2017 marked the end of Australia’s car manufacturing industry.

General Motors, Toyota and Ford all closed factories. The GM Holden factory shutdown alone could cost the South Australian economy AU$1.24 billion and 13,200 jobs, according to a report.

The South Australian Government is determined to help the economy, and people, bounce back. State capital Adelaide has a rich history of shipbuilding since the Second World War, and from 2020, will be a key base for a new AU$89 billion programme to manufacture naval ships and submarines.

The South Australian Government has partnered with software company Dassault Systèmes on the Virtual Shipyard programme, looking to help local companies make the most of this opportunity.

What is the Virtual Shipyard?

The project will help SMEs in the defence supply chain to build digital capabilities – key to enabling them to go head-to-head with more established, foreign suppliers, says Narayan Sreenivasan, Geo Leader of Business Transformation in Asia Pacific South, at Dassault Systèmes Australia.

In the past, local SMEs have largely been involved in fabricating small parts for ships, and lacked the skills and technology to create higher-value products and services, he explains. With the billions of dollars of investment coming in to the South Australian shipbuilding industry, the programme will help SMEs “to surf that opportunity and get the most out of it”.

Dassault Systèmes will play a part here, training these companies on how to collaborate, comply, plan and visualise the construction and build of ships in a 3D virtual environment, before it goes into the actual yard for block construction, outfitting, fabrication and assembly. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform will allow them to virtually simulate how all the ship’s components fit together, alternative and optimal build strategies, material handling and crane lifting capacities, and adherence to material and quality compliance.

‘Massive’ savings

Australia has had “significant delays” in shipbuilding in the past, Sreenivasan says. Engineering teams plan how to build and assemble the ships ahead of time, but when they go into the yard, it often needed to be re-worked. “A big part of delays and cost overruns on these programmes happen because of these re-works,” he says.

The Virtual Shipyard programme will help cut delays and cost overruns massively, he adds. The savings will be “at least double digit millions, and on the larger programmes, triple digit millions”, he says.

By allowing engineering teams to simulate shipbuilding before the plans are put to practice, they will be able to see if they are really feasible, or need changing. “Whatever design you get, you put that into a 3D facility, into a production plant, and you play it like a movie,” Sreenivasan explains.

How it works

16 South Australian SMEs will take part in the programme by the Government of South Australia and Dassault Systèmes.

First, they will be assessed on their technology and process capabilities, Sreenivasan says. An important criteria will be to have at least a “moderate” level of financial backing and an intent to grow and take risks, he adds. “It does require an element of investment and risk-taking to get into the defence industry.”

The next stage for the companies will be to ensure that they have the digital capabilities and connectivity to take advantage of the 3D technologies. They will also be trained in the language, processes and methods that are mandatory in the defence and marine sectors, he adds.

And in the third and final stage, they will be trained to use and build content on the 3D platform. The Virtual Shipyard environment will help SMEs demonstrate to potential clients what they can do. “When they bid for a project, it doesn’t end up being just a 400-page document that describes their company,” Sreenivasan explains. “It really shows them something practical that they’ve actually done for a shipbuilding or defence context.”

The first batch of eight companies were shortlisted last year and are in the second stage, while the second batch of eight are about to be shortlisted, he adds.

Coaching companies

The South Australian Government’s role in nurturing local companies has been crucial, Sreenivasan continues. “The government is playing the role of a coach for the industry”, recruiting experts from the defence and shipbuilding industries to work on policymaking and attracting CEOs of large defence organisations to advise on the digital supply chain.

And the state government is looking beyond its own jurisdictions to work with the commonwealth government and see how this training programme can be replicated in other states. The states with the most immediate opportunities are Western Australia and Tasmania, Sreenivasan says. They have similar SME profiles, and both have naval histories.

Beyond defence, similar programmes will be useful for Australia’s mining industry, he adds, because “like shipbuilding, the mining industry is transforming itself”. Australia has taken some steps towards using technologies such as automated guided vehicles in mines, but “it’s not fully digital and not everything is connected”, he notes.

For Dassault Systemès, the Virtual Shipyard programme in South Australia is a stepping stone to the rest of Asia Pacific. This is why the company has set up a new regional centre in Adelaide this year. “We see this as a very secure IT hub for building capabilities into Asia Pacific,” Sreenivasan explains. The programme can be replicated in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and India, he says, which have large defence markets and a “dearth of supply”.

The closure of South Australia’s Holden car factory sent ripples across the economy and affected thousands of lives. But the state is now dusting itself off, ready for the next big thing.

The Government of South Australia and Dassault Systèmes will be showcasing their work at the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum Asia Pacific South 2018 on 13 February at the Adelaide Oval. It is free for participants. Register your interest to attend by filling in this form.