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Shaping The Future Of Shipbuilding: Fincantieri Pioneers Digital Twin Architecture

Posted on June 3, 2024

Over the past decade, the shipbuilding industry has witnessed a surge in new technologies, designed to bring digitalisation to shipyards as well as on board vessels. Covering all phases of the ship’s lifecycle, the integration of these technologies holds the promise of facilitating the development of complex systems, designed to improve the production process and optimise efficiency while simultaneously reducing costs.

Positioned at the helm of this digital revolution, Europe’s leading shipbuilder, Fincantieri has proposed the concept of a digital twin. At the heart of fully digitalising the lifecycle of a ship, the digital twin is a virtual counterpart that mirrors the physical ship in real time, unlocking several possibilities to enhance every step of the shipbuilding process, from the design all the way into the decommissioning of a vessel.

The digital twin approach will be applied to Fincantieri’s future new builds, serving as a ‘digital thread’ woven into all the product life cycle phases. Initially, Fincantieri is embedding a Digital Twin into its FCx30 to support the maintenance process, training, and other aspects of the vessel’s in-service life.

Fostering a Data-Driven Approach to Shipbuilding

Incorporating real-time data gathered across daily operations, the digital twin transforms a digital model into a dynamic entity, enabling the seamless integration between digital tools and the ship’s onboard data network. ‘What-if’ analysis can be performed on the digital twin and fed back directly to a crew to optimise performance of propulsion, energy and other mission-critical aspects of a ship or submarine.

Fincantieri aims to leverage this data to create a suite of digital twin services, ranging from operational availability assessment to predictive maintenance and scenario simulations. Moreover, by merging physics-based models with data-drive insights, Fincantieri is positioned to offer ship operators a unique vantage point over the complexities of their vessels, connecting data into a single source of analysis.

Fincantieri Pioneers Digital Twin Architecture

Laying the Foundations for the Digital Twin

At the core of Fincantieri’s Digital Twin Architecture is an Information layer, where data and information originating from the physical ship travel through various communication networks and are then stored in a repository known as the Data Lake. This repository employs big data technology, with the capacity to handle vast amounts of information across different forms such as video, binary, text, and audio.

This, in turn, facilitates the retrieval of information for all connected software tools in the Application Layer. These applications can range from legacy software to digitally native software constructed within a service-oriented architecture.

By combining activities from multiple applications, the Decision Support layer is equipped with the materials to offer decision-making assistance through various tools including simple dashboards, as well as intricate simulation systems, enabling sophisticated what-if analyses for various investigations such as maintenance, operations, and optimisation.

Building a Bespoke Suite of Digital Twin Services

Despite the concept of a complete Digital Twin for a ship being highly ambitious due to its complexity, Fincantieri is instead focusing on developing “Digital Twin ship services.” These services will consist of multiple digital applications or tools that are catered to specific aspects of the ship, such as manoeuvrability, predictive maintenance, and energy management optimisation.

The digital twin has the potential to serve as an interesting solution for controlling the configuration management of ships over time. Through its robust digital model, most of the design work that goes into upgrading a platform can be done remotely, meaning a vessel does not have to be in port for engineers to do the groundwork.

Furthermore, the digital twin also promises to enhance a ship’s operational efficiency, providing real-time updates on all on-board systems and structures to facilitate the assessment of the ship’s operational capability at any given moment in time. By reflecting the current state of the ship, the digital twin can also be integrated into virtually rendered simulations to prepare for complex scenarios.

Fincantieri Pioneers Digital Twin Architecture

Life after Launch: Improving Maintenance and Monitoring

Using system sensors, onboard radars, and weather forecasts, the digital twin architecture optimises ship performance at sea, reducing energy consumption. The digital twin also has the propensity for smart maintenance by analysing system time histories, real-time behaviour, weather, and sea conditions to perform fatigue analysis and structural assessments. This enables the digital twin to predict maintenance needs efficiently, implementing predictive maintenance to mitigate any potential damages and their associated costs.

Training and Technology Transfer

Fincantieri also notes that the digital twin will play a major role in improving various training activities, usage of onboard systems and devices, equipping the crew with increased knowledge of their ship to make them more confident operators.

A fundamental component of Fincantieri’s digital twin modelling is that it also allows shipbuilders and designers to be forward-thinking when developing platform designs. Real data recorded during operations can be utilised to extract knowledge for improving future design options.

Identifying Challenges

While a digital twin has the potential to reshape shipbuilding in the near future, Fincantieri also acknowledges the limitations of this tool.

Whereas the data-centric nature of this model provides unparalleled insight into the vessel’s operations, the ownership and handling of this data, as well as the knowledge derived from it, remains a significant challenge. An additional issue is posed by integrating legacy tools, as previous digitalisation efforts may have been unilateral, requiring a reconsideration of how to evolve technology and fully harness the potential of a digital twin.

Seeking to address these challenges, Fincantieri aims to implement a more comprehensive digital ship architecture, so that different domains usually accustomed to working independently are instead able to work in tandem with one another.

Fundamentally, Fincantieri’s digital twin architecture marks a step change for the ship building industry, serving as a vital tool for managing ships and extracting knowledge from the field, offering logistic and design support for Fincantieri’s pipeline of current and future vessels.


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