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Augmented reality in submarine construction

For each submarine, well over 50,000 welded parts have to be spatially positioned during the construction process. Conventionally, this requires hundreds of 2D drawing sheets as design documents. However, when working with augmented reality (AR), this is no longer necessary.  Marking, assembly and inspection of the objects is done by virtual overlay.

Stefan Lengowski, Senior Project Engineer (PLF) at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is captivated by the advantages of using AR in shipbuilding: “It’s certainly still pioneering work, but the breakthrough has been achieved. Digitalization can be experienced here and now. For me, the question about possibility no longer arises. Instead I ask: Where else is it possible and applicable?”

Excursus: What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience in a real-world environment where physical objects are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information. Thanks to state-of-the-art computers and data flow AR technology provides users with additional information on the currently perceived reality. The insertion of virtual elements or additional information – which can be displayed visually as texts, animations, pictures, videos or graphics – takes place under consideration of three-dimensional references.

The primary goal of AR in industry is to present additional information. For example, during assembly or inspection work, technicians no longer need to flip through technical manuals in search for information. Instead, they receive all necessary information while looking at the very piece they are working on – in real-time via smart glasses like HoloLens.

HoloLens is a pair of holographic smart glasses from Microsoft with elements of augmented reality. The HoloLens glasses extend reality with additional digital objects.

The software for these smart glasses has been developed inhouse at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. In addition to the actual software development, our IT specialists also ensure a seamless and smart process to link the applications with the authoring systems - for the best possible and barrier-free user-experience.

Augmented reality at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems

For thyssenkrupp Marine Systems AR represents a revolution in terms of customers, projects, design, manufacturing, service and training. The use cases are as diverse as the possibilities. From the training workshop, through shipbuilding, pipe construction, and mechanical engineering, electrics, commissioning to the digital manual. This technology can be used almost indefinitely throughout the entire product life cycle.

We are already using the technology in many areas, and more and more applications are being added: in Kiel, Bremerhaven and Stralsund, both underwater and above water.”, explains Lengowski and adds: “Almost every day, we are approached by colleagues who also want to use AR-technology.

thyssenkrupp Marine Systems has digitalized the spatial positioning and quality inspection of components with AR.  Through the digitalization, which is based on a 3D design document, thyssenkrupp employees can carry out work with millimeter precision as well as measurements and movements in an AR environment. This makes the process much shorter and more accurate.

With finger gestures or conventional presenters pre-converted virtual coordinates can be placed in the real environment.  Alternatively, QR codes can be used for referencing. In the subsequent step virtual components are displayed with the correct position. Superimposing virtual 3D models on the real environment helps the staff to perform. The basic idea of a PLM system becomes reality.  

At the moment, we, at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, are setting everything up for the successful implementation of AR technology at our locations and sites – for instance at our shipyard in Brasil.

Various fields of application

The fields of application in submarine construction extend over the entire lifecycle of product development, explains Lengowski. “AR can already be used during the bidding phase to present variants of the product to the customer. The design and construction phase can also be effectively supported and significantly optimized with the help of this technology.” 

The customer can already visualize the future installations in the still empty pressure hull, while production can position the components spatially, completely without drawings.

AR improves previously time-consuming and error-prone planning and installation processes for complex designs. It is possible to completely dispense with the 2D drawing.