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Back to where it all began: Digital twins in ship production

Researchers from University of Southern Denmark plan to revolutionize the way ships are designed, planned, and produced. Together with local businesses the university aims to bring experiences from the Danish robot adventure back to the maritime sector, focusing on digital twins and artificial intelligence.

By Jane Thoning Callesen, , 1/12/2021

In the 1980s, Odense Steel Shipyard A/S collaborated with the local university SDU to build early robot solutions that could paint and weld. When the shipyard closed, the robot cluster slowly grew on Funen based on this know-how. And now, the latest technological advances in digitization and robotization will be brought back from the robot cluster to the maritime sector.

So says Professor Christian Schlette from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute at SDU. He is behind a new research project called ShipWeldFlow.

The legacy of Odense Steel Shipyard

Odense Steel Shipyard A/S, often called Lindø Shipyard, was founded by shipowner A.P. Møller in 1917/1918. The shipyard helped set new standards for shipbuilding. It closed in 2012. The shipyard's collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark in the 1980s and 1990s formed the foundation for Danish robot adventures and made Funen a global center for robot companies.

With DKK 10 million in funding, the project will develop new digital tools to support the planning, operation, and automation of a ship's production.

– Digital twins are a key part of Industry 4.0, but the technology is not yet widespread in the maritime sector, and we want to change that.

–By connecting physical robots with data and artificial intelligence, we can create a continuous digital analysis loop, where we optimize the design for production and the way the robots are weld, he says.

Local businesses on board

The project will be carried out with two local companies both with their roots from Odense Steel Shipyard: Odense Maritime Technology, which offers ship designs, shipyard designs, and advice on production automation, and Inrotech, which develops robotic welding solutions.

When a ship goes from design to production, there is a need for precise data on how the steel units should be welded and assembled. Today, most information is transmitted manually, which is time-consuming and cumbersome.

Based on digital twins of the production facilities, design data can be automatically processed by various simulation systems, thus creating a digital model of the overall production.

The digital model will bring us to the forefront in terms of ship production technology, which is incredibly important in the global competition

Jens Viggers, Chief Process Officer

This model provides a unique opportunity to analyze where improvement and intervention have the greatest effect. It helps to support optimal production and ensure that defects and material waste are avoided.

– The project will result in an unsurpassed planning tool that strengthens both the design side and the production. The digital model will bring us to the forefront in terms of ship production technology, which is incredibly important in the global competition, says Jens Viggers, Chief Process Officer at Odense Maritime Technology.

Robot-friendly design

At Inrotech, the new digital tools will be able to predict and measure how robots and sensors handle every specific steel unit at shipyards.

– It will make it easier for our customers to understand how much our robots can help in production, says Rasmus Faudel, Manager of Systems and Software at Inrotech.

– The introduction of welding robots at shipyards often requires that you make your ship design robot-friendly so that as much as possible can be welded automatically. Today, this optimization process often takes place when the robots are installed in production. With a digital twin, we can start this work much earlier in the process, and we will also be able to weld novel types of steel units using our robots.

Must be extended to all of Denmark

In ship production, comprehensive digitization and robotization is still in its infancy, and so the parties envision great potential in the project.

– We expect that the use of digital twins will increase efficiency, reduce costs and waste, and improve welding performance, says Christian Schlette.

– The solutions we develop are based on the specific needs of the two companies. We look forward to sharing our results, and we hope that digitization and robotization will be extended to the entire maritime sector in Denmark later on.


  • The research project ShipWeldFlow runs until 1 March 2024. The goal is to digitize and optimize the way ships are designed and produced
  • The project has a budget of just over DKK 10 million, of which DKK 7.8 million stems from Innovation Fund Denmark
  • The focal point is digital twins and artificial intelligence

Illustration: Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Instituttet.

Digital twin

A digital twin is an exact digital copy of a physical device or process. The digital twin behaves exactly as the physical object would do. Therefore, one can use it to virtually test different scenarios in order to optimize the physical setup. It reduces the risk of errors and helps to create results in a business.

Meet the researcher

Christian Schlette is a Professor at SDU Robotics. His work focuses on synergies across the fields of automation, robotics, simulation and control in application areas such as factory automation and large structure production.


Editing was completed: 12.01.2021