Feeling the need for design speed in submarines

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The transfer of world-leading technologies to Australia’s manufacturers was part of the lobbying efforts from Future Submarine contestants. Brent Balinski spoke to Dassault Systèmes co-founder Philippe Forrestier about what the victorious French team brings to the table.

The contract to design Australia’s new submarines was terrific news for French defence company DCNS, but it was also a major win for software company Dassault Systèmes.

A pioneer in aerospace and with customers that includes Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin, it is also used by BMW, in consumer goods, and even virtual cities, with a claimed $1.3 trillion in projects underway using its software.

“Note that we didn’t do anything in order to deny our competition; we prefer the facts to show the reality,” the company’s co-founder and its Executive Vice President, Philippe Forestier, told Manufacturers’ Monthly earlier this month.

“And the reality is there is $1.3 trillion of projects using our solution end-to-end to build the most prestigious solutions in the world, whatever we are talking about: airplanes, cars, submarines, frigates and so on.”

The competition to design the 12 Future Submarines, Australia’s biggest ever defence contract, was intense. Forrestier acknowledges an “underlying competition” subtext among the PLM providers in this.

Shortfin Barracuda 4

For Dassault, being a part of the winning bid is good news for its attempt to claim more of the naval market, where it is a relative newcomer, though is gaining a foothold in shipyards in Korea and elsewhere.

“When the Chinese recently selected their platform for their ships, they selected the 3DExperience platform from Dassault Systemes,” he said.

“DCNS who were also willing to go to the next plateau at the end of last year, they chose our solution as well.”

Dassault announced a naval defence partnership with DCNS in February. For the Adelaide-built submarines, it will provide the “digital twin” of every single part. Everything will designed, built and tested in the virtual before the real world using Dassault’s 3DExperience platform.

The job is one involving extreme complexity, with challenges of integration, communication and collaboration in the cyber and physical worlds, as well as converting huge amounts of accumulated information into dashboard displays. Then there is the job of only sharing the IP that is necessary to share between the many participants.

“The same way as when Boeing and Airbus are using the same suppliers they don’t want to provide to the suppliers all the different secrets of those companies, they provide what is necessary and they collaborate is what is absolutely necessary and these solutions allow that,” Forestier explained.

Among the underlying PLM competition was a pitch for who would spread the most benefit for Australian manufacturers. The German team frequently highlighted the potential to migrate the country’s Industry 4.0 expertise over here, helping defence suppliers and others make the leap to the next industrial age.

Dassault contends that it will do the exact same thing, and is involved at the highest level in Industry 4.0 (and the same concept under different titles across locations) in Germany, France, Japan and elsewhere.

Its sloganeering is around moving to the age of experience, with the digital thread between products and consumers encouraging mass customisation. As with its rival Siemens, Dassault pitches the adoption of its proprietary PLM solutions by Australian supplier companies as bringing huge benefits.

Philippe Forestier - Photograph courtesy of Xavier Granet
(Image courtesy of Xavier Granet)

“Manufacturing in our solutions is extremely important, because we can do basically the whole chain up to the shop floor,” he said.

“It will be extremely important for the success of this.”

“But I want to mention that it’s not only the manufacturing solutions for the different industries, it’s also the capabilities for the Tier 3, Tier 4 suppliers, even smaller than that, to do some work using the techniques that are based on the same very powerful solutions provided for the biggest enterprises but are used by small companies that are being created by dozens to make sure that we can sustain the evolution of the jobs.”

The first submarine won’t be built until nearly 2030. We can be certain that progress will be watched closely by disappointed rivals.

Forrestier lists a collection of behind-schedule shipbuilding projects that use a rival PLM provider. If there are any Future Submarine delays, Dassault’s competitors will be sure to highlight these  when pitching to potential clients (if not publicly).

Obviously, Dassault will be doing its best to make sure the software collaboration side of things is as smooth as possible.

It wants its stature in shipbuilding to catch up to aerospace. Boeing’s 777, for example, was the first ever wholly-digitally designed aircraft, enabled by Dassault’s CATIA toolset.

“We cannot say honestly that we are as dominant in some ways, like we are in the aerospace industries, with all the aircraft manufacturers, but we are on our way,” said Forestier.

“And I think we are progressing dramatically in all domains. This agreement with DCNS is something that will help us to move ahead in that market.”