'Lean Shipbuilding' Increases Productivity in Lean Times

By George Backwell at May 08, 2011 04:26
Filed Under: General

‘Lean Shipbuilding’ has become a buzz-word in post-recession shipbuilding, not least in Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard where this productivity-raising management tool was put to good effect in the delivery from their Papenberg facility of cruise ships AIDAblu, Celebrity Eclipse this year, and Disney Dream (the largest passenger ship ever built in Germany) late last year. Vital new orders from AIDA Cruises and NCL have guaranteed the shipbuilder at least a partial workload until 2014.

New orders were won against fierce competition with price levels at the same level, according to Meyer Werft, as they were seven or eight years ago, even though the costs of raw materials like steel, copper and oil have risen sharply, leaving this shipyard to square up to the challenge of building quality cruise ships in the most cost-effective way: they claim the application of Lean Shipbuilding has helped them increase productivity by 50% in less than three years.

Fitting out Cruise Ship AIDAsol: Photo courtesy of Meyer Werft

Modular Shipbuilding a Prerequisite for Lean Shipbuilding

Modular, also known as fabricated ship construction, the modus operandi of most shipyards these days, is widely acknowledged to be the essential given from which Lean Shipbuilding techniques may proceed. Incidentally, shipyards in China seem to lag behind in shipbuilding fabrication techniques, in the main sticking to traditional construction methods, although just recently Sinopacific Shipbuilding announced the first deliveries of two prefabricated,  technically advanced OSV’s from its Zhejiang Shipyard. Amongst many other befefits, modular shipbuilding enables yards to contract out large proportions of the work in hand, and Meyer Werft say they have taken the initiative  to train their suppliers in the application of 'Lean' practices; an initiative that has led to mutual cost-reduction benefits.

Lean Shipbuilding

Lean Shipbuilding evolved from the Japanese automotive industry, notably Toyota, where John Krafcik first coined the term when researching there for his master’s thesis, published in 1988 under the title, ‘Triumph of the Lean Production System’. Briefly ‘Lean’ is a strategy for achieving a continuous improvement in performance through the elimination of all waste in both resources and time in the whole manufacturing process. In essence it aims to diffierentiate between ‘Value Adding Activity’ (transforming shapes or converting raw materials to meet customer requirements) as opposed to ‘Non-Value Adding Activity’ (those that take up time, resources or space but do not add any value). There are three key strands to Lean Shipbuilding:

  1. Value stream mapping – diagrams of existing work flow and ideal work flows
  2. Kaizen events – ceaseless incremental improvement that result in overall improvements
  3. The 6 S’s – a methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment

Adopted in the shipyard, advocated by environmentalists (greater detail may be found from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lean Shipbuilding offers a lifeline to the shipbuilding industry in lean times.


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