Model-based engineering and the digital thread

N A W Harrison, R I Whitfield, K A Odukoya, A I Powell

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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The digital thread is an emerging concept central to the continuing modernisation of naval shipbuilding. The digital thread is the backbone around which the knowledge of the product system is brought together and subsequently exploited. It is central to the cost-effective realisation of digital twins across the lifecycle. More so than ever before, this knowledge is codified in a large number of increasingly sophisticated digital models. These are now used through-life across the design, build, delivery and operation of naval systems, returning otherwise inaccessible insight into both systems and programmes.
These collections of digital models are typically diverse in nature, representing a wide array of unique and complementary views of the ship. They are usually created in a narrower design or system analysis context that often doesn't require them to run particularly efficiently or produce results that are easily digitally integrated or re-exploited. Yet they also nearly always have more value to offer shipbuilding projects and customers beyond their initial use. The challenge of creating and maintaining these models in a way that supports valuable re-exploitations is new and challenging for most in the shipbuilding industry, hence the growing interest in digital threads.
Multiple larger commercial design and analysis software environments offer 'out-of-box' kernels for digital threading. Additionally, emerging data standards and digital interchange conventions offer further building blocks. The methodologies and toolchains of data science and DevSecOps also contribute relevant solutions in the opportunity space. However, most digital twins and digital threads today are quite narrow and brittle, and do not cope well with novel usage, extension and change. Ship buyers and operators want the benefits of large, flexible, scalable and easily exploitable digital threads and twins, but are rarely the best positioned to fully architect and develop them.
Ship integrators, designers and builders – including the many combinations of partnerships involved in ship development today – have an important leading role to play in the continued development of digital threads and twins. There is much we can learn from other industries, including the civil engineering world that benefits significantly from the Building Information Management (BIM) standards and toolsets, and the automotive sector, which has several digitally mature businesses and toolchains. Big Tech companies also have a lot to offer in how they see and solve these problems. Additionally, there are several emerging technologies and approaches that are set to contribute to currently insolvent challenges, and we should adopt and drive these forward according to the needs of naval shipbuilding.
This paper presents an industrial perspective on what seems to be emerging as important in the incremental development of the scalable and flexible digital threads and twins of the future. It highlights important technology opportunities and addresses practicalities of collaborating on these technology-centric challenges. The aim in presenting this perspective is to team more broadly and effectively on these challenges and opportunities, accelerating the development of the next generation of digital threads and twins that will revolutionise both the delivery and user experience of future ship systems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2022
Event16th International Naval Engineering Conference - TU Delft, Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 8 Nov 202211 Nov 2022


Conference16th International Naval Engineering Conference


  • model based engineering
  • digital thread
  • digital twin
  • digital transformation
  • naval ships


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