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10 October 2016

“It’s a new way of doing things, but it’s clear to me that it’s going to become the standard way of designing ships over the next few years,” says Robert J. Spencer, KNUD E. HANSEN”

Article from The Naval Architect

The virtual world and its benefits are already leveraged by industries ranging from healthcare to space travel, but, as might be expected, the maritime industry is playing catch up with the current pace of technological change. That is to say, up until now.

A software team from KNUD E. HANSEN, combining the practical shipbuilding experience of naval architects with the technological expertise of programmers, launched what it believes to be the first virtual reality (VR) design tool of its kind at SMM in September.

The tool, named ShipSpace, allows designers and other players in the design process to experience the space of a ship to scale using the CAD data from a vessel’s 3D model. Its developers envisage serious benefits for naval architects and shipowners, simultaneously improving designs and the design process. Robert J. Spencer, head of simulation products at KNUD E. HANSEN and Ken Goh, general manager of KNUD E. HANSEN’s Australian branch, highlight three significant areas of improvement for architects. “The first is just getting a really good sense of scale…I’d summarise [it] as just better spatial reasoning,” says Spencer. “When you’re looking at a monitor, even when you know the dimensions, you really can’t understand [or] get a visceral feeling for the scale of things. You can know, yes, that’s 20cm or that’s 8m, but until you’re actually out in a space that has an 8m ceiling, you don’t really grasp what that means. And so, by getting that more visceral understanding in your bones of how big a space is, [it] just helps to make sure you can optimise it.”

Spencer believes the tool will consequently avoid mistakes but will also allow designers to minimise spaces. In other words, if a room feels sufficiently sized when it is experienced in VR, designers will avoid the impulse to enlarge what seems to be too small on paper; they can test the real environment for themselves. Goh adds: “Lots of areas on the ship are quite complicated in shape, and it’s quite hard to understand, even from a computer monitor, what these shapes are like until you’re actually in that space and can see, oh, this sloped surface here, we can’t put some piece of equipment on that. And that helps to optimise the ability to utilise space in a ship.”The second significant area is communication. Communication in and between different design teams – even those that are working in 3D – is challenging when referring to different parts of a CAD model and their location. “There’s a lot of coordination that’s messy,” says Spencer. “Whereas with ShipSpace, you [different designers] can both be in the same space, looking at the same things; you can point and say: ‘this thing.’”

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