November 2014 – Shipbuilding Technology Forum: Investing in Emerging Technology

“What goes into a ship is a technological marvel,” Vice-Admiral (Ret’d) Peter Cairns remarked as he opened the inaugural Shipbuilding Technology Forum in Ottawa last month.

As president of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, Cairns firmly believes the Royal Canadian Navy’s next generation of ships should be built in Canada. While he has not shied away from critiquing its faults, he has been a vocal proponent of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and the promise it holds. But to capitalize on its potential, Canadian industry must deliver leading edge technology.

So when Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, challenged industry at CANSEC to change the procurement conversation through greater investment in technology and innovation, Cairns took her at her word.

Working with partners, including Vanguard, the association set out to organize a forum to understand some of requirements for the future classes of both navy and Canadian Coast Guard vessels, as well as emerging technologies and the capabilities that reside in Canadian industry.

And Cairns invited Finley to be the keynote speaker. In an address that highlighted progress to date on the NSPS – including a recent Request for Proposals for the procurement of Coast Guard search and rescue lifeboats – she urged OEMs to invest in Canada and SMEs to “rise to the challenge” of competing internationally, with government support.

Cairns, too, encouraged industry and government to be “judicious…to use the best Canadian technology we can find…We need to promote the build-in-Canada piece of the [NSPS]” and that can only happen “if we work together,” he said.

Industry speakers echoed many of those sentiments, noting both a changing landscape and the opportunities that it presents.

“The playing field is changing and Canada can be a leader by not following the status quo,” said Jason Aspin, CEO of Aspin Kemp & Associates, during a presentation on advances in marine power and propulsion systems. “There is no point trying to participate in a space that is already well worn…we need to be innovative leaders, and with NSPS the opportunities are there.”

In a presentation on shipyard costing and the importance of investing in a skilled workforce, John Schmidt, vice president Commercial for Chantier Davie, urged colleagues “to be an advocate for Canadian innovation.”

Paul Barbeau, founder and principal naval architect at Navtech, noted that advancements in design “are now to levels no one would have been able to imagine 50 years ago” and shipbuilding “faces a deluge of new technologies” and growing demands from owners and operators that will challenge conventional thinking.

Several speakers noted the opportunities for creativity with in-service support as the NSPS moves forward, and Andrew Kendrick, vice president of Operations for VARD Marine, suggested a “spectrum of possibilities” for Canadian shipyards, ports and labour in the nascent area of LNG repair and conversions – if stakeholders come together.

Despite occurring at the end of a busy Fall schedule of defence and security events, the forum sold out its 200 seats, a clear indication to Cairns that more shipbuilding technology discussion is needed. “This is the first of what we hope is going to be many forums,” he said.

In lieu of gifts to the conference speakers, a donation was made to the Royal Canadian Naval Benevolent Fund by Cairns and Vanguard.