R&M Group Uses Augmented Reality in Shipbuilding

Augmented Reality on Board

Designing ship interiors is a resource-intensive process. Hundreds of engineers are at work across the globe on major shipbuilding projects. Life-size visualizations in Augmented Reality (AR) are now helping the R&M Group, an expert in ship interior design, to optimize development.

Everything from restaurants and cinemas for cruise ships, bathrooms on mega-yachts, to cabins and ventilation systems for ferries and expedition ships: the R&M Group’s more than 130 employees worldwide plan, design and develop the interiors of ships and maritime facilities. “The interior design very much determines the character and future comfort on board,” affirms Dr. Calvin Brett, Director of IT & Digitalization at the R&M Group. “That’s why we want to be pioneers and show our customers where the journey in modern ship interior construction is heading.” Early on, the company set a goal to be at the forefront of digital technology in shipbuilding. “Augmented Reality allows us to rethink processes and to develop new services,” Brett states. The use of Augmented Reality in shipbuilding enables the R&M Group to be as flexible and collaborative as possible when designing the interiors of ships. Specifically, the technology makes it easier for engineering and project teams located around the world to work together, while also responding more quickly to customer change requests.

Savona, Italy – May 4, 2022. Costa Toscana cruise ship. Costa Toscana is the sister ship to Costa Smeralda.

From Computers to Reality

Calvin Brett first became aware of AR technology during a project at shipbuilder thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, where immersive technologies made the planning and assembly process for submarines significantly shorter and more economical. This sparked the idea to make existing 3D data of the designs available during the planning process, without having to build real models. “Two of the challenges involved were the volume of the data and the server infrastructure needed,” comments Brett. The more complex the model, the greater the amount of data and the needed storage as well as computing capacity. Requirements such as these can quickly push mobile AR devices to their limits.

Visualizing the complex 3D models used in ship interior design requires outsourced computing power. “Therefore, we opted for a solution that runs on local servers and in the cloud,” said the Director of IT & Digitalization when describing the selection process. Hololight’s Hololight Space AR software uses integrated streaming technology to visualize and collaboratively edit complex 3D CAD data as holograms in a real environment via HoloLens 2 AR glasses. “By operating in the cloud, we can also use the software flexibly and independently of location. This also helps us to scale the solution,” Brett added.

Global Collaboration Made Easy

Speaking of scalability: as many as 100 engineers are working on various major projects at R&M at locations in Germany, Finland, Norway, India and China. This can present a challenge when communicating about complex 3D objects. “Collision analyses or modifications to the model can be difficult to discuss when using virtual communication tools such as Teams and Zoom,” concludes Brett. It was often necessary for the engineering teams to travel long distances to review models on location. “Now, by using Hololight Space to visualize 3D models and to work on them collaboratively from different locations, we can and intend to significantly reduce our travel expenses and thus also our carbon footprint,” confirms Brett. Augmented Reality helps to target issues very specifically and to show solutions in real time on the model.

With Hololight Space, all stakeholders can gather for a virtual meeting, regardless of their location, via HoloLens 2 AR glasses or a tablet or smartphone, and work together on 3D CAD objects. This not only ensures seamless collaboration across departments and production sites – components and end products can also be much better coordinated right from the initial design stage. Revisions in Augmented Reality also enable departments to quickly identify and correct inconsistent details and easily overlooked design errors, and to modify the model accordingly. Furthermore, new employees on the global engineering teams need to be trained quickly. “We have also used AR to optimize our transfer of knowledge,” Brett adds. “For example, if we visualize the process of collision analysis and also make it possible to experience or carry out in AR, we can achieve completely different learning outcomes and train new, international team members more quickly.”

Augmented Reality in shipbuilding helps to coordinate interaction between different departments in the development process.

Increasing Customer Satisfaction with AR

Before the materials are ready to be produced, mock-ups, usually on a 1:1 scale, are traditionally built offside of the actual ship and presented to the customer. “AR allows us to show the customer individual sections and, if desired, the complete atrium with all its components – from flooring to emergency exits. Our customers find this amazing,” says Brett. “And we can quickly show our customers multiple ideas, because the 3D models can be easily changed and rearranged within the space as desired, without the need to actually rebuild and re-zone everything.”

“By using Augmented Reality to allow customers to experience the designs in the planning phase and to discuss potential problems and ideas, we avoid having to create unnecessary prototypes, and therefore need to make fewer revisions,” affirms Calvin Brett. This lets customers test in advance whether all components meet their requirements, are correctly positioned and meet certain conditions. “It has also helped us tremendously in cross-cultural communication and has allowed us to make decisions more quickly.” For example, he says, it’s normal that a customer from China may have different ideas than the engineering team in Germany. When working on virtual 3D objects, all participants can clarify potential differences quickly, in a way that can be understood by everyone.

Benefits of Augmented Reality Engineering

AR helps to give the customer greater involvement in the process, starting from the planning and design phase of the ship interior, thus increasing customer satisfaction. At the same time, relying on a collaboration tool that allows employees to work on 3D CAD data across large geographic distances is an absolute advantage. The result is shorter development times, coordinated interaction between different departments in the development process, and thus more efficient solutions.”We want to promote the benefits of this technology even more in the future, both internally and for our customers,” states Brett . Augmented Reality offers the opportunity to avoid productivity gaps and, in the long term, creates the basis for more efficient collaboration and teamwork throughout the product development process – from planning to design to implementation. “However, in many cases, we also must be prepared to move away from the desired haptics or touch. It will certainly take some time to bring our customers around, but we’re firmly convinced of the benefits of Augmented Reality.”