$2.9m to drive digital manufacturing in Hunter Class frigates

Photo: Bae Systems

A total of $2.9 million in funding will help Bae Systems Australia’s shipbuilding business, ASC Shipbuilding, develop and pilot Industry 4.0 manufacturing technologies to build the Hunter class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy at the Osborne shipyard in South Australia.

The Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) will contribute $1.45 million in grant funding towards building the nine anti-submarine warfare frigates. The grant will be matched by industry funding on top of the $5 million already invested towards turning the digital shipyard concept into reality.

The project will drive digital transformation through advanced robotics, assistive manufacturing and readiness for Industry 4.0 utilisation – both inside the shipyard and more widely in the Australian supply chain.

“At Tonsley we are working in partnership with Flinders University to embrace a culture of innovation, conducting research and developing emerging technologies in order to gain an insight into how shipyard workers will interact with digital technologies, and so we welcome the $1.45 funding from the IMCRC,” ASC Shipbuilding managing director, Craig Lockhart, said.

“Our employees will use these technologies alongside advanced manufacturing techniques to drive greater efficiency and increased productivity, enabling us to operate smarter and be more agile in our decision-making and responsive to our environment.

The latest investment will create seven new research positions at Flinders University – bringing the total number of researchers to 16 – at the digital test and trial collaboration hub at Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide’s south.

“An important aspect of the research at the collaboration hub is that we want to share the outcomes with industry, to help educate others on the importance and implementation of industry 4.0,” Lockhart said.

From March 2020 until 2022 – when steel is cut on the first Hunter class frigate – the researchers will work with the shipbuilding workforce to trial advanced manufacturing technologies for application in the shipyard and beyond.

“Our strengths in industry 4.0 and cutting-edge digital laboratories will enable the development and testing of bespoke technologies to advance the specialised construction processes required for this nationally significant project,” Flinders University president and vice-chancellor Professor Colin Stirling said.

These technologies enable connectivity between manufacturing equipment to databases that will provide real-time insights into shipyard and supply chain performance, leading to enhanced productivity, safety and quality outcomes.

“Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive automation and advanced analytics are redefining the Australian manufacturing sector and therefore the nature of its work,” IMCRC CEO and managing director, David Chuter, said.

“Australian manufacturers, particularly small and medium enterprises, need to learn how to embrace and contribute to new work environments that blend advanced technologies and digital skills with uniquely human skills.

“The project researches pathways to successfully adopt new technologies and develop human capabilities that – while focused on shipbuilding – can help Australian industry as a whole prepare for a future that is driven by digital transformation.”