A short-lived shipbuilding revolution

01 Jun 2013
One of ‘probably the most unusual photographs in modern shipbuilding’

One of ‘probably the most unusual photographs in modern shipbuilding’

June 1963 saw The Motor Ship devote a considerable proportion of its space to the opening of Gotaverken’s new shipyard at Arendal, Sweden.

At the time, Gotaverken had led the world’s shipbuilders in terms of tonnage output, and outgrew its Cityvarvet yard in central Gothenburg. As a result, in the early 1950s, it initiated plans for a new, very large and ultra-modern yard. This was eventually completed in 1963.

The biggest departure from traditional shipbuilding noted at the time was that almost all the work was carried out under cover. However, Arendal pioneered what has become the norm in modern shipbuilding practices, namely modular construction, with ships built in welded sections, with a high level of automation.

The yard’s sheer size impressed our predecessors, who described it as ‘a complete departure from convention’. They went on to caption a pair of photographs as ‘probably the most unusual photographs in modern shipbuilding’. They showed the stern section of a bulk carrier, ready for installation of the main engine, with auxiliaries and engine room components already in place. By modern practice they are commonplace, but must have raised many eyebrows in 1963. Similarly, images of the overhead gantry cranes in the building halls, the large profile cutting machines, and the control console for some of the automated equipment are unremarkable today, but a total novelty some 50 years back.

As we know, the yard was short-lived. The crisis that hit Sweden and its shipyards in the 1970s virtually eliminated the Swedish merchant shipbuilding industry. This was put down to spiralling labour costs, increased competition from the emerging Asian countries, the international oil crisis and a series of political misjudgements. When the parent company hit financial difficulties, the Arendal yard survived a little longer under state control, building icebreakers and specialised ships. The last delivery, icebreaker Oden, emerged in 1989, just as bankruptcy forced the business to close.

The Arendal shipyard became an industrial park, set up by Volvo Cars and several of its suppliers. The Cityvarvet yard fared rather better, switching to shiprepair, and is still in business today as par of the Damen Group. And the shipyard connection remains, with the former Gotaverken headquarters in Lindholmen now being the home, after a long period of emptiness, of welding company ESAB.

Not only shipyards were looking to the future in the June 1963 issue. A ‘general purpose computer for marine applications’ had been unveiled. The article said that since the first process control computers were installed in 1959, there had been an upsurge in interest in using computers to control ships’ machinery. This pioneering example, the TRW-130, was said to be of particularly compact design, allowing it to be transported through ships’ bulkhead openings. It measured 406mm x 508mm x 1,500mm high and weighed some 240kg, and had a capacity to store “up to 8,000 orders”. With modern processing power in the Gigabyte orders, in an easily portable package, that is one section of the industry which has made unbelievable advances in the last 50 years.

Finally, a new bulk carrier for the Great Lakes had been delivered to a Canadian owner from the Verolme Cork yard in Ireland. It was remarkable for being the first diesel-driven ship of maximum size on the Lakes, and for having the largest CP propeller yet built connected to its MAN K6Z 78/155C 9,000bhp main engine. And it looked like a ‘real’ ship, with aft superstructure and forward sectional cargo holds, departing from the standard Laker barge-like lines and ‘Texas bridge’ forecastle.