Ship shape

Leading heavy equipment welding automation provider addresses digitization and the future of shipbuilding

The future of shipbuilding depends on production enhancements, such as Pemamek’s automated panel line that reduces the dependency on human capital.

There was a time when the challenge in shipbuilding was finding machines capable of holding massive metal plates together so that they could be welded to the sea-going vessels. Pemamek, a Finland-based company that has for years offered industry-leading solutions for joining materials weighing many tons, conquered that challenge when it designed a modular platform solution to facilitate customers’ various processes. Now that we’re living, largely, in a digitized world where data is an integral aspect of manufacturing, the challenge has shifted to the flow of that data.

No stranger to assisting the manufacturing industry, Pemamek has supported the digital shipbuilding industry with a modular platform solution to facilitate customers’ various processes. The platforms include convenient modules that are designed to facilitate every step of the manufacturing process from design to planning to manufacturing, as well as cloud reporting solutions for the increasingly digital world.

Jukka Rantala, vice president of sales and key accounts at Pemamek, says as he looks at the current state of the ship building industry and into the years ahead, he’s seeing a need for more automated solutions, more robotics and digitalization solutions.

Specialized software

Stiffeners in shipbuilding help reinforce ships’ panels, and with a large range of adjustable mobile portals with stiffener manipulating devices, operators can fit the stiffeners in any direction, using manual or fully automated technology.

Many shipyards have embraced 3-D engineer software, which is used to design many products involved in shipbuilding. Yet, the challenge is that these models are not always importable to the machines as-is, which means multiple specialized software and human interaction (which brings the human error element) become part of the scenario. Rantala says that as more of the data transfer within the shipyards becomes digitized, customers want more options in analyzing the data regarding production and maintenance.

“At the same time,” Rantala says, “we need more info from the customers about the products so our automated systems can really run the production and so data traffic is going back and forth.”

To that end, Pemamek has partnered with Prostep, a vendor-neutral consulting and software company that focuses on product lifecycle management (PLM) to partner in developing the Pema Open PDM interface that allows users to collect and map data parameters from their designs. This solution basically gives users the ability to create one big assembly data that includes all the information they need to control production automation machinery.

“Software and control systems are becoming more and more important,” Rantala says, adding that they also need to be user-friendly/easy to use. “A few years back it was only the biggest shipbuilders using automated systems, but now it’s come down to the smaller shipbuilders, too.”

With Pemamek’s integrated stiffener mounting and welding portal, shipbuilders can tackle panel production in an automated fashion, improving productivity and reducing errors.

And each shipbuilder has different needs, which is what makes designing software such a complex task. That’s another reason Rantala says Prostep was brought in, because the utilization and customization of 3-D design software is a “wild world,” and why they partnered with Prostep, because “they are the software gurus” who are able to dig in and get the right information that Pemamek’s robots need.

3-D advancements

Pemamek builds its solutions based on 3-D modeling and 3-D CAD. Heavy 3-D engineering packages are simplified and modified via the use of tools, such as simulation software that enables virtual reality, augmented reality and digital twin. For those new to digital twin, it’s a virtual representation of an object that helps manufacturers view its actual physical structure.

Production lines are most often converted to a simple virtual model for general overview purposes and for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)-type monitoring. However, Pemamek offers functional digital twin for individual machines so customers can plan and simulate effectively. The digital twin includes a machine virtual model with all main movements, and programmable logic controller (PLC) functions are available, which are run through PC-based human-machine twin (HMI), which simulates various imagined situations.

Pemamek has offered HMI capabilities for several years. Pemamek says digital development and integration are as Tommi Reponen, Pemamek’s application manager, shipbuilding, said in a recent newsletter is “constantly more visible, and the operation happens from control desks or central control rooms.”

Reponen says for production lines, Pemamek digital platform solutions can be supplemented with a central production line monitoring solution, which is web-based and is operated with any HTML5-compatible web client. Its features include showing the state of each production unit, production status on each production unit, safety and alarm diagnostic by-product units and an error log.

Rantala says their goal is to make the equipment and software “user friendly and easy to use. The target is for the welding systems to be welding, not hanging on and waiting for orders from the programming people.”

Safe and steady production

As Rantala notes, Pemamek has focused on automated solutions that improve efficiency, as well keep safety in mind. For example, traditional shipbuilding required dozens of welders working in environments where large and heavy plates were maneuvered via crane or a hoist of some sort. With the automated solution, the robotic welder does almost all the work while the workpieces are secured in place by Pemamek’s assembly solutions, which can be overseen by one person.

“The efficiency is coming with automated welding,” he says. “The robot is welding all the time. There are no lunch breaks or toilet or smoke breaks or anything like that. That’s where the efficiencies are coming from.”

Furthermore, Reponen says operators can watch the workpieces being processed via monitoring screens. Safety, which is always a hot topic for manufacturers, is also highlighted in the Pemamek system with a machine safety view that provides information on the status of safety equipment, including emergency stop buttons and light curtains.

The new norm

Rantala says the move to going paperless is big right now, particularly as data analytics and reporting are important topics for shipbuilders today as they look to improve data management. Shipbuilders are taking their designs completely digital and that at the same time, “everyone is trying to find more and more different tasks for what a robot can do.”

Fast and easy access is important, which is why Pemamek’s platform offers a web-based reporting dashboard compatible with an HTML5 web client. Furthermore, it offers organized reporting and analytics capabilities that are integral for making fact-based decisions. The benefit of implementing such a digital platform solution is that users have the ability to anticipate and foresee future developments, making them proactive rather than reactive.

Having this type of solution available will benefit shipbuilders now and in the near future, as naval and cruise ship manufacturers are focused on building ships lighter. In fact, Rantala says materials used in shipbuilding are becoming lighter and more “exotic.”

“They try to make it as light as possible,” he says, “but still, in certain places of the ship you need thicker materials. When you need to weld thick and thin materials together, it’s not so simple as welding similar materials together. It’s really common in the naval and cruise ship building. That has been one of the main topics from the very beginning when we make a robotic application it needs to be fast and so easy. If you are able to use the mouse of the computer and you get a few days of training, you are able to utilize the machine.”


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