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Wanted: Experienced Ship Designers

By By Kelley Stirling, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division | April 18, 2018

WEST BETHESDA, Md. — Having experienced designers on the ship design team who have worked together on other designs was the main theme of Bob Keane's presentation during a Rear Adm. David W. Taylor Naval Architecture Lecture on April 12 at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in Bethesda, Maryland. 

"We need to build and maintain an experienced design workforce," said Keane, who retired in 2002 as a member of the Senior Executive Service, last serving as the executive director for Surface Ship Design and Systems Engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

The third in the series of naval architecture lectures highlighted history in ship design and acquisition processes over the course of Keane's extensive career, including what he sees as strengths and deficiencies. Even since retiring, Keane, who started his career at Carderock in the seakeeping facility, has stayed acutely involved in the world of ship design. He leads his own consulting firm, Ship Design USA, Inc., which supports the U.S. Navy's Center for Innovation in Ship Design (CISD) and the Computational Research and Engineering Acquisition Tools and Environments (CREATE)-Ships project, a design software development project performed by Carderock in collaboration with the Navy's technical authorities in NAVSEA and under the sponsorship of Department of Defense's High Performance Computing Modernization Program Office. The CREATE-Ships design tools allow a ship designer to develop and explore a large number of design options in a timely manner in order to improve and streamline the design and acquisition process.

Keane's lecture was based on a Ship Production Symposium paper he and other ship designers, including Carderock's Jeff Hough, wrote under the auspices of CISD in 2008 called "Ready to Design a Naval Ship? Prove It!" In it, Keane said that studies had shown that the No. 1 factor contributing to increasing ship construction costs and timelines was the design of the ship design process and unnecessary complexity in the resulting design. 

He said the paper is still timely, especially with the Navy ramping up to build a 355-ship fleet, including the design of future surface combatants.

"Most shipbuilders will tell you it's all the pre-production processes that really contribute to how well and how efficient they can build ships," Keane said, adding that more recent studies have shown that the highest need is to design for production, and that there is a lack of production knowledge and experience within design teams (First Marine International, 2014 US Naval Shipbuilding and Repair
Industry Benchmarking, 2016).

Highlighting the success of recent submarine designs with their design-build process, Keane said the submarine community focuses on sustaining an experienced design force with a "transformational" Navy-shipyard partnership.

Mike Brown, head of Carderock's Naval Architecture and Engineering Department, has been a submarine designer for most of his career, and he gave his thoughts on why recent submarine designs have been so successful at implementing a design-build process.

"In the sub world, they design for production," Brown said. "So, from early-stage preliminary design, your trades are part of the IPT (integrated product team), and it's all built toward optimizing your production while meeting your requirements." 

Citing the DDG 51 acquisition program as a surface-ship example to be emulated, he said the collaboration during early ship design between the Navy and industry was crucial in the early design. The concept and early design for DDG 51 was led by NAVSEA and began in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War, when the nation was building a 600-ship Navy. He said the experienced NAVSEA design workforce collaborating with users, along with new computer-aided tools, contributed to a successful acquisition program and a highly effective warship. 

"It was one of the first designs we had wide use of computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering tools," Keane said, reminding the audience that when he first started there were no computers in design and all designs were by hand.

He showed a couple of examples of integrated design environments that CREATE-Ships is developing that are streamlining the design and acquisition process.

"I've seen such a tremendous change," said Keane. "I wish I could be around to see what all of you come up with throughout your career and how ship design will be done 15-20 years from now."

Keane offered five foundational capabilities for successful naval ship design: an experienced ship design workforce; lean, concurrent design processes; integrated validated design tools; mature specifications and standards; and enterprise-wide communications.

"The key is the people, and the challenge is how do you build and maintain that experienced ship design workforce," he said, noting that it takes 10-15 years to develop a ship design leader.

Going forward, Keane said the Navy needs to ensure the basic "design recipe" is followed before starting any ship design (Reinertsen, Managing The Design Factory, 1997): design of the design organization; design of the design process; and design of the design tools. 

"We need to make more investments up front," Keane said, adding that it's also important the users of the product - the warfighter - be part of the early design process because they know what they need and that is where the most critical decision on cost and performance are made. "Let the users define their needs, let the users drive the design." 

Keane said NAVSEA was the design factory for the 600-ship Navy with more than 35 contract designs in the 1980s and 1990s with far less cost growth than recent ship acquisitions; however, a lot of experienced ship designers left NAVSEA in the drawdown after the Cold War ended, so the challenge then and today is how to build and maintain that experienced ship-design workforce. 

"You have a big challenge ahead of you," Keane said. "The country has decided we need a 355-ship Navy. We have the future surface combatants coming down the pike. A lot of engineering goes into those ships. This is an opportunity, a NAVSEA team with Carderock and the other Warfare Centers, for you all to be that design factory for the 355-ship Navy."