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Alternative design

Can a multi-disciplinary approach to design go beyond prescriptive requirements?

Alternative design refers to the use of risk assessment, operational ship safety and engineering analysis across a multitude of disciplines to allow for designs and general arrangements that push the boundaries of the current prescription provisions that determine the design of a vessel.

“One of the themes we have been discussing internally is based on our work with the cruise ship industry. A move to alternative design is something that could be incredibly beneficial for the superyacht market because the rules that have dictated superyacht design have, for the most part, been prescriptive,” begins Luis Guarin, partner and head of marine consultancy services at Brookes Bell. “The reason behind this is that the superyacht industry is a global market and prescriptive regulations are far easier to understand and adhere to regardless of where you are in the world. The same rules will be followed whether or not you are building a yacht in The Netherlands, Italy or China. It is convenient.”

However, Guarin believes that the superyacht market’s reliance on prescriptive regulations has put a number of constraints on the manufacturing of superyachts, especially in relation to functionality and the ability to innovate. Alternative design, Guarin explains, is allowing for innovation without compromising safety. But, successful innovation requires a move away from prescriptive regulations and towards a multi-disciplinary design process.

“Alternative design, however, does not mean that you are able to go and design anything. The process requires adherence to certain principles, as well as engagement with a series of experts in a variety of fields so that the multidisciplinary approach can yield results that cover all elements of design relating to safety and performance – something that the superyacht market has not traditionally been great at,” continues Guarin. “The benefit of this approach, however, is that the end product will be more fit for purpose. The danger however, if not done properly, is that you will have a product that is patently unsafe.”

An example of alternative design in the cruise ship industry relates to the size of the vessels themselves, the number of passengers they carry and the relationship this has had on the design of SOLAS life boats. According to SOLAS, a lifeboat can carry no more than 150 people. Given that cruise ships today have up to 8000 passengers, it would have required around 50 life boats on board.

“Using alternative design methods, we designed life boats that have the capacity to carry 300 passengers each, reducing the number of life boats on board these cruise ships by about half,” explains Guarin. “However, alternative design went beyond that and actually allowed us to create safety craft that have far greater utility than the original requirements accounted for, as well as designing extender systems with greater manoeuvrability that are safer.”

Exactly how alternative design can help drive the superyacht industry forward remains to be seen. Due to the complexity of the process and the additional cost in terms of energy, capital and so on, genuine alternative design is yet to be properly engaged in the yachting market, but for an adventurous owner there could be untold benefits. However, it is unlikely that shipyards will be rushing to implement these measures given the additional complexity.

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Alternative design


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