Babcock Type 31 Pic Peter Devlin

Home to one of the largest waterside manufacturing and repair facilities in the UK, Babcock’s Rosyth facilities has seen significant investment, transforming the historic site into the UK’s most modern maritime support facility with digital transformation at the heart of its growth.

In September 2021, the symbolic first cut of steel on the first of the 5 UK Royal Navy’s new Type 31 Inspiration class frigates took place at the 106-year-old Fife facility, signalling a transition in the global, naval ship market, as Babcock ushered in a new era of high-value, highly-adaptable, modular naval ships.

The UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSbS) launched in 2017 by the UK Government, and shortly due to be refreshed, set out the transformation of naval ship procurement in the UK. This included re-energising the maritime industry through increasing competition, a focus on skills development and the growth of exports and prosperity in the UK. Simultaneously, technology has evolved rapidly, especially in the fields of manufacturing automation, personal electronics and data processing techniques. The Type 31 frigate programme is a pathfinder programme for the NSbS and is forging a modern, world-class approach to shipbuilding in the UK.

Investing in the future

Babcock, the Aerospace, Defence and Security company, has recently invested more than £60m in its Rosyth facilities to create state-of-the art infrastructure for the Inspiration Class programme with a focus on developing a digitally-enabled facility – including the new Venturer Building assembly hall which was completed in November 2021.

Measuring an impressive 147m x 62m x 42m, the Venturer Building will initially be used for the assembly of the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigates, providing a facility that can support UK and international shipbuilding activity for decades to come. As the Type 31 programme continues, the fully covered hall will house two frigates for uninterrupted, parallel assembly and will improve access to the platforms and digital connectivity.

Neil Young, Engineering & Technology Director at Babcock said: “Technology enhancements including enabling technology such as WIFI, increase the use of handheld devices to underpin the efficient delivery of information such as work instructions and drawings at the point of work, with efficiency applied to all aspects of the build and operations. Infrastructures to support the ‘connected worker’ have been installed in the Venturer Building from the start and have already been retrofitted in other areas for seamless mobile connectivity.

He continued: “Other recent investments include the installation of state-of-the art advanced manufacturing equipment within refurbished manufacturing bays. Six new automated cutting and assembly machines form the cornerstone of Babcock’s digital transformation at Rosyth and will create significant improvements in safety and efficiency in the manufacturing process to support customer programmes.

This new infrastructure, follows an additional £100 million investment over the last decade to optimise Rosyth’s shipbuilding capability and capacity, including infrastructure works to support the build and assembly of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built in the UK.

Neil Young said: “Digital transformation and high levels of automation support leaner build practices, lower costs, improve productivity, facilitate faster entry into service for customers’ assets and make Babcock’s business more sustainable for the future.

“Digitisation also provides the opportunity for emergence of new types of roles in shipbuilding, further encouraging the next generation to follow a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) focussed career. This is an area we are passionate about and opening up these career pathways is a key driver for our business.”

Scottish Enterprise has supported the development of Rosyth’s digital facility, in particular, through support to training and upskilling programmes targeted at both the front line operators and supporting management staff.

At its height the Type 31 programme will employ a workforce of around 1250 highly skilled roles in multiple locations throughout the UK, with an equivalent number in the wider supply chain and 150 new apprenticeship positions being created.

The Digital Thread

One area of focus is the creation of Digital Threads. A Digital Thread is a holistic view of an asset’s data throughout its entire lifecycle – its digital DNA.

As the designer and manufacturer of the Type 31, Babcock is ensuring a digital thread is established to allow for the seamless transition of information from one phase of the naval platform’s lifecycle to another.

The typical lifecycle of an asset, such as a ship, starts in Design and Build, then progresses into the Operational Phase (including maintenance and refits/life extension) and finally Disposal. A powerful open architecture of digital technologies encompassing all elements: concept, design, manufacturing, operation, maintenance, life extension, and retirement is required to ensure an unbroken digital thread. Just as an effective design process considers all these aspects upfront, later lifecycle phases are always dependant on the transfer of accurate information from preceding stages, such as original design intent or operating history.

The ultimate aim of the Digital Thread is to deploy this framework for making efficient and effective measurements of the product lifecycle in support of data-driven methods. The need for a Digital Thread has been driven by several factors such as the increase in automation and robotics in the ship building sector, the cost of iterative detailed design, and customer demands including mass personalisation which require manufacturers to maximise productivity while ensuring profitability.

Neil Young: “Working at this scale it is essential that there is effective collaboration between business partners, supply chain and industry, and the Digital Thread methodology makes this goal a realisation. In the Type 31 frigate programme, Babcock is responsible for the delivery of these assets, with an ambition to be a key long-term partner supporting the warships through life.

“A consistent Digital Thread will enable the successful transition from the start of the programme through to the operational phase. Whilst delivering value through data during the design phase, Industry 4.0 practices have been employed to help provide a seamless data flow to drive operational efficiencies during the construction phase.”

These new technologies have significant impact across the construction value chain from design, engineering, manufacturing, assembly and commissioning, as well as lasting benefits that improve support through the platform’s lifetime. The guiding vision for Babcock’s digital transformation is to empower close collaboration between all disciplines by integrating processes and assuring continuity by sharing data between teams and systems. A single source of truth that permits effective re-use of digital data wherever it is needed unlocks efficiencies, increases productivity and secures profitability via data-driven processes and decision-making.

The investment made in equipment, including robotics and the automated panel and pulse lines; in people to deliver digital manufacturing techniques and in systems to seamlessly deliver design information to the shop floor enables this. This is the start of the Digital Thread and enables a strong digital foundation that follows the physical asset’s life into operation and support.

Neil Young concluded: “Investing in next generation skills, encouraging innovation in our people and embedding new technology are key enablers to how we work with our customers to manage their assets.

“Increasing use of digital processes at Rosyth to optimise technology and create efficiencies supports a progressive new future for one of Scotland’s most revered engineering and shipbuilding sites and catapults one of the world’s oldest and traditional industries firmly into the 21st century.”