Building ships is a complex engineering process. The reason behind it is that the process of shipbuilding is a conglomeration of inputs by professionals spanning a wide range of specialization.
However over the years, with the onset of technological era, research in this sector has led to the development of procedural aids that have brought about a lot of technical and managerial clarity in the process of design, design approval, and construction of ships. This has helped to design, plan and build many noteworthy ships. But the key to proper utilisation of these technological resources, is adequacy in quantity and quality of skilled manpower.
With the help of the right people who work in the shipyard, building ships becomes a very reliable process. A shipyard career option is a very unique one. Also since the shipbuilding process gets constantly changes and updated, the career offers a person lot of learning opportunities.
A few of the many career options in a shipyard can be elaborated as follows:
Welders and Solderers: Welders are one of the most important part of skilled workforce in a yard. Studies have also shown how the quality of welders in a shipyard would have a contribution to the cycle time of the projects undertaken by the yard. Not only that, they also play an important role in the quality of structures produced in the yard. Welders are the ones responsible for welding all the metal structures that make up the ship, which includes the ship’s hull plates, frames, girders, tanks, foundations, pipes, etc. Most shipyards have welding training schools within their premises. These schools carry out extensive welding training programmes for welders aspiring to be certified for the shipyard. They are trained in theory and on-job for all the types of welding that would be used by the shipyard (usually, Arc welding, MIG Welding, TIG Welding, etc.) After completion of the training period, each welder is tested, and the quality of their welds are examined by non- destructive testing methods. Only the ones without any weld defects are recruited as welders into the shipyard.
A similar procedure of induction is followed for solderers. However, since soldering is a minor job in the entire workflow, most jobs of soldering are passed on to subcontractors.
Structural Fabricators: A majority of the labour force in shipbuilding yards comprises of structural fabricators. They rely on technical drawings to fabricate all the structures that form a part of the lightship hull. The two most important skills necessary for structural fabricators are reading of engineering drawings, and fabrication of metal jobs. After fabrication of each structure, they also install the same on the hull. Most shipyards recruit fabricators after they have completed a certified apprenticeship programme along with a related theory course. Some shipyards segregate structural fabricators from a specialised category of ‘Structural Fitters’. The only difference in these cases is that structural fitters are specialised for installation of machined structures into the ship’s hull, which requires more advanced engineering techniques.
Plumbers: Plumbers are important because the water fittings and supply in a ship has to be perfect. The aspect of piping in ships involves maximum attention towards the ability to read and understand isometric piping layout drawings and Piping and Instrumentation drawings (P&IDs). Plumbers are workmen who are specialized in the installation of all pipelines inside a ship, along with all kinds of pipe fittings like valves, flanges, etc. A decent knowledge on the different type of valves, identification of each type of valve physically and on a drawing through their P&ID symbols is a prerequisite. In all modern shipyards, plumbers are absorbed only after undergoing a certified apprenticeship programme within the shipyard, following which, they appear for a final exam in which their theoretical and practical knowhow are put to test.
Electricians: Electricians are responsible for installation of all the electric cables on board the ship, based on the cable routing plans. They also install all the electrical and electronic equipment, navigational equipment in the bridge and radar, lighting, control panels, main electrical control room panels, etc. Electricians must be adept in reading equipment positioning drawings, and most importantly, equipment end drawings (those that represent where cables are attached to equipment). Proper identification of colours is a necessary prerequisite, which restricts those with color blindness from this job profile. Electricians are also employed in the maintenance department of shipyards.
Carpenters: Even though shipbuilding has advanced from the days when wood was used to build ships, carpenters are required to be a part of the shipyard. They still have an important role to play, at least, as far as Indian shipyards are concerned. In shipyards where hydraulic bending of plates are not equipped with 3D laser dimensional checks, the carpentry department prepares wooden templates for the ship’s hull, which are used for bending of straight plates to the required geometry. They also prepare templates for sea pipes (that are conical sections used in any hull opening). Another major contribution of carpenters to shipbuilding, are building dock blocks and keel blocks which are important structures required for dry docking and launching of ships from slipways. However, in the recent times, most of this workload is subcontracted for reduction of permanent manpower and cycle time.
