Careers & Education

The promising world of naval architecture

By Dr FRITZ PINNOCK

Sunday, March 23, 2014    

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What is naval architecture? Naval architecture, also known as naval engineering, is an engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, aesthetics appeal, form, function, maintenance and operation of marine vessels and structures.

A naval architect is an engineer who is responsible for the construction, and/or repair of ships, boats, other marine vessels, and offshore structures ¬—both commercial and military. This discipline involves basic and applied research, design, development, design evaluation and calculations during all stages of the life of a marine vehicle. Preliminary and detail design of the vessel, its launch and dry-docking are the main activities involved. Ship design calculations are also required for ships being modified (by means of conversion, rebuilding, modernisation or repair).

A naval architect is an engineer who is responsible for the construction, and/or repair of ships, boats, other marine vessels, and offshore structures ¬— both commercial and military. This discipline involves basic and applied research, design, development, design evaluation and calculations during all stages of the life of a marine vehicle. Preliminary and detail design of the vessel, its launch and dry-docking are the main activities involved. Ship design calculations are also required for ships being modified (by means of conversion, rebuilding, modernisation or repair).

Naval architecture also involves formulation of safety regulations and damage control rules and the approval and certification of ship designs to meet statutory and non-statutory requirements. The word "vessel" includes every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.

The principal elements of naval architecture are:

a. Hydrostatics -- this concerns the conditions to which the vessel is subjected while at rest in water and its ability to remain afloat.

b. Hydrodynamics -- this concerns the flow of water around the ship's hull (bottom), bow (front) and stern (back) and over bodies such as propeller blades or rudder.

c. Structures -- this involves selection of material of construction, structural analysis of global and local strength of the vessel, vibration of the structural components and structural responses of the vessel during motions in seaway.

d. Arrangements -- involves concept design, layout and access, fire protection, allocation of spaces, ergonomics and capacity.

e. Construction -- depends on the material used. When steel or aluminium is used this involves welding of the plates and profiles after rolling, marking, cutting and bending as per the structural design drawings or models, followed by erection and launching. Other joining techniques are used for other materials like fibre reinforced plastic and glass-reinforced plastic.

A change in focus

Traditionally, naval architecture has been more craft than science. The suitability of a vessel's shape was judged by looking at a half-model of a vessel or a prototype. Ungainly shapes or abrupt transitions were frowned upon as being flawed. This included rigging, deck arrangements, and even fixtures. Subjective descriptors such as ungainly, full, and fine were used as a substitute for the more precise terms used today. A vessel was, and still is described as having a 'fair' shape. The term 'fair' denoted the 'right' shape and right was relative and contextual fickle.

Universal standardisation guidelines were needed to regulate the construction of vessels. Determining what is 'right' in a particular situation in the absence of definitive supporting analysis encompasses the art of naval architecture to this day. Modern low-cost digital computers and dedicated software, combined with extensive research to correlate full-scale, towing tank and computational data, have enabled naval architects to more accurately predict the performance of a marine vehicle.

Due to the complexity associated with operating in a marine environment, naval architecture is a co-operative effort between groups of technically skilled individuals who are specialists in particular fields, often coordinated by a lead naval architect. Naval engineering requires science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects such as physics, chemistry, engineering drawings, information technology, communications skills and a good attitude.

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