Robots in dockyards: Shipbuilders automate to cut costs

Bloomberg SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) A robot invasion is underway in one of the last labor-intensive industries shipbuilding.

In search of lower costs and speedier construction times, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. are embracing automation to build critical sections of their giant container ships, some of which extend 400 meters in length.

Boosting productivity is mission critical in an industry that needs about 200 people to build one vessel and faces severe pricing pressure. A sharp drop in oil since the second half of 2014, when a barrel of oil fetched more than $100 compared with over $60 now, has hit vessel orders hard, forcing shipmakers to cut thousands of jobs and shutter some docks. Ship prices have tumbled close to 10 percent during the past three years.

In this current environment, its very important to cut costs wherever possible, said Lee Jae-won, an analyst at Yuanta Securities Korea Co. in Seoul. These automation efforts will begin to pay off once orders start to show clearer signs of recovery, probably from the second half of this year.

Hyundai Heavy, the worlds biggest shipbuilder, and its two affiliates delivered 138 vessels last year, compared with about 180 in 2016.

Robotic arms

In what Hyundai Heavy claims is a global first, a 670-kilogram industrial robot designed and tested in-house can curve and weld steel plates for the front and back of vessels through remote connectivity between the machine and design....

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