Geoff Searle, Program & Engineering Delivery Director – Hunter Class Frigate Program, ASC Shipbuilding
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here today at this conference to discuss the very important topic of continuous naval shipbuilding and how we as an industry can support the Royal Australian Navy to be adaptable to future capability needs.
My name is Geoff Searle and for the last two years I have been leading the program and engineering delivery aspects of the Hunter Class Frigate program for ASC Shipbuilding, which is now a subsidiary of BAE Systems Australia. Prior to that, I spent five years running the UK Type 26 programme, so am personally heavily invested in our Global Combat Ship programmes.
At a conference and exposition like this it’s easy to get excited about the program, the specifications of the vessels and the kit they carry.
Yes, the Hunter Class Frigate Program is the biggest surface ship project in Australia’s history, and one of the largest in the world today.
At its peak the program will contribute $1 billion to the Australian economy. For every job we create, 27 more jobs are created in the defence supply chain.
And yes, once built the Hunter Class Frigates will provide maximum versatility and flexibility in operational roles and will provide the Royal Australian Navy with a formidable fleet of anti-submarine warfare frigates with next generation capability that will be critical in helping protect the nation, protect freedom of navigation and deliver freedom of action for decades to come.
And considering that by the mid-2030s, around half of the world’s submarines will be operating in the Indo-Pacific region, this anti-submarine warfare capability will provide Australia with an important lethal deterrence.
But what good is a ship if its navy does not have a sustainable, innovative and enduring defence industry supporting it through the entire ship life cycle – from design, build and commissioning into service, to through life sustainment, capability upgrades, training and eventually decommissioning? And all the while – applying the learnings from one program to the next.
As such, as well as delivering nine highly capable warships, the Hunter Class Frigate Program is also about providing the foundation for Australia’s continuous naval shipbuilding strategy and growing Australian industry capability, such that there will exist a sovereign shipbuilding industry beyond the Hunter program.
So this brings me to what I’d like to address today.
There are two key aspects I’d like to touch on: continuous naval shipbuilding and how we as industry will embrace industry 4.0.
I’ll then address how both together can help the Royal Australian Navy be adaptable, beyond the initial acquisition of these nine frigates.
Ultimately, our vision for the shipbuilding industry, and what we want to create within ASC Shipbuilding during the Hunter Program, is an outcome where Australia and its Navy have a connected ship design, a connected shipyard, a connected worker, a connected ship and a connected fleet.
Continuous naval shipbuilding
Australia’s 2017 National Naval Shipbuilding Plan set out the framework and the foundations for a continuous naval shipbuilding enterprise for generations to come, addressing the “boom/bust” nature of Australian shipbuilding programs of the past.
Having this long term, continuous strategy, will enable industry – both shipbuilders like ourselves and the extensive supply chain that support us – to commit to long term planning and investment across the country.
It will allow us to leverage advances in technology within programs, from one program to the next, and importantly – to retain and grow the shipbuilding capability that resides in Australia, and to build the capability and capacity for exports.
That brings me to how ASC Shipbuilding will contribute to the achievement of continuous naval shipbuilding.
Essentially our aim through the Hunter Class Frigate Program is to build Australia’s capability so that, in the future we’re reducing our reliance on designing, building or sourcing offshore.
There are four key enablers to achieving this:
- Transferring the IP, Technology and Knowledge
- Building the Australian Industrial base
- Developing the workforce
- Developing the infrastructure
IP, Technology/knowledge transfer
The technology and knowledge transfer component of the Hunter Class Frigate Program is a significant activity and an important part of achieving sovereign shipbuilding capability in Australia.
We’re currently in the process of transferring the Type 26 Global Combat Ship IP, design data, build processes, IT systems, supply chain data and knowledge from the UK to Australia – to enhance the local shipbuilding capability that already exists.
We’re also running a significant secondment program and by the end of this year will have about 50 Australians working on the Type 26 program in the UK, where the build of HMS Glasgow, the first of class Type 26, is well underway, and we have just commenced production on the second ship. This provides a unique and valuable opportunity to capture the learning from the Type 26 program and bring it back to Adelaide – our secondees are at the forefront of capturing that critical knowledge and skills to bring home as we start the build of Hunter.
Australian Industrial base
The emphasis on developing Australian Industry Capability is a significant policy shift as described in the Naval Shipbuilding plan.
Previously in major programs, the emphasis has been on the percentage of Australian Contract spend, and whilst we will deliver on our commitments with the Hunter program, we are also committed to maximise the Australian industry capability.
In conjunction with the Commonwealth Government we will create at Osborne, in South Australia, a world class modern shipyard using the latest in technology. Importantly though, we are also committed to developing our supply chain in the use of digital design, cyber security and advanced manufacturing, and are prepared to share our learning across industry.
Our aim is to create a deep level of capability within our supply chain to support the local design and construction of warships, well beyond the Hunter program itself.