Riggers: Riggers carry out all the rigging work within a shipbuilding yard. The scope of their work ranges from lifting and shifting of heavy structures, scaffolding, and movement of moderate weight structures within the shipyard. They are also trained to operate various types of cranes that are employed in the yard, and their certification is renewed every year. Use of hand symbols to communicate among themselves and the crane operator during lifting and shifting operations in high noise conditions is a major part of their training programme. Riggers also undergo a certified apprenticeship programme before being absorbed as an employee in the shipyard.
Quality Control Inspectors: Most commonly called QC Inspectors, they are one of the most skilled people among the workforce in a shipyard, and such roles are usually given to ones with sufficient experience in shipbuilding. They are responsible for carrying out non-destructive tests on weld joints, and carry out dimensional control inspections of every major structure after its installation. The design drawings are used as a reference for checks on dimensions, which makes it necessary for them to be well adept in reading of complex production drawings.
Supervisors: As the name suggests, construction supervisors are in-charge of the entire ship construction process in the shipyard. However, this does not mean that one supervisor would look after the complete shipbuilding process. Every workshop level department would have a supervisor of its own. For example, a hull supervisor would look after all the aspects of structural outfitting on the ship. If there are multiple ships being built by the yard at one time, there would be multiple hull supervisors. In larger shipyards building longer ships in blocks, each block is assigned a separate hull supervisor. Similarly, there are supervisors for each department, for example, Piping supervisor, Electrical supervisor, Rigging supervisor, Maintenance supervisor, Drydock supervisor, etc. Usually, the most skilled and experienced among fabricators, fitters, electricians, plumbers, etc. are promoted to the profile of a supervisor.
Marine Surveyors: Though not directly employed in shipyards, they play a pivotal role in the entire process of ship construction. The owner of the ship hires a classification society to certify the design and construction of the ship. The classification society, in turn, appoints a team of surveyors who are posted in the shipyard and are responsible for certifying every stage of construction including every weld joint. They refer to the approved production drawings to ensure that the dimensions are as per design. The career of a surveyor gets lucrative with experience, and one of the most important advantages of this career is an exposure to the latest marine construction technologies. Engineers (mechanical, electrical, civil) and naval architects are recruited as marine surveyors by classification societies.
Engineers: Shipbuilding being so complex in nature, calls for involvement of engineers from a wide range of fields. For example, mechanical engineers carry out all the structural fabrication, outfitting, and welding in a ship. Electrical engineers are responsible for procurement and installation of electrical equipment and electrical cables and panels. The navigational equipment, their wiring, and installation is an operation undertaken jointly under supervision of electrical and electronic engineers.
Major shipyards now employ piping engineers to specifically undertake all the work related to fabrication and installation of piping and pipe fittings in a ship. However, some jobs like installation of major machinery (main diesel engine, auxiliary engine, propellers, shafts, etc.) are carried out under supervision of engineers from multiple fields of expertise. An undergraduate degree in engineering is a necessity for this profile.
Naval Architects or Designers: Naval architects play a major role in the shipbuilding industry. In shipyards, they are mainly responsible for designing the ship, which includes the concept design, stability calculations, resistance estimations, preparation of 3D production model and 2D production drawings. Other than that, they also carry out inclining experiment calculations, prepare docking and undocking plans, carry out docking calculations whenever a ship is to be drydocked in the yard. Naval architects are solely responsible for the launching calculations that are carried out with great care before the ship is launched. The accuracy of these calculations would dictate the safety of the ship during launching which is one of the most critical operations carried out by a shipyard. They usually rise to the highest levels of executive hierarchy in a shipbuilding company, due to their overall and in-depth know-how of the entire shipbuilding process.
Engineers, surveyors, and naval architects work in executive job profiles, whereas fabricators, plumbers, electricians, etc. are sub-staff or shop-level positions, basically indulging in jobs that demand skilled labour. The qualifications for different shipyard career choices depend on the nature of the job. For skilled and menial jobs like that of the carpenter, plumber and welder it is enough if the individual has a high school degree along with the specified number of years of experience. For other jobs like that of the engineer and architect, there are specialised college programs that a person needs to enrol for.
Working in a shipyard is not easy. The job requires long hours because of the nature of the place. The pay depends on the experience levels along with the nature of the job. This is why it becomes important for a person to think very carefully before deciding to go for a shipyard career. Only after knowing about all these aspects, should a person enter the difficult-yet-interesting profession of shipbuilding.
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