Naval architecture engineering is a specialized branch of engineering that combines physics, mathematics, and material science to design, build and maintain ships and subsurface vessels, as well as all other related seafaring products and components. Trained naval architects are able to oversee the construction of ships, rig complex 3D models, and calculate potential and existing stress areas on vessels using computer simulations and mathematical equations.
The roots of the science can be traced back centuries, with various naval improvements and inventions being documented since Ancient Greek and Roman times. When Christopher Columbus set out to cross the Atlantic in 1492, it was an Italian maritime engineer and architect named Graziano who was responsible for the design of the ship. While the career choice received a boost with the onset of industrialisation, the practice of naval architecture engineering has not been completely abandoned today.
Naval Architecture engineering is a unique discipline, as it blends aspects of mathematics, physics and engineering in order to apply treatments to ships and submarines that defy the boundaries of traditional tests of architecture. While a classicalArchitecture focuses on the design of buildings, naval architects must consider the physics of the water and atmosphere, in addition to the design of the vessel’s structure and the selection of materials for seaworthiness. By understanding the physical limits of surfaces, materials and designs, naval architects can design, assess, and construct vessels that meet prescribed safety and performance objectives.
Theoretically speaking, a naval architecture engineers primary responsibilities involve applying principles of mechanics, thermodynamics, hydraulics, structural analysis and material properties, as well as related subtleties such as offshore loads and marine growth, to the design and construction of ships, submarines, tugs and barges. Through their applications, they strive to create vessels that are safe, economical and efficient. This means that the engineer must draw on both theoretical and practical knowledge, considering matters such as machinery, propulsion systems, the stability of vessels, ship construction and regulatory requirements for the intended use.
Naval Architecture engineering projects today are designed more efficiently and effectively with the aid of computers, specialized software, sophisticated data analysis and numerical simulations. This allows designers to rapidly produce designs, which can then be swiftly tested and refined. Consequently, naval architecture engineering is becoming increasingly reliant upon computing technologies, making the discipline highly quantitative in nature.
The Global Market
Naval architecture is a global business, with both government and commercial entities such as shipping companies and shipyards relying upon naval architects to provide solutions to their problems. These solutions include the design and construction of both military and civil vessels ranging from small pleasure boats to super yachts and vessels for oil and gas exploration and production.
In addition to this, many modern vessels operate in harsh environments or require highly technical operations where performance and safety are paramount. Consequently, naval architects are often called upon to design and construct vessels that are optimized for their intended purpose.
The demand for maritime vessels, both personal and commercial, shows no sign of abating and the tools and solutions developed by naval architecture engineers continue to become more sophisticated to meet their client’s ever changing needs. Over the coming years, the profession is forecast to grow, with the continued advancement of technology and innovations from naval architects providing a plethora of new opportunities.
Naval architecture engineers have a vast amount of expertise, ranging from the navigation and navigation science underlying the navigation of ships, to the physical construction principles of shipbuilding. They must also have an understanding of the various engineering, marine and maritime related disciplines so that they can identify solutions to solve complex, interdisciplinary problems.
Naval architecture engineers must have a comprehensive knowledge of power, control and propulsion systems, materials science and technology, fluid dynamics, stress and fatigue analysis, and mechanical engineering. They must also possess an understanding of the regulations and regulatory requirements of naval operations, and must be able to evaluate the economic merits of a project.
The expertise of these engineers extends beyond just the design, and they also play a key role in the manufacturing, construction, maintenance and repair of ships, as well as providing inspection and evaluation services for governmental and non-governmental shipping-related bodies.
The modern naval architecture engineer is equipped with an extensive range of geospatial tools and software, enabling them to accurately and emphatically model intricate designs and models of vessels. Using this technology, naval architecture engineers are able to close the gap between their theoretical designs and the practical reality of operation.
Computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided engineering (CAE) software packages allow the precise and nuanced design of vessels, and the integration of these packages with vessels sensors and systems allows for superior performance. In addition to this, the engineer can use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to model waterfront situations and analyse the impact of varying factors such as wind, tides and currents. A naval architecture engineer must also be familiar with geographic information management software, given the criticality of this when dealing with accurate data such as navigational charts and coastlines.
Opportunities and Careers
The career opportunities afforded to naval architects are vast and varied. Due to their intricate knowledge of seafaring engineering and sciences, those who have completed a degree in naval architecture engineering are sure to find themselves in demand with a wide array of current and prospective employers.
These organisations include shipbuilders and repairers, wharfingers, specialized consulting and design operations, ship operators or departments of the British Royal Navy and Coastguard. Additionally, naval architects can find employment with government organisations such as the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency or the Royal Oversight Board for Shipping, or international non-governmental organisations like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
Transport and Industry
Naval architecture engineering is essential to transportation and industry. From the vessels that carry trade and resources around the world, to naval vessels deployed in protection of our seas, naval architects play a vital role in ensuring safety and efficiency. The safe and efficient operation of vessels, whether for commercial or recreational purposes, is the primary focus of the profession.
Furthermore, naval architects are also often called upon to meet a wide range of environmental requirements in order to minimize environmental impact. This is a particularly pertinent requirement for vessels working in oil and gas exploration and production, where a substantial amount of waste must be managed and contained. The practice of naval architecture engineering remains essential in order to reduce the impact of these activities and preserve our oceans.
Naval architecture engineering has come a long way in recent decades. The modern naval architecture engineer is well versed in computer aided design and engineering, materials science and fluid mechanics. They also possess the knowledge to develop innovative solutions to complex problems, such as the design of unmanned surface vehicles or unmanned underwater vehicles.
Furthermore, naval architects are often in the forefront of developing emerging technologies such as power systems, autonomous vessels and alternative navigation techniques. These advances will become increasingly important over the coming years, as they will help to increase the safety and efficiency of vessels and mitigate the impact of sea transportation on the environment.
Robotics and Automation
The field of naval architecture engineering is being revolutionised by the emergence of robotics and automation. From the autonomous submarines developed to explore the oceans, to the intelligent vessels planned for commercial use in the near future, naval architect engineers have the tools to realise vessels that can think, learn and operate with minimal human interaction.
The potential of robotics and automation to revolutionise the industry is promising, with the possibility of vessels that are capabler of making decisions independently, in addition to safely carrying out tasks that would otherwise be dangerous or impractical for humans to perform in hostile environments.
Risk Analysis and Control
The design process of marine vessels involves anticipating possible risks. Naval architects must therefore be familiar with risk analysis methods, in order to ensure that any potential risks associated with the operations of the vessel or the construction of its components can be identified. Risk analysis provides the engineer with the opportunity to validate the safety and integrity of the vessel, and to ensure that any associated risks are controlled.
It is also the responsibility of naval architects to be aware of the various regulatory requirements associated with vessels, in order to comply with the stipulated safety regulations. This is especially important for vessels which may venture far from the shore and operate in remote locations, as the engineer must evaluate the risks of these voyages and implement adequate safety protocols.