So far, we have engaged with more than 900 suppliers who have registered interest in the Hunter program and there will be significant opportunities for Australian companies to get involved, and potentially to export to the wider 32-ship Global Combat Ship program. This may involve working with the major equipment suppliers from Europe as part of their supply chain and integrating the equipment into the ships in Australia. In the Category C & D of the supply chain - the ship materials such as steel, cabling and piping, minor equipments, consumables and services – the opportunity for Australian supplier involvement is higher still.
Building the workforce
The collective challenge for Australia’s shipbuilding industry is to grow and develop the workforce of the future.
For the Hunter program we need to have the right people, with the right skills, at the right time and we’re working with the Naval Shipbuilding College, the TAFEs, universities and our suppliers to grow the pipeline across the country.
We need a workforce that will embrace new ways of working, who are flexible, innovative and are prepared to challenge traditional ways of working. A workforce that can capture their knowledge and learnings and apply it to future shipbuild programs. The Continuous Naval Shipbuilding program will allow workers to accumulate decades of experience applicable to future design and build programs and for through-life capability upgrades.
Now to the modernisation of Australia’s shipbuilding industry. We hear a lot about terms like “digital shipyard” and “Industry 4.0” but they are more than just buzz words, there are real opportunities and applications in shipbuilding.
The Global Combat Ship upon which the Hunter Class Frigates are based, is the world’s first bow-to-stern digitally-designed anti-submarine warfare frigate.
But what does this mean in the context of shipbuilding and in navy adaptability?
Of course, the Global Combat Ship is being adapted to suit Australian requirements; largely centred around 5 key changes involving the combat systems and the integration of the Romeo helicopter.
But as those of us in the room who come from an engineering and naval background know, it’s not simply a matter of putting a new mast and radar on top and a new helicopter deck out the back of the ship. These design changes have impacts across the whole-of-ship design, which could prove problematic if we did not have the ability to utilise digital design tools and techniques.
The digital design provides for real time updates to the reference ship design so that during the design and engineering phases everyone working on the program around the globe is securely connected and working with the most up-to-date data. It allows us to identify and work through challenges and identify opportunities early through visualisation, testing and modelling. The digital design environment gives us unprecedented levels of collaboration across distances, particularly appropriate in Australia and for a truly global combat ship.
And indeed, this is exactly what the digital design is allowing us to do.
The Hunter program has just come through the first major whole-of-ship design review conducted jointly by ASC Shipbuilding, BAE Systems Naval Ships in the UK and the Commonwealth. The purpose of this review was to check the maturity of the evolving requirement set and concept design. It was a successful review, partly due to the ability to use the digital design to test and model changes to the reference design, meaning there are no surprises and we can model solutions to enable the RAN to make decisions about their requirements.
This connectedness and visibility in the design also flows through to the build phase where shipbuilders on the shop floor will be connected with the design, and through digital technologies the high-skilled work they do is enhanced – leading to productivity, safety and quality benefits.
We’re currently developing with Flinders University a visualisation of a day in the life of a shipyard worker (aptly named “Digital Dianna”). The system will help our workforce to visualise where digital technology can help connect them to their colleagues, the machines, the shipyard the performance data, the design and the supply chain.
Imagine instead of paper drawings workers are accessing the design real time on an ipad, they’re tracking materials from suppliers using RFID technology, the warehouse is updating its log of supplies and triggering reorders where necessary. Workers could then they could take photograph of their completed work and the quality controllers can inspect it in real time. Any changes that may have been required in the production environment can then be fed back into the design.
At the Tonsley innovation precinct in South Australia we’re also establishing a Factory of the Future concept centre, building on our successful show case earlier in the year; here Australian companies can test their innovations and we can look for applications in our digital shipyard.
We are also developing our digital trials lab at Tonsley. Designed to test our digital tools in real life situations it will combine lab work with real production activities.
Again, our focus is to share our learnings with wider industry, supply chain, and other industries and academia.
So what of the digital shipyard. Through significant Government investment of over $500 million, the Osborne Naval Shipyard is undergoing a rapid transformation to accommodate the build of not only the nine Hunter class frigates but future major surface combatants as well.
And once complete the Osborne shipyard will be one of the most modern, digitally advanced shipyards in the world – linking the digital engineering design with automated technologies and digitised work packs for shipbuilders on the ground.
As someone with 30 years’ experience in shipbuilding in the UK and experiencing first-hand the challenges that come with building ships in traditional yards, Australia, with its purpose-built modern yard, built for the digital age, will, I assure you, be the envy of the shipbuilding world. It’s a significant step-change globally and it is fantastic to see the Commonwealth committing fully to the future of a sovereign shipbuilding industry.
But what’s really exciting about the digital shipyard is that before we even occupy it we’re working towards building a full digital shipyard twin, that will simulate the construction and fabrication of the Hunter class frigates.
We use a similar process and technology back in the UK to assist with equipment upgrade decisions, but here in Australia, ASC Shipbuilding will be taking it a few steps further by creating a whole ship build process, enabling us to model the proposed build strategy, build sequence, equipment characteristics and capacity assumptions.
We’ll then be able to combine the digital shipyard and the input variables to simulate the Hunter class build to review and measure their effect.
Having this information will allow us to identify, early, areas of concern and test risk mitigation strategies before undertaking the physical work – saving cost, time and rework.
Whilst this type of technology is used in other industries such as the automotive sector, this level of shipyard simulation hasn’t been seen anywhere else in the world.
This digital shipyard twin technology will also have applications across the batch build process.
The nine Hunter class frigates will be built in three batches of three ships and you can almost guarantee that the latter ships will be significantly different to the early ships as the Navy continues to evolve their requirement and build capability to respond to the emerging threats in their security environment.
Together, it will be the digital design, the digital shipyard twin and the digital shipyard applications that will enable us to model and test changes to the design and the build strategy – providing the information necessary for our Customer to make informed decisions and weigh up cost-benefit analysis against their own risk framework.
This all sounds great from the perspective of a ship build program. It is. And in the past, that’s all it would be.
But with the continuous naval shipbuilding strategy we have the opportunity to leverage and exploit all the data generated throughout the design and construction phase of this important ship build program.
So how then does industry 4.0 and data driven technologies support the Royal Australian Navy to be adaptable?
Last year at the Defence and Industry Shipbuilding Forum Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan spoke about what he expects from the continuous naval shipbuilding enterprise.
Modern navies, more so than ever, need to be agile – they need the capability to be agile in operations, and they need a robust risk making framework for agility in strategic decision making that is in our national interests – and for this, they need data.
Adaptable navies, and the industry that supports them, need to strive for continuous improvement in everything they do so that all of us working as part of the continuous shipbuilding enterprise can focus on delivering the required outcomes and provide agility in adapting to emerging requirements– and for this, we need innovative solutions driven by data.
The real magic therefore will actually happen in the sustainment of those vessels.
Earlier I referenced the digital shipyard twin and how it’s a common application in the automotive sector.
Well there’s another automotive application that we can apply to our own industry.
Everyone in this room today will have taken their car to the mechanic, who then plugs it in and downloads the data to assess how it’s running, and plan what work needs to be done now or in the future. The car manufacturers can then use that data to update the design in subsequent models.
Imagine the same for our warships.
Imagine if all the data generated through the design and construction of the ships, together with the data generated by the ships themselves while they are at sea, can be used to help the Royal Australian Navy plan ahead across the entire life of the vessel.
Imagine the ability for engineers ashore to truly identify and task preventative maintenance, to have materiel at port before the vessel arrives, and the sailors on board having the information needed to keep the vessels on operations longer.
The digital backbone of the Hunter Class Frigate and the wider Global Combat Ship, and the digital shipbuilding processes we are putting in place in Osbourne, really will make this a reality.
Across the Hunter class frigates we have the potential to create an Asset Neural Network using sensors to capture data about how the ship performs. We love an acronym in defence so let’s call it ANN. The F-35s have ALIS, the Autonomic Logistics Information System, that provides the information and capability to sustain those aircraft and plan ahead. Why not have ANN doing the same for our warships?
If we truly want to support our Navy to be adaptable and agile in an increasingly complex, congested and contested strategic environment then we absolutely need to think outside the box, exploit technology and data, and deploy innovation, both with our current fleet, and our future fleet.
We need to be in a position to develop ‘smart’ sustainment practices; supporting the Royal Australian Navy be adaptable in an operating and strategic environment in which responsiveness and interoperability across the multi-domain battlespace is increasingly important.
And then because we have the data needed to know how our naval vessels perform in operations, we can use that to then design the warships of the future, which is the capability that we’ve been tasked with building up within ASC Shipbuilding.
But the opportunity doesn’t stop there. As a five-eyes member and with Australia, the UK and Canada all going to be operating variants of the Global Combat Ship, the opportunity for enhanced data gathering and information sharing, and improved sustainment, training and operability, to enable our collective navies and indeed broader defence forces be adaptable, together, is truly global in nature.
In closing, looking beyond acquisition, why is it important that we as an industry leverage the continuous naval shipbuilding approach and industry 4.0 to support the RAN to be adaptable?
There are three key things I’d like to leave you with today:
Firstly – we need to leverage continuous naval shipbuilding and industry 4.0 because it will provide the RAN with enhanced and increased capability, providing them with more options to respond to the ever-changing threat environment we live with.
Secondly – continuous naval shipbuilding is important because locally contracted and eventually designed vessels will enable us to closer match our navy’s needs. And it’s the data generated throughout these design and build programs that will help us develop smart sustainment practices and tailor future solutions, and will enable Australian industry to grow and contribute to the global naval industry.
Thirdly – mature ship build and sustainment programs, ones that evolve through the application of learnings, are more predictable, allowing Navy to make important strategic operational, crewing and training decisions, based around when the vessels will be available.