Chairman, Guido Perla & Associates, Inc.
Guido Perla is the Chairman of the Seattle-based Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering firm GPA. Perla, born and raised in Colombia, obtained a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from University Pontificia Bolivariana in Colombia. After graduation, he worked for a shipyard in Barranquilla, before leaving Colombia in 1971 to attend the University of Michigan to receive a BSE in Naval Architecture. His first employer in the U.S. was Jacksonville Shipyards in Jacksonville, Florida, and in 1974, he went to work for Rockport Yacht & Supply in Rockport, Texas, where he completed his first PSV design, a vessel type that was to become particularly important to him, and to the company that he was to later form. The one-man company has since evolved into a multidisciplinary naval architecture and marine engineering firm, headquartered in Seattle, WA, with subsidiaries in Brazil, Chile, China and Germany. GPA provides services worldwide in different marine sectors. Perla is responsible for the strategic development of the company, and focuses on preliminary and conceptual design work. His take on naval architecture today is therefore particularly valuable. Listen in as he provides his perspective on the industry today.
What is the biggest design variable impacting the newbuild and/or retrofit markets today? Why?
Environmental regulations and labor rules. I believe both are good, but we need to pace ourselves on regulations to allow the technology to come up with better and more practical ways to meet them. I believe we are in a transition period and it is very difficult to make decisions and advise our clients as to what the best solution is to meet these new regulations and laws. These new regulations are promoting or requiring the use of alternative fuels. One major component of this issue is that LNG, for example, is an alternative that volumetrically is significantly less efficient to store and handle as standard fuels and make the vessels larger to accommodate these new requirements. Thus, you need larger vessels to do the same work using alternatives fuels. That implies more power, more fuel, larger equipment and investment. We are working on developing designs to comply with these new regulations and alternative fuels. It is not the most practical but it is what we have available. We need to be smart in trying to do the best we can with the technology and options presented to us. In terms of labor rules, changes like the implementation of MLC 2006 have a similar effect on vessel design by expanding the size of accommodation structures for a given crew size. This is certainly a good thing for the crew, and should foster more comfortable conditions and ideally a crew who can operate a vessel more effectively and efficiently – but there are also losses in the fact that a given ship now must carry around more steel. Many of these changes in regulations promote bigger ships to carry out a task that could have been done before by a smaller vessel. There are benefits in all of these rules, but the cost is that now everyone must consume more power than before to complete a given task.
Give us your assessment of the boatbuilding markets here in the U.S. today.
The decline of the oil price has created a large problem in areas related to the oil exploration and production (E&P) industry and other sectors. If the predictions are right, I see more difficult times to come. Some predictions are stating that oil prices will start to come up by 2020. That is a long time to wait. 2016 is predicted to be worse than 2015 and that is going to put many companies in difficult situations. The new construction industry in the last ten years or so has depended heavily on the E&P business and now this reduction is leaving a big hole in it. The strategy now is to find the slingshot that will take you to the other side or go to church and start lighting little candles as offerings. Some yards are busy with work on tugs, river towboats, ferries, ATBs, etc. but they are mainly previous contracts and we see already a reduction on new orders, due to the cycling of these areas of the industry. Companies will streamline and reduce their labor capacity. Diversification, if there is time to implement it, will play a more important role in the industry. Unfortunately, this slowing down in business is worldwide, thus reducing the opportunities to do work outside the country. Things are tough, but they’re going to get tougher.
What is the biggest change in what is being asked of the typical naval architecture shop in today’s environment as opposed to what was offered perhaps 25 years ago?
On the design engineering side, we are more involved in resolving and interpreting regulations and laws. Regulations, class rules and governing laws are getting very complex and require a lot of time to interpret, explain, apply and defend. We are becoming more like lawyers, but we do not get paid the same. In addition, vessels are more complex and more automated, requiring a lot more equipment integration and coordination. Labor, competitiveness and legal requirements are demanding more of the design in matters relevant to the environment, accommodation, quietness, low vibration, amenities, ergonomics, etc. Environmental rules are requiring the mechanical systems to be more complex and as a naval architect, you find yourself trying to accommodate 10 pounds of stuff in a 5 pound bag. Owners are now asking for more cargo on same size vessels to increase their revenue. Because of the environmental regulatory requirements and the cost of fuel, we have to put more effort into hull and machinery efficiency, in addition to our classic holistic approach to efficiency on the vessel. We get pulled in many directions, but we must maintain our ability to see the whole problem with a clear head. On the production/construction engineering side, the shipyards are asking for a lot more information than 25 years ago to construct the vessel. The level of skills at the yard has deteriorated, requiring great detail to instruct the worker for tasks which used to require a sketch or typical detail. Also, more planning is done in the yards in order to reduce labor cost and streamline the production. What we have noticed is that some yards feels that a lot of engineering can solve their problems, but it is not true. There is a point that engineering return on investment starts flattening out. If you do not train your worker and maintain the management/organizational skills, engineering is not going to solve the problem. Also, the number of vessels to be built has a big influence on how detailed the construction engineering has to be. All has to come to a balance. This is not to mention the challenges presented by the increasing complexity of the legal and financial environment in contract development. We have found that the schedule tends to always include a fixed delivery date, while the bankers and lawyers consume a bigger and bigger portion of the project timeline. The squeeze this trend places on the engineering timeline presents risