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Enabling Technology and the Naval Architect 1860-2010 Discussion

Professor P G Wrobel, University College London, UK 

I have a brief comment to contribute: “This is a thorough review of the technical changes over the last 150 years in the Marine Sector. Even more interesting the author has linked these with the changing market and business drivers over that period. It also illustrates how the aggregation of all the individual changes represent several revolutions in the sector. Can I ask the author to now wind the story forwards and give his view of the future and what the marriage of “Technology Push” and “Market Pull” is likely to hold in store for the next 150 years. However disconcerting it might seem - the rate of change will not stop ­ the opportunities are legion”. 

Mr T McDonald, Atkins Global, UK

I would like to thank Dr Buxton for providing such an informative paper that clearly illustrates the impact of enabling technology on the variety and performance of both maritime vessels and their constitute systems. 

While conducting your extensive review of these differing technologies did you note any common trends linking the technologies that have succeeded within the maritime field over the last 150 years? Were the successful technologies driven by strong individuals, did they possess considerable operational advantages, did external changes drive there adoption, or were other factors important? 

Additionally, I am interested in your perspective and opinions of the emerging enabling technologies that may be suitable for tackling current significant challenges in Naval Architecture, including: reduction of carbon emissions (and other environmental issues); and growing complexity within marine vessels. 

While the future is always difficult to predict, has performing your historical review of enabling technologies provided you with any insights into current developments that you feel are well placed to help tackle these issues? 

Professor D Andrews, FREng FRINA, University College London, UK

The author is to be congratulated on his paper showing a highly professional mix of technical and historical survey of 150 years of maritime engineering development. This continues to flourish sustaining the global market, which remains largely dependent on the maritime sector despite the wider public perception, due to the major world movement of people being by air transportation. The strong message from the survey is how closely the naval architect and the marine engineer have worked together in making the highly impressive advances in ocean transportation over the last 150 years. 

From a warship designer’s perspective a greater post war change than adoption of gas turbine prime movers, highly significant though that has been ­ not least in the substantial reduction in engineering staff onboard [19], has been the move away from guns to missiles and, even more, the developments in radar, communications and now C4I (Command, Control, Communications and Computers plus Intelligence) all of vastly increased information levels due to the astonishing and still increasing information capacity provided by the electronics age. Thus in the naval ship design world we have a third major discipline in ship design ­ that of the combat system engineer. This was recognised by the Institution’s first conference on Systems Engineering in Ship & Offshore Design in this anniversary year [20]. 

Noting that one effect of the electronics age which has already impacted on merchant ship design is the adoption of unmanned machinery spaces and use of autopilots for bridge control, the author is asked to comment as to whether we are close to the final step of wholly automated ships, or whether, like passenger carrying aircraft, there will always be a need for a human presence onboard major ocean going vessels. It could be argued that this may become no more than a psychological demand, if only to be seen to be providing an ability to intervene in the congested inshore waters, where there may well be small autonomous surface and underwater vehicles drawing on the technology beginning to be seen exploited for military air reconnaissance and even strike. 

Mr C V Betts, CB, FREng, RCNC,UK

This paper is a wonderful tour de force which covers virtually all the major developments in enabling technology since the Institution was founded. The rate of development is fascinating and impressive, told by the author in a way that is highly readable and includes many evocative pictures from past and present. 

In a subject of such historic scope, it would be surprising if readers could not think of additional developments of significance from their own perspective. In my own case, some are covered by Professor David Andrews in his paper “150 years of Ship Design” and others might be covered by other review papers that I have not yet seen. Among the significant enabling technologies that I would add are the many developments leading to the modern aircraft carrier and also to the modern submarine powered, like the largest aircraft carriers, by nuclear reactors (ironically, most with virtually the last marine use of steam machinery) or by other means of extending underwater endurance such as the use of Stirling engines or, increasingly, fuel cells. The attempted use of nuclear power in merchant ships has also been of note, albeit not successful (so far) except perhaps in the case of Russian ice breakers. 

One could add as a very significant development the huge space-and-power-demanding increase in the many forms of electronics, particularly but not only in warships. Regarding high speed and leisure craft, the author rightly mentions the far-reaching introduction of fibre reinforced plastics but the last of my additions would be the other technological leaps in materials and design methods used in the development of small service and leisure craft, particularly high speed monohull and multihull sailing vessels that are nowadays capable of circling the globe non-stop, and often single-handed, at average speeds in excess of 15 knots. 

The author concentrates almost completely, and entirely reasonably, on the developments that have brought real improvements. It occurs to me that it would be potentially useful to the profession to commission a complementary paper on the significant mistakes made and the lessons learned from them over the years, particularly those that could well arise again if history is ignored. 

Examples of the sort of issues that come to mind include the Royal Navy’s disastrous attempt to increase the submerged endurance of manned submarines by the use of exotic fuels such as High-Test Peroxide (HTP) in the 1950’s; the too-rapid increase in supertanker sizes in the 1970’s which led to some major structural failures (compounded by poor understanding of the early finite element methods of structural design); the problems introduced by adding aluminium superstructures to steel hulls, leading to extensive cracking in passenger ships and increased vulnerability to fire in warships; the poor design and operating features which led to the unacceptable rate of loss, often with all hands, of large bulk carriers in the 1980’s; and the recent and shameful series of major disasters with Ro-Ro ferries whose design for damaged stability continued for far too long to place economic ‘efficiency’ ahead of safety requirements and ignore the original and safer design features used in the precursor World War II landing craft. There are numerous other examples of mistakes and lessons learned that one could quote. To publish a paper on all these might seem to some to involve an unnecessary wallowing in our past sins and errors; however, we should not actually be too embarrassed to highlight our failures, as all forms of engineering have advanced through making and then learning from mistakes.

Mr N Pattison, BAE Systems Surface Ships, UK

The author is to be applauded for an interesting and highly informative paper which describes, in a very accessible way, the introduction and development of the various enabling technologies which have been the primary influences on ship design and construction over the last 150 years.  The transition from sail to steam, the adoption of iron and then steel as the structural materials of choice and the early development of the science of Naval Architecture dominate the early years, while steam turbines, diesel engines and the introduction of welding are key technologies in the first half of the 20th century. 

The influences of ever expanding international trade and economic shocks such as the sharp rise in oil prices are clearly described as well as the resulting trends for larger and larger ships and more specialised ships.  Does the author expect that these trends are likely to continue and if so what sectors might be ripe for increases in vessel sizes and specialisation respectively? 

The development of containerisation is outlined and its very substantial benefits in terms of flexibility and reduced handling times and labour costs described.  The trend of increasing vessel size is evident in this sector but does the author anticipate other developments in this area over the next few decades? 

Cdr C Dicks BEng PhD CEng MIMechE MRINA RCNC,Fleet Constructor, Navy Command HQ, Portsmouth, UK.

I should like to thank both Professor Buxton for his excellent summary of many lifetimes of achievement. It is quite humbling to realise the elements of one’s profession that one is simply not aware of, or takes for granted! It is also important that such achievements are documented. 

My comments are aimed in three directions: Where is the role of the naval architect heading? Are the students of today sufficiently aware of the achievements of their predecessors to learn from them? Is it appropriate that the public at large takes the capability of modern shipping for granted, if not how do we educate? 

 With regard to the first point I find myself torn, I can argue the current direction of travel is no longer “simply” towards using new technologies and knowledge to allow a new capability to be introduced, but one in which maintenance of today’s level of performance with economy of effort, increasing levels of safety and reduced environmental impact are key. These challenges may lead to a different kind of Naval Architect or Marine Engineer to those pioneers detailed in the papers, a team member focused on technical risk, instead of individuals each pioneering ultimate levels of performance. Alternatively future resource and conservation challenges, Panama canal construction or deep water exploration, increasing demands from cruise passengers and high technology naval capability requirements will all demand that the technological edge is pursued and maintained, whether for profit, project viability or for military superiority. Will the author comment on whether the role of the naval architect will change in the foreseeable future and whether we are preparing our successors correctly for that future? Is our priority on teaching complex analysis methods the right one? Should we focus more on design, both theory and practice than at present? Is there a greater need for technology development skills? 

I find myself reading the paper and wondering why, with the availability of M.Eng. degrees with a little more breathing space for subjects beyond the core disciplines, it is not generally a requirement for all undergraduates to study, the history of ship design, technology development or analysis. I would suggest that an understanding the development of solutions to problems past would be an invaluable tool to shape problem solving capability. Using previous technological advances as a way of introducing classical analysis approaches, would enliven heavily maths based courses. Possibly most importantly, such a course might provide an additional opportunity to increase the ability of the student to write a persuasive argument in a technical subject. Would the author consider this course a useful addition to the core curriculum? 

By the appearance of this paper, and the one by Professor Andrews, in the Trans. RINA, the authors have succeeded in enthusing further an already enthusiastic audience. However, many consider the UK public to be “Sea Blind” to both Naval and Merchant shipping. While Formula 1, Discovery Channel and other popular media regularly take the public into areas of technological complexity without them switching off, our most prominent media appearances are safety or environmental disasters and project management mistakes. How do we enthuse the public into understanding how complex our endeavours are, how interesting they are and how they could be involved? My own start point is to propose that the next available Royal Institution Christmas Lecture series focuses on the different technologies involved in the concept design of a Submarine.

Click on the following links to continue reading the paper 

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