How Augmented Reality takes submarine construction to the next level at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems
Many welded parts must be positioned during the construction process of each submarine. Conventionally, this requires hundreds of 2D drawing sheets as design documents. At thyssenkrupp Marine Systems this is no longer necessary – thanks to Augmented Reality.
Finn works in the department for Production Industrial Engineering at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems in Kiel and was involved in the introduction of AR technology in submarine construction. “The topic of AR arose at the shipyard through studies on research and development projects in 2016 and onwards”, explains Finn.” Since then, the vision of drawing-free production with the help of augmented reality at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems has been approached and achieved step by step.
In 2019, the first usable demonstrator was created, which brought the advantages of Augmented Reality in submarine production to the attention of many colleagues and the board of directors at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. Due to the undeniable advantages a team was put together to develop and implement immersive technologies on all thyssenkrupp Marine Systems’ shipyards. “The development has been carried out in an agile project context using the SCRUM technique in close cooperation with the several production areas of submarine construction”, explains Finn.
Why Augmented Reality is essentially an interactive experience in a real-world environment
Augmented reality essentially describes the enhancement of reality with virtual content that is displayed within the field of vision through the use of AR glasses. “For us, this means that we can see, for example, where welded parts are to be mounted on board. Using gestures, I can interact with the virtual objects in the virtual space, read information from engineering or add data.”, Finn explains.
Benefits of Augmented Reality for thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and their customers
One of the biggest advantages of using AR is that 2D drawings are no longer necessary, thus saving lots of time, effort, and paper on creating the drawings for submarine construction. By integrating augmented reality glasses, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, long construction times will also become a thing of the past. Because the holo-glasses show exactly where parts belong and how the construction should be performed – right in the technicians’ field of vision – they save an enormous amount of time.
“By using AR, we can also detect errors in the production process earlier and thus increase the quality of the product in the long term.” the expert explains. “By digitally capturing information through the AR glasses, the build status of each part can be documented from the beginning to the end of the line” All in all, this new information offered by Augmented Reality creates new possibilities for optimizing work processes. Thus, AR supports the construction technician and simplifies his work with modern technologies.
Smart glasses making augmented reality visible
The glasses are put on like a helmet. Four cameras in the front scan the surroundings. With the help of hand gestures, the user navigates through the menus and can display additional info. There is no need to put work on hold and flip through endless pages of manuals or printed 2D technical drawings to find a specific piece of information the technician needs for a particular step. Instead, the smart glasses enable a seamless flow of information making work much more intuitive and easier for everyone involved.
At thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, smart glasses are currently used, among other things, to check completion status or mark welded parts for submarines. With the help of these glasses, the user has access to the geometric representation of the 3D CAD model superimposed in the field of vision, but also information such as position numbers or spatial coordinates.
Visualization with smart glasses
Additionally, the system also visualizes in color which parts are still to be marked, which have already been marked and, in case of changes, which parts are new, and which must be moved. The internal development team is constantly working to make the software more resilient and adaptable and to meet additional request.
“The first version of glasses was launched in 2016. The second version followed in 2020. The glasses work independently, like a smartphone, and can orient themselves in the local environment with depth cameras. This allows them to place 3D objects depending on spatial position.”, says Finn, employee within the department for Production Industrial Engineering. “With the help of hand recognition, you can even press your finger on the holograms or push panels back and forth with your hand. However, corresponding software is required for each hardware.”
Future of AR in ship- and submarine-building
At thyssenkrupp Marine Systems the AR glasses are used in production for quality assurance and for the assembly of components. While some use cases are still being worked out, others are already a solid routine as the expert lets us know. “We have a list of ideas that can or should still be implemented. If we look at the service area, a possible application on board is currently being considered, in which the crew can view documentation in a 3D-view on the device.”, Finn explains. This application provides an interactive guide in which directions of rotation and process steps can be displayed and components can be highlighted.
Additionally, smart glasses can also be used in remote assistance, which is yet another example of the versatility of Augmented Reality along the entire construction process and beyond.
Finn believes that AR in general will find its way into various areas of our lives in the future: “Just as we take smartphones for granted today, one day Augmented Reality will become part of our daily lives.” We, at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, are very proud of our AR experts and taking the lead as a shipbuilding company in implementing AR to submarine construction. We hope to, in the future, further develop and establish Augmented Reality in ship- and submarine building.
If you are also interested in digital expertise within the world of ship building and naval technology, take a look at our career site, where you can find all open vacancies at thyssenkrupp Marine Systems and ATLAS ELEKTRONIK.