Hi Tech Shipbuilding
Hi Tech Shipbuilding
South Korea is on the list of most technologically advanced shipbuilding nations. Metal cutting using WiMax, underwater welding, joining ready large-sized units up to 10 000 tons, assembling a ship that outsizes the dock length… The level of innovations is impressive here. At the same time, you won’t find many Korean names among authors of scientific papers on improving vessel performance, power saving technologies, and other fields of development in shipbuilding. Strange, isn’t it?
After the war, shipbuilding became one of strategic priorities for the national economy of South Korea. Chosen to develop the segment at a stepped-up tempo, companies were granted tax remissions, lower loan interest rates and generous financial support from the government, including non-repayable handouts.
Before targeted intensified growth of Korean shipyards started, the local shipbuilding segment was close to none. So, the first five-year plan on shipbuilding segment development included know-how “exchange” with foreign experts. Korean engineers went for trainings abroad, while foreign technicians and managers received invitations to visit Korea to give “technical consultations.”
In 70s, Korea imported shipbuilding equipment and technologies from abroad openly, main exporters being Japan and Europe.
The Korea Shipbuilding Corporation (KSC), a predecessor of Hanjin Heavy Industries, signed its very first contract with the Gulf Corporation in 1970. As the project required a subcontractor, KSC simultaneously signed another contract with German HDW (now a part of Thyssen Krupp). HDW was responsible for design, equipment supply, moreover, it controlled the whole production process. To build its first VLCC in 1971, KSC signed a contract with Appledore Shipbuilders and Scott Lithgow from Great Britain.
South Korea has been “borrowing” technologies for engine manufacturing from Germany and Switzerland; CAD systems from Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Spain; gas carrier design and membrane proofness technology from France.
Since then every large corporation has opened its own R&D innovation centre. In 1982, Hyundai and Daewoo founded R&D centres to be followed by Samsung in 1984. The State Research Institute of Shipbuilding and Oceanography appeared in Korea back in 1968.
Supported by incredible financial investments and powerful state protection when it comes to developing local shipbuilding technologies, Korean centres introduced their own technologies for metal cutting, steel welding, and vessel assembly. The latter is the most important achievement of Korean researchers, as the country is counting on large-sized vessels. The strategic task is to build ships larger and quicker than the neighbouring China.
Korean manufacturers protect their technologies carefully taking serious measures against curiosity of their competitors.
Commenting on the situation to Financial Times last year, top managers of Hyundai Heavy Industries Holding, the largest shipbuilding company of the world, revealed their main secret. According to them, the advantage of Korean companies over Chinese manufactures (and other global market players, obviously) lies in management technologies (!). Korean companies are skilfully arranging professional teams, estimating costs and project life cycles precisely.
Laser-arc hybrid welding and Friction Stir Welding (FSW), which are reported to be successful in Europe, did not get wide implementation in Korea yet. Full welding automation has been introduced only at largest Korean shipyards. Local researches of painting processes are clearly lagging behind. Navigation systems and automated control systems are being imported. Russia is among countries supplying navigation systems to South Korea.
And a couple of figures for conclusion. It took 28 years and $30 million for Hyundai Heavy Industries, a grand of Korean shipbuilding industry, to create an engine of its own. Samsung Heavy Industries, another shipbuilding giant, has been designing its cruise ship for 13 years.