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Robots, simulators help build Korean ships

Mar 10,2018
Fine Heavy Industry developed a robot that can cut steel according to blueprints transmitted over a network. With the software, the company has eliminated the need for paper blueprints. The completed product includes a bar code indicating the date of production. [KIM DO-NYUN]
Korea is getting smart about shipbuilding, leading the industry with innovative gadgets like Wi-Fi-controlled robots and virtual sailing simulators.

Still suffering from a global order drought sparked by the post-2008 recession, many Korean shipbuilders are adopting cutting-edge technology to improve efficiency and minimize costs.

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) is turning to remote robots that cut steel.

Together with its partner Fine Heavy Industry, DSME has developed machines that can receive, understand and fulfill instructions for steel fabrication, all over a wireless network. When DSME sends measurements from its Okpo shipyard in Geoje, South Gyeongsang, to Fine’s factory in Haman County, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) away, it can expect the robots there to accurately cut steel sheets into the requested shapes and sizes.

“In the past, three or four workers would read the blueprint and mark the points they had to cut on materials with chalk, which made the process dangerous and produced many defective results,” said Fine Heavy Industry CEO Hyun Sung-chul. “Work efficiency increased after we developed a robot that could understand instructions and do the manufacturing work.”

The old process required shipbuilders to turn 3-D computer graphics into 2-D paper blueprints before sending them to steel mills because many of them didn’t have computers that could read the graphics.

“It took almost three weeks to convert a 3-D graphic into a 2-D deck plan,” said Lee Hong-mo, a senior manager at Fine. “We saved 20 percent in production time and costs during the design and manufacturing process after adopting the IoT system,” referring to the wirelessly operated robots.

“We save three weeks that would have otherwise been spent on drawing out a paper plan,” said Shin Noh-beom, an IT manager at DSME. “This allows us to figure out whether we need extra materials and procure them faster if necessary.”

Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) is breaking ground with better onboard technology. The shipbuilder announced last Thursday that it would collaborate with Winterthur Gas & Diesel, a leading Swiss engine developer, to make sailing safer and more convenient.

One technology under development allows sailors to monitor engine fuel levels from the captain’s cabin.

“After we adopt a system that instantly reports the fuel levels of a vessel’s engine, people will be able to sail much more safely and cost-effectively,” HHI said in a statement.

Many of HHI’s new maritime tech projects seek to improve navigation safety. Last July, the shipbuilder developed a simulator that can project vessel performance in nine different maritime conditions so it can identify design errors during the manufacturing process. Some of HHI’s other technologies allow sailors to identify optimal routes by collecting and analyzing the vessel’s fuel, engine and propeller data, and transmit real-time vessel navigation status to land.

Since 2016, HHI has also been equipping its shipyards with wireless LTE networks to allow workers to check blueprints using tablet PCs.

The government is supporting the industry in its efforts. “Like Industry 4.0 in Germany, our government plans to support the introduction of smart factories into the shipbuilding industry,” Paik Un-gyu, minister of trade, industry and energy, said during a talk at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry in central Seoul on Feb. 6.

“In the shipbuilding industry, businesses that have advanced design and manufacturing technology win,” said Kim Yong-hwan, professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering at Seoul National University. “Smart factories will help increase production efficiency in the shipbuilding industry, where labor costs are often high.”

BY KIM DO-NYUN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]