the help of robots, companies don't have to worry about filling all these positions with qualified human workers.

2. Increased Efficiency
Robots don't just fill in gaps when there aren't enough employees. They offer increased efficiency, as well. Robotic systems don't get tired or fatigued, so they can keep working at maximum productivity for extended periods.

While humans are better at nuanced, outside-of-the-box thinking, machines are ideal for repetitive tasks. This trait makes robots uniquely qualified for manufacturing jobs like those in shipbuilding.

3. Improved Accuracy
Shipbuilding involves a lot of fine details, and minor mistakes in the manufacturing process can lead to severe consequences later on. By using robots for the most critical or precise parts of production, companies can make sure they work with the highest possible accuracy.

Even the most experienced worker can slip or miss minor details. Since robots rely on hard data and sensors, however, this isn't a problem.

4. Enhanced Customization
It takes a long time and a lot of work to produce a made-to-order vessel. Many companies steer away from customization because of the inconvenience, possibly harming business. Since robots work more precisely and quickly, they can make customization more practical.

Manufacturers are using robotics to shape job-specific parts, such as the hulls on icebreaker ships. Being able to create custom parts or entire bespoke vessels leads not only to better business but to more effective boats.

5. Advanced Safety
Dealing with heavy machinery and large metal parts can be dangerous. Shipyards use robotic systems to handle the riskier parts of the shipbuilding process to prevent workplace injury.

Robotics companies like Kranendonk design robots to perform dangerous tasks like welding and cutting. Machines don't risk being hurt by pieces of metal or flying sparks, so they're ideal for these kinds of jobs. 

6. Added Versatility
Ships take up a lot of space, and smaller shipyards may not be able to work on as many projects as they'd like because of their limited space. Luckily, robots can help in this regard too.

Automated systems are often better suited to working in confined areas than people. As technology advances, these machines get smaller and smaller, meaning they can work in a wider variety of different situations.

7. Optimized Maintenance
Work on a ship isn't over the moment it sets sail. As vessels see more time in the elements, companies and people have to think about what maintenance issues like engine problems or hull damage. Traditionally, maintenance can be time-consuming and expensive, but robotics can optimize the process.

Robotic systems can find the source of an issue quickly and help workers fix these problems once found. By cutting down on time, companies also reduce costs.

8. Site Monitoring
Robots in shipbuilding aren't limited to manufacturing. They can also monitor worksites, ensuring safety and efficiency. Many construction sites use drones for observation, and shipyards can do the same.

By leaving monitoring duties to machines, managing employees can focus on other tasks. Not only do they free up human employees, but these robots offer more robust monitoring, using sensors to measure potential environmental threats.

9. Wearable Robotics
The word robot often conjures up images of fully autonomous machines working in place of humans, but that's not always accurate. Some shipyards have introduced robotic exoskeletons to help workers lift heavy objects without straining themselves.

Wearable robots offer a halfway point between human skill and mechanical strength. They allow companies to increase efficiency and safety without having to replace employees.

10. Autonomous Ships
Driverless cars are not the only application of robotics in transportation. Using technology like GPS and other sensors, manufacturers can produce autonomous ships, which may be a safer alternative to human pilots.

While this technology is still in its fledgling phase, it shows promise. As the robotics in shipbuilding improve, the technology in the ships themselves will become more advanced.

Robotics in shipbuilding: Full speed ahead
Robotics is one of the most promising disruptive forces in industry today. From safety to customization, the technology has a lot to offer shipbuilders, and new advantages are still surfacing. 


About the author:
Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) writer and regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights & IoT Evolution. She can be reached on megan@schooledbyscience.com

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