Technology is advancing at an impressive rate, having a profound effect on human civilization. Automation and robotic assistance are becoming more prominent themes in some shipyards. But what will the consequences of this be? Will the rise of technology make shipbuilding more efficient, or will it result in fewer jobs for skilled workers?
The answer to dealing with an aging workforce?
At present, the maritime industry is facing the issue of having an aging workforce. Many roles in shipping require a significant level of expertise which takes years to accumulate—making employees hard to replace. Additionally, heavy lifting and manual work is often necessary—not ideal for older workers. Moreover, the industry is also struggling to attract the next generation of employees. As this workforce gap develops, shipping companies need to look at alternatives to compensate.
However, countries that have started to adopt robotics in shipbuilding have already seen an increase in productivity. Geoje Shipyard in South Korea is leading the way in automation, highlighted by its 68% automated production rate. Other countries are also investing significantly in automation and robotics for shipbuilding, such as Brazil and China. Clearly, this trend is on the rise. But what are the benefits of robotics in shipbuilding?
Robotics making shipyards safer for people
Due to the considerable amount of heavy machinery involved with working in the industry, there is always a potential health and safety risk in shipyards. Of course, facilities have stringent safety procedures in place, but wherever people are involved, there is the possibility of accident. By using robotics, shipyards can protect humans from possibly dangerous situations.
And it isn’t just safety that is improved by delegating certain responsibilities to robots: It is also more efficient and convenient. For example, removing rust from the surface of vessel can be a time-consuming job. At Geoje shipyard, they use what is known as a spider robot to complete this task. This not only frees up time for shipyard workers, but is also more cost-effective.
The ambition is to become fully digitized
Furthermore, the spider robot at Geoje is able to automatically complete welding. The introduction of this technology has significantly reduced welding faults and also made hard-to-reach areas more accessible—something that was previously challenging for humans. Additionally, there are robots for a number of other difficult tasks, such as pipe inspection and heavy lifting. Ultimately, the aim at Geoje, and many other shipyards, is to completely digitize and become what is known as a Smart Yard.
Boosting employment as well as productivity
Despite the fear that robotics may take jobs from skilled workers in the industry, many predict the exact opposite. It is expected that as the prominence of industrial robots increases, so too will the associated jobs. In many sectors, the implementation of robotics has increased production, made manufacturing more efficient, and boosted employment rates. After all, robots need engineers for maintenance and operation.
Developing from an emerging trend to being best practice?
While the topic of industrial robots still divides opinions in many circles, it cannot be denied that these machines can perform certain tasks more efficiently than people. Some can even complete tasks that humans are unable to. With evidence suggesting that automation, robotics, and the consequent increase in production will create more jobs, it may not be too long before robots are commonplace in shipyards.