The Making Of A High-Quality Vessel

Mr Phua Siang Ling, Senior Vice President (Project Directorate, Shipbuilding), ST Engineering Marine, explains the rigorous planning and coordination that underlie the safe and timely delivery of highly complex vessels.

Q: Tell us more about the role of the Project Office at ST Engineering Marine.

The shipbuilding process involves multiple trades and parties. After a vessel contract is awarded to Marine, the Project Office comes in to translate the conceptual design into the final product.

All programmes begin with a thorough briefing of the customer’s requirements to project teams from our design, production, purchasing, quality assurance and integrated logistics support departments. The deliverables are scrutinised, and detailed plans for respective work areas are formulated to derive the key project milestones. This is important because it sets the timelines for delivering of the drawings; purchasing the specific components, equipment and material to support the work schedule; hiring and training of skilled labour; and preparing the yard for different stages of construction. As ships are constructed block by block, each activity is carefully sequenced and meticulously coordinated on an Integrated Schedule Plan.

The Project Office functions like a nerve centre, linking and orchestrating thousands of moving parts to ensure a high quality of work while keeping the project on track and on budget. Over the years, ST Engineering Marine has continued to prove its success through the delivery of many large-scale projects. These range from complex naval programmes that demand a high level of technical specification and cutting-edge technologies, to sophisticated commercial platforms that call for a high engineering content.

Q: How has the management of shipbuilding projects evolved over the last three decades?

The emergence of IT enablers has transformed many aspects of shipbuilding. I remember how we would create and maintain our project schedules in hardcopy, or how we used to collect and analyse voluminous data using spreadsheets in the past. We now have analytical tools like Business Intelligence to harness and make sense of massive data points for faster and sharper insights and decisions.

Today, enterprise software like Primavera has greatly enhanced our oversight of multiple ongoing projects. With processes like scheduling, risk analysis, resource planning and collaboration being managed through a single portal, each and every line activity can be guided along a critical path. In other words, any variance to the original plan would immediately trigger an adjustment to the sequence of activities, keeping downtime to a minimal.

The evolution of shipbuilding processes has also impacted the way resources are planned and allocated. In the past, shipbuilders in Singapore were highly dependent on skilled welders and fitters, who were mostly foreign workers. Today, the deployment of cutting-edge machines, construction equipment and digital tools has led to higher productivity and quality and reduced dependency on skilled labour. Given how COVID-19 has affected the migrant workforce in Singapore, we are accelerating our digitalisation plans and to ride the waves of industry transformation.

Q: How do you strengthen customer value through project management, and how do you mitigate some of the risks that impact delivery schedules?

A clear understanding of the customer’s needs has always been paramount. We pay close attention to nurturing strong partnerships with our customers, taking time to explain our proposals and solutions. We strive to gain customers’ trust by proving our ability to deliver what is being promised.

Having full access to an in-house engineering design centre is another clear advantage, as this allows for responsive actions should there be any engineering clarification or design refinements. With the support of an in-house design team, we are able to produce 3D models or digital twins of vessels under construction. This provides customers with a clear visualisation of the room layouts, allowing them to envisage the working space prior to construction.

Meanwhile, we have seen the importance of diversifying raw material sources during the COVID-19 crisis. This alone is not enough. We must also be able to foresee challenges, put in mitigating measures or provide alternative solutions. For example, when a shipment of valves was unexpectedly delayed, we improvised with a temporary piece that could be easily replaced when the valves arrived, so that work could proceed on schedule. Our customers, in turn, have benefitted from our depth of project management experience.

To mitigate other project risks, we have an established Programme Risk Management Framework, where a risk evaluation matrix is used to assess and determine specific risks and corresponding mitigation measures. Of equal importance is our robust process for regular risk reviews, as risks often evolve and new risks would emerge in the course of project execution.

To ensure the smooth running of projects, we advocate the shipbuilding concepts of Pre-Outfitting, Open Sky and Pre-Erection. In Pre-Outfitting, our vessels are pre-fabricated block-by-block to improve the safety, productivity and ease of construction. With Open Sky, the aim is to leave the decks uncovered until the installation work on each level has completed. At Pre-Erection, the individual ship blocks are lifted and transported using existing equipment, and joined into larger sections to improve the speed and efficiency of assembly at the launching bay.

Q: Can you share a glimpse of your latest efforts to improve customer experiences in the future?

We are working with our engineering design centre to incorporate Virtual Reality technologies into our 3D ship models. This would provide customers with the immersive experience of walking through a virtual ship using 3D goggles. Customers would also have a better sense of the work progress, and provide our teams with more accurate comments and feedback.

We are also leveraging our proprietary 3D ship models to provide our customers with cradle-to-grave logistics management support. The process entails tagging and uploading information on all the physical parts and components of a vessel, and making them available in digital format throughout the entire lifespan of the ship. We foresee the usefulness of such an application for fleet owners, who would appreciate the convenience of comprehensive contents related to vessel maintenance and lifecycle management at their fingertips.

The digitalisation of our shipyard processes is another exciting development. With the adoption of new digital tools, the quality of measurements and products would be tremendously improved. With the power to digitally record and automatically transmit readings to customers’ mobile devices, they wouldn’t even need to be on site for routine inspections in future!

For more information about our Shipbuilding line of business, please contact