Fewer mistakes with a new tool for building ships

Build ships for the crew and the jobs they do onboard. That way you get a more convenient and efficient work environment. This is the concept put forward by Monica Lundh, who is designing a three-dimensional tool for checking ship drawings.
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Mistakes that are built in at the shipyard are often expensive and difficult to change at a later stage. Photo Stena AB.
Mistakes that are built in at the shipyard are often expensive and difficult to change at a later stage. Photo Stena AB.

Build ships for the crew and the jobs they do onboard. That way you get a more convenient and efficient work environment. This is the concept put forward by Monica Lundh, who is designing a three-dimensional tool for checking ship drawings.

Difficult to access, crowded, poor oversight, illogically placed controls, alarms that are confusingly similar, heavy lifting in previous studies, researchers have found that ships have numerous design errors leading to unnecessary extra work and risks for crews.
Monica Lundh, naval engineer and doctor of technology at Chalmers University of Technology, wants to translate crew’s knowledge into practice to create a better work environment at sea. After Christmas a Canadian doctorate will join her and together they will develop a computerized tool for checking ship
drawings.
“I want to put together a three-dimensional ship environment where people can walk around the departments and see what impact different solutions have in practice. This possibility already exists, but I want a tool that is easier to use and that can be introduced early in the design process,” she says.
The early detection of poor solutions onboard is often decisive for the final result, according to Monica Lundh. As an example, she shows an image of a control room where the control panel is located in the middle of the room. The result is that important instruments are then behind the operator.
Changing perspective
”If the panel had been here instead, there would have been a good overview”, she says and points to the bottom of the image. It is easy to make such a change at the drawing stage, but once the panel is fixed in place on the floor and all the cables are installed, nobody would take on the job of repositioning it. Rebuilding is often expensive and difficult, but when you are working at the drawing stage it rarely takes more than a few lines
changed and one or two man-hours.
Creating more work-friendly ship environments also needs a change of perspective, she believes. New construction is often dominated by technical equipment and the ship’s dimensions. Then the crewmembers have to adapt and do their best with the given circumstances. Monica Lundh wants to do the opposite.
“Start with the crew and go through their tasks. On that basis, plan the location of equipment and the design of rooms. This is not rocket science, it is basic ergonomics, but you have to get that way of thinking involved early in the process.”

There are plenty of examples of less than successful designs on ships. Photo by Mikael Eliasson.
There are plenty of examples of less than successful designs on ships. Photo by Mikael Eliasson.

”Ask the right seafarer”
There are many examples of less-than-perfect solutions onboard and they are found in all departments. They include everything from bridge panels with in-accessible controls and galleys with ovens that are too high to engine rooms with-out overhead hoists for heavy lifting.
”Much of this could probably have been avoided if we had involved the crew at the planning stage. It is the crew-members that know the work environment and what is needed to make work go smoothly. But you must also ask the right seafarer. The captain and chief mate are experts in their departments but to design a good galley you have to talk with the cook”, says Monica Lundh.
The fact that competition for space onboard is often tough is no excuse for poor design, she says.
”Of course, the hold is where you make money, and obviously we want to optimize that first. But the less space there is, the more important it becomes to really think through different solutions.”
Linda Sundgren

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