Virtual Reality

Japanese shipmakers turn to high-tech, VR to boost efficiency

EPA / EVERETT KENNEDY BROWN

Producers of ships in Japan are facing a significant decrease in exports. Apparently only eight ships were ordered in July compared to 25 from the year before. In June this year, there were only four orders for the whole month, a drop from 98 in June 2015. The industry was also hit by the strengthening of the yen.

Shipbuilders reacted with attempts to modernize their industry so they would survive this year’s downturn. They are engaging some cutting-edge technologies in order to improve their productivity and take on Chinese and South Korean competitors.

Tsuneishi Shipbuilding is enhancing its coating process with the help of virtual reality. VR simulation of the ship is shown on a large screen and workers wearing 3D glasses paint it with spray cans. After studying their work, laborers will be given feedback such as areas with place for improvement. This is Tsuneishi’s attempt to cut coating costs for midsize bulk carriers. One ship requires paint worth between ¥60 million and ¥70 million.

Japan Ship Technology with the support of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding will finance with ¥45 million ($448,000) development of a system that would analyze workers’ behavioral patterns, Nikkei Asian Review reported. This project suggests cameras should be placed throughout a workplace to determine how employees do their work. Results will be crossed with data obtained from accelerometers installed in the workers’ phones and radio-frequency identification tags connected to welding devices. All data will be analyzed so it could contribute to reconfiguration of the work process and to repositioning of the machinery and industrial tools. The goal of this system is to cut the work time up to 40% and it will be used in welding and grinding processes when parts are being connected to steel plates. Namura Shipbuilding and Sumitomo Heavy Industries are one of the companies who took part in the project led by the Tokyo-based ship research association which consists of 185 groups and firms.

On the other hand, augmented reality is being enlisted to support tanker construction. Fujitsu and some other firms are developing a system that would enable workers to see the pipe’s installation position and procedures by viewing it with a smartphone or tablet. AR would shorten the time to check a pipe from 10 minutes to a minute and this would represent a great improvement as one tanker has 7,000 to 20,000 pipes.

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