Towards controlled innovation of complex objects. A sociotechnical approach to describing ship design

Ties van Bruinessen

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

318 Downloads (Pure)


Within the ship design industry, and in particular in the development of large, complex and innovative vessels experienced ship designers play an important role in organizing and structuring the design process. How this actually happens within projects that develop such large, complex and innovative vessels for a single client is not clear. This observation lead to a broad, initial research question as the starting point for further research. How are innovative, large and complex vessels developed in practice?

Because of the broad, explorative nature of this research question it was not possible to apply a research strategy aimed on justification and validation, an approach more common in ship design. After the evaluation of several alternatives a Deweyan inquiry was selected as most promising for this research, as it allowed for the parallel development of theory and practice in a pragmatic approach.

One of the first steps was to provisionally pinpoint and frame the initial doubtful situation based on observations in both theory and practice. The current state-of-the-art ship design literature was analysed to determine the creative elements in each design strategy. To enable this analysis CK theory was applied. CK is an approach introduced as a unifying theory to describe creative design, it differentiates between two distinct ‘spaces’ with their own rules and logic: the Knowledge space, which is based on propositions that are either true or false and the Concept space, where propositions are still undetermined and can either be true or false. To describe creative design, a design process should describe steps from the knowledge space into the concept space and vice versa.

The analysis showed that the majority of design processes do not describe the full scope of creative activities, but only concentrate on parts of the ship design process. Creative ship design, system based design and requirement elucidation explore a broader scope of the ship design process, concentrating full creative design of the overall ship design, or in the case of requirement elucidation of both the requirements and the ship design. To analyse the four case studies CK theory was complemented by the system thinking perspective observed in literature. Both were applied to analyse the development of four vessels: the SWind1000, the Greenstream, the Bourbon Orca and the Pioneering Spirit. In each of these case studies the project did not concentrate on a single level of decomposition (a focus on either the business case, the ship design, the system design or component design) but developed multiple levels of decomposition in parallel. For example, in the development of the Bourbon Orca, the project team worked on the hull design, the deck equipment and the propulsion system (system level) in parallel with the overall layout of the vessel (ship design level).

This phenomena, called ‘coevolution’ between solutions on different levels of decomposition appears to be a key part in innovative ship design, allowing creative solutions to develop and influence each other. These creative developments often occur within different companies or different departments of the same company, resulting in considerable interaction between the involved actors.

During the analysis of the development of the four vessels, complemented with a series of interviews and an additional reference case it became clear that one of the most important roles of the experienced ship designers was to handle and manage the interaction between different actors caused by coevolving solutions. There were two dimensions to this interaction: the technical dimension illustrates the content of the interaction, the social dimension concentrates on the way the information is transferred. Based on these observations and an initial choice to explore the technical dimension of the interaction the following constructive hypothesis was developed, as a starting point to evaluate the observations made in both practice and theory: To improve the development of coevolving innovative solutions a design process should focus on two levels of decomposition, allow for weak system boundaries and take into account the technical dimension (the content) of the interaction.

In practice, experienced naval architects are more than capable of developing innovative solutions. However, to improve such processes more control would be preferable without constraining the initiation of creative solutions. Based on the initial review a more controlled process should include the following elements: the definition of potentially innovative solutions, the involvement of technology partners and other actors, support the integration and coevolution within weak boundaries and manage the timing of creativity.

To develop a design strategy capable of taking the technical dimension of the interaction into account, a model was necessary that describes cohesion within a system of systems. This model could in a later stages be used as a template for a design strategy.

The model to determine the cohesion in a system-of-systems is based on the individual system description using the aspects Form, Characteristics, Performance and Function, which is the same on each level of decomposition. Five relations were determined outside the system boundaries: decomposing and integrating a system (the form of system X – the form of system X-1 and vice versa), the contextual influence (form of system X – characteristics of system X-1) and the performance – function cohesion (function of system X – performance of system X-1 and vice versa). This results in the overall model of the cohesion shown in figure 1.

The model of cohesion was used as a template to develop a design strategy taking the technical dimension of the interaction into account. The strategy developed in this research starts from a required ship functionality (the objective), which is developed into different sets of system performance parameters, which lead to the individual system developments. In a later stage, these individual system developments are integrated into the overall ship design and evaluated (figure 2). This is a departure from the conventional approach within the ship design industry, which often starts from an existing general arrangement.

The design strategy was applied during the development of two Ulstein Design & Solutions B.V. (formerly known as Ulstein Sea of Solutions, USoS) vessels: the Ulstein xi Performance/ Characteristics (parameters) Form Form Characteristics Performance Objective (function) Ship Design System Design A-B-C... n (5) (2) (3) (4) (6) time Existing business-case Existing components Function Function System X System X+1 Form Form Performance Characteristics Performance Characteristics Function Design X+2 Form Performance Characteristics System X-1 AXDS, an arctic drillship developed for Statoil and the Bravenes, a subsea rock installation vessel developed for Van Oord. The first project was developed with active influence of the researcher, as I was involved as a naval architect and design process guardian. The second project was provided with the initial documentation, but was not actively influenced by my involvement.

The application of an explicit design strategy had a considerable effect on both projects. Both designs were considered very innovative without major showstoppers. Even though there are only two projects available, the design strategy still appears to have a positive influence on defining innovative solutions, the structured involvement of technology Figure 1. The model of cohesion Figure 2. The design strategy, based on the interaction between system and ship design xii partners and the integration and coevolution of new solutions as well as the timing of creativity in the process. For this particular purpose, the design strategy was well suited, relevant and provided a workable and sufficient flexible solution. This confirmed the idea that design strategies that take coevolving solutions and the technical dimension of interaction into account provide a better description of the innovative ship design process.

During the hypothesis and model development in this research the social dimension of the interaction was not taken into account. During the experiments the role of this social dimension became more evident, as the explicit design strategy required different actors to think and discuss their role within the project. For further research, a proposal is developed to explore the social dimension of the interaction between actors in the design process, as a new starting point or ‘doubtful situation’ in further research. Such a research could for example concentrate on boundary objects, process models or synchronizing activities.

This research explored the way experienced ship designers develop innovative solutions, it revealed that the current ship design methods insufficiently describe the process of coevolving solutions, including the interaction between the different actors that result from this. This dissertation does not result in a complete prescriptive method to control innovative design, but it explores, identifies and evaluates the key parameters that should be taken into account in such approaches. xiii

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Hopman, J.J., Supervisor
  • Smulders, F.E.H.M., Supervisor
Award date25 May 2016
Place of PublicationDelft, The Netherlands
Print ISBNs978-94-6186-637
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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