Published on October 18, 2023, 11:13 am
Naval architecture and marine engineering have a rich history that dates back thousands of years to ancient civilizations. In those times, humans built boats to explore and engage in commerce. Today, this field has evolved into a professional engineering discipline known as Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME). It encompasses the design, construction, testing, surveying, maintenance, and operations of marine vessels and structures.
As a naval architect with 22 years of experience, Matt Miller has witnessed the transition from traditional methods to incorporating advanced computer applications that utilize machine learning. In the past, ship lines were drawn by hand with pencils and splines. Designers would evaluate smoothness visually while eraser fragments covered sheets of paper. Now, there are software programs that instantly aid in hull lines development through historical data collection and validation.
Modern computing power has revolutionized the efficiency and accuracy of design development for naval architects and marine engineers. Advanced software packages integrate computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which simulates how vessels interact with fluids using Navier-Stokes equations. These simulations used to consume significant time but can now be performed within seconds due to improved computational capabilities. CFD allows for “virtual” tow tank sessions where hull forms can be optimized before physical testing, resulting in cost savings for clients.
Embracing generative AI brings its own set of challenges for engineers and enterprises. They must navigate its impact on their roles, business strategies, data management, solutions development, and product innovation. However, generative AI holds tremendous potential in the engineering realm. It can enhance the design process by reducing errors, improving efficiency, and saving costs.
The naval architecture industry is no stranger to adopting new technologies. Nowadays, shipyards and engineering design firms regularly employ 3D modeling, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), finite element analysis (FEA), and robotics manufacturing techniques. The next step forward is leveraging machine learning algorithms and AI tools to further enhance design processes.
One hurdle to overcome is the scarcity of comprehensive and accessible data sets. Extensive amounts of data are crucial for AI systems to provide valid responses and improve designs effectively. While some areas of naval architecture have rich data sets, such as ocean wave measurements and ship maneuvering records, these are often maintained by government agencies, operators, and equipment manufacturers. To harness the full potential of AI in this field, it would be beneficial to collate and utilize data collected over many years through initiatives that promote data sharing.
Proprietary data also poses challenges, as limited access hinders the development of more robust AI models. However, if owners can see tangible benefits from utilizing their data in AI systems, they may be more inclined to share it. Certification methods that ensure anonymity could be explored to address concerns regarding sensitive information.
Naval architecture and marine engineering encompass a wide range of design considerations beyond just the vessel’s hull form. Electrical system design plays a crucial role in modern ships, which rely on complex electric and control systems. AI can assist in identifying and resolving conflicts within these systems during the design phase at a faster rate than humans, contributing to improved efficiency and reduced errors.
The marine industry faces another significant challenge – a shortage of qualified personnel. With millions of people relying on ferries and other passenger vessels for transportation, finding skilled individuals to drive innovation with machine learning and AI technologies proves difficult. However, robust AI technology has the potential to alleviate this staffing problem by automating certain tasks.
Government entities like the US Coast Guard or US Navy are ideal for adopting AI technology due to their extensive vessel fleets and open nature of designs (excluding security limitations). Task Force Hopper, launched in 2021 by the US Navy, aims to accelerate the implementation of AI across its surface fleet primarily focused on operations. As technology advances further and datasets become more accessible, there is great potential for applying generative AI in vessel design efforts.
In conclusion, the field of naval architecture and marine engineering has come a long way since ancient times. With the integration of generative AI and machine learning, the industry is poised for even greater advancements. By leveraging advanced software, embracing data sharing initiatives, and exploring the application of AI in vessel design and other areas, naval architects and marine engineers can streamline processes, reduce errors, and create more efficient and sustainable solutions for our marine environment.