As part of an interview with NZ Marine, Christian Stimson, principal of Stimson Yacht Design and Naval Architecture, comments on how he’s using his roles as President of RINA NZ Division and Industry Lecturer at AUT to help bridge the gap between academia and industry.
I have been running my own design practice for 32 years, from when I graduated, based initially in the UK with the last 10 years in New Zealand. You can’t help over that length of time start to see patterns and repeated situations.
The most recent Global Financial Crisis was the fourth recession I’ve seen, having started my business in the midst of the first! Over that time, I’ve seen successful businesses fail, and I’ve witnessed some weather the storm and come out of it well positioned for growth.
We are still seeing ‘headwinds’ as the economists like to call them, which continue to make business challenging.
I believe that to maintain a strong marine industry – in the face of new technologies, competing industries, uncertain job markets – we need to focus on a few specific areas.
One of these is that we must continue to attract new graduates and school leavers, and make sure they are ready for industry. Both my roles and activities at RINA(NZ) and AUT are the result of me wanting to contribute to this effort.
My lecturing role offers the students an opportunity to learn a little more about the real-life application of the theories they have been studying. We cover stability, powering, weight and balance, the design spiral and understanding what the influences are, with the course culminating in a design project that pulls it all together.
Of course, I enjoy sharing my passion and knowledge with designers of the future. But more than that, I can also learn from them. Education and society have changed since I was a student, so if as an industry we want to attract new graduates, we must also understand where they are coming from. We must be prepared to communicate in their frame of reference, so we can then integrate them more successfully into our world. By working with AUT I get an insight into that.
In that role I also sit on the industry advisory board along with some major employers in the marine sector, with an objective of linking the STEM/Careers advice in high schools and colleges with the Maritime Engineering degree course at AUT and into jobs in the workplace – reflecting the employers’ needs within the students’ training.
One of my roles within RINA is to raise the profile of marine designers so that students see this route as a viable option.
In manning RINA’s Auckland-On-Water Boat Show stand, we encountered school and college-aged children with an interest in the full spectrum of marine vessels: from ‘grey ones with guns’ and mussel barges, to launches and foiling AC yachts. Our role is to harness that passion and enthusiasm, cultivate the Kiwi ingenuity and innovation, and give a solid foundation in the technical and engineering principles. And that relies on RINA members working and moving forward together in order to stay relevant in today’s world.
It’s about fully understanding how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, keeping abreast of new developments and challenges, and supporting each other – as well as provide interesting, challenging and viable training and job opportunities for the new intakes. This is where I focus my attention within RINA(NZ): strengthening the relationships between marine companies so we can better meet the changing needs.
It sounds like it should be straight forward. But have you found there are challenges?
From my side as a Naval Architect, one of the biggest challenges I have found is the lack of understanding about what a Naval Architect can bring to a project – just as much a challenge within as well as outside the marine industry.
Everything in marine design is an exercise in compromise management, and it is essential to have the technical skills to calculate, predict and understand the outcome before launch day, or before an incident. I describe it as knowing that ‘if I push this here, it will pop out there’.
There are many longstanding production builders and brands that have evolved over time to offer very sophisticated and refined craft. Also, there are plenty of custom vessels exhibiting many smart features or details which reflect the builders’ great experience in their area of expertise.
As a result, many boat manufacturers know their craft and design intimately, so they wonder what benefit an external Naval Architect can bring to the project.
The cut-and-shut approach works for a narrow range of design parameters and will only get you so far varying from an existing design. While the fourth or fifth iteration is usually better than the first, it is not always understood why.
While continuous product development is often to be expected, a Naval Architect will get the design to the stage of working well first time, rather than an iterative trial and error approach.
A Naval Architect will be able to calculate – and understand – the balance of forces (mass, centre of gravity, deadrise and so on) to predict the outcome before cutting plate or building a mould. This also enables the builder to scale a successful model with confidence, whilst maintaining the brand or ‘family’ look.
More often than not, the cost of such design input is significantly less than the cost of remedial work or adjustments to correct the unforeseen.
You also get the benefit of a network of other experts in various fields – for structural engineering, systems design, regulation compliance and so on.
Christian, you’ve been involved in a wide range of projects, rather than specialising in a particular area. Can you give us an overview?
After completing my training in Southampton, I started out designing dinghies and raceboats, joined the senior design team for the GBR Challenge in the 2003 America’s Cup, and designed several large performance cruising yachts for European clients. It was a natural evolution for me, having grown up around sailing yachts on the Isle of Wight.
But over time, I discovered it was the challenge of solving a problem that was a driver for me, rather than the style of vessel, so I transferred my knowledge of and appreciation for performance to powerboats.
The client requirements are quite different, but by applying a yachting philosophy of weight management and high-tech construction to powerboat projects, we have been able to achieve exceptional results for our clients. Recent projects include the Vision 68ft production yachts in Taiwan, the award-winning Moana range of power cats in China, as well as a 45knot monohull in build in Turkey.
More recently you’ve moved into commercial and governmental special service craft.
Yes that’s right. I am one of three design partners in SSC Marine. We’re currently working on a 19m 100% electric ferry for Wellington – it’s a Southern Hemisphere first (possibly a world first) – and is due to launch later this year.
I’m also active in the military and special service craft sector, with a strong relationship with a yard in India designing patrol craft up to 20m and 45knots. The requirements are often very stringent and I enjoy the challenge of meeting the criteria.
Gone are the days of paper and pencils for design. What design tools do you use with your projects?
While I still start with a hand sketch, or communicate an idea quickly that way, my design practice uses the latest design tools for hull design and analysis.
We have in-house CFD (computational fluid dynamics) for both aero and hydrodynamic studies. This allows us a quick turn-around of results, the ability to stop and analysis that is indicating sub-optimal geometry and refine the model to run again. In this way we have a virtual test tank, but also the ability to interrogate the model and results to understand the distribution of forces and the effects of changes made in great detail.
We also put great emphasis on the feedback loop. We are fanatical about monitoring weight during the build and comparing to the as-designed. In this way we head off any surprises on launch day. It also allows us to ensure or predictions for weight are in line with the build technology and financial budgets for the project. We are also rigorous in collecting trials sea trials data, recording the loading condition, speed, revs and running trim to relate back to our predictions. In this way we get great confidence in our design tools.
Since we specialise in hull design, we collaborate with experts in other areas. For interior/exterior design we are fortunate enough to work with Kit Carlier Design here in NZ, Chris Wong Design in China and Jonathon Quinn Barnett in the USA. For structural engineering we have a long history with Gurit – in both their SP Technologies and High Modulus guises, as well as Nina Heatley at Clever Fox Engineering here in Auckland. We also work with Marine Industrial Design, based in the Devonport dockyard and in Whangarei, and provide design services to commercial areas including superyachts and to the Navy as part of the Babcock group in-service support
A point sometimes missed is that while a Naval Architect can offer a full scope of design services, you can be selective and involve them for say, a stability check against the regulations or a powering prediction for different engine options, structural engineering of a modification or the design of a system during a refit. It’s not an all or nothing relationship.
I am passionate about bringing through the next generation of Kiwi marine designers – whatever their chosen field. I enjoy the lecturing at AUT because it gives me an opportunity to share some of my hard-learned lessons, and prepare the students for the ‘real world’ – what ever that may look like when they graduate.
There is a constant drive now for reduced emissions, lower energy consumption, using renewable sources. Underpinning all this is efficient and effective design. The emerging markets of offshore farming, autonomous vessels, electric or hydrogen propulsion, foils on commercial and recreation craft will all need trained, qualified and passionate designers to bring them to reality successfully alongside experienced manufacturers.