From assembly line to thought leader: shipyards today and tomorrow

We interviewed Meyer Turku’s Executive Board Member in Design & Engineering Mika Heiskanen about the changing role of shipyards in the maritime industry, with its ongoing digitalization process. The shipyard is, fittingly, becoming a hub of connections, thoughts and technologies – rather like a port where many different things come together.

According to Mika, technical know-how alone is not enough to keep a ship building business successful in the changing industry. Only an ambitious frontrunner can claim the leading position in a global market, by hearing the customers’ and end-users’ wishes and then finding ways to solve the technological challenges those wishes pose.


It takes ambition and industry thought leadership as well as finding the right kind of collaboration network – companies that aim high, look for innovations even outside the industry, and accept the challenge.


The challenge

One of the key aspects of maritime digitalization is the movement towards service business and new customer-oriented approaches. This affects the industry as a whole, and it inevitably affects ships, too – and ships are complicated enough to begin with.


A ship is a technologically unbelievably complex system that has to survive on its own at sea. From kitchen and customer service to the engine room and bridge, it is an interconnected bundle of technology.” 


Mika illustrates what it means to build a modern cruise ship: a ship that not only works correctly in the technological sense but that also responds to the current customer demands. The modern-day customer expectations require many innovative technologies to attract the experience-driven holiday bookers. Customers have come to demand more and more onboard attractions like roller coasters, movie theaters and other leisure activities, as well as wellbeing services such as spas and sports activities.


These are elaborate installations on dry land, and a commercially successful cruise ship hosts them on the waves, in addition to the ship’s operational technologies. Balancing a system of this magnitude and complexity and ensuring that it can, in fact, survive on its own, is key in modern ship building.


The biggest technical improvements in the last 10 years have been related to energy efficiency and automation. A ship has over 40 000 interconnected automation points. It’s impossible for a human to optimize all the different operational functions to work as efficiently as possible, so a shipyard uses technology to optimize its use of technology.


With the changes in the final product, the role of the shipyard in the building process has naturally changed as well. Historically, the shipyard has been the heart of the whole process, and most of the parts and components of ships were built on-site. With the ever-increasing complexity of ships, this is no longer feasible, and the shipyard has become a hub where everything comes together. The ship has become a project, and the shipyard the project manager.


The network


This all has lead to a shift in the knowledge and skills needed of shipyard managers: they have to have solid know-how in many areas along with a network of more specialized collaborators. Many of these collaborators will be from the same industry, but some are needed from outside as well.


Outside collaborators are needed to solve challenges that are not specific to the maritime industry but that are make-or-break cases nonetheless. Different apps, for example, are a crucial part of providing the full cruise experience. They make it easier to use a cabin’s automated functions, like adjusting the cabin temperature or the curtains, or reserving a table or even keeping an eye on your children during your stay on board. However, apps like these fall squarely outside traditional maritime technology and are best developed by someone else.


These kinds of ready-to-implement outside innovations are what complete the collaboration network. Without the shipyard, there will be no ship, but it’s the collaboration network that makes it possible to build the kind of ships that are consistently one step ahead of the competition. History also plays a role in this, since these kinds of clusters have taken hundreds of years to form. They give the shipyards the operationally extraordinary and technologically advanced edge that is hard to match elsewhere.


Having the collaboration network is what makes shipyards in Europe industry leaders – we don’t just have the newest technology, we also have the expertise to recognize the solutions to implement and then the ability to do just that, without delays in delivery or compromising quality at any stage,” Mika says. 


Meyer Turku is currently looking for collaborators that share their values: sustainability, technological competence and the ambition to excel. Creating a shared vision for quality is a key factor for Meyer in choosing collaborators. The partner network is growing, as technological development brings new needs for competence. These new needs include, for example, energy efficiency, higher level of automation, data management and combining the use of data with AI to come up with new solutions.


To find new ideas and ways to engage in a more deep and horizontal communication, Meyer is hosting two roundtable discussions at SHIFT about how companies can maintain responsibility and sustainability standards throughout the value chain. The presented solutions rely on technology, new methods of conversation or just best practices from your company, so participants from many fields of expertise are welcome. Read more about the workshop here