The majority of European ship-design industry concentrates on the development of complex, one-off ‘specials’ for the offshore industry, like dredgers, drill ships, pipe-laying ships, et cetera. This industry is complex, not just in terms of the industrial structure but also in the terms of the object. To control the complexity the industry uses large and expansive knowledge basis that support the design, engineering and manufacturing activities. Within academic research the focus is close to practice and dominantly aims at developing knowledge and tools that supports engineering practices. As these strategies are aimed at controlling the complexity, they leave very little room for more innovative developments. On the other side of the spectrum there is a ship-design practice that does allow radical ship design: design and engineering from a blank sheet of paper. Not surprising that these projects are laborious and expensive. The space in between these two design strategies seems unaddressed in literature. The literature on the design of complex structures appears to be scarce, even though this is an area where European ship-design industry is heavily involved. The research this paper reports on aims to develop a design strategy for complex ships in between incremental and radical innovation.

We interviewed stakeholders from ship industry, looked into the design literature to describe the present situation and finally performed case-studies in other fields of application for inspiration. Based on these studies we illustrate an alternative design strategy that leaves more space for innovation without the requirement to start from scratch. The approach focuses on the complex interactions between the different levels of decomposition in a complex structure such as a ship.

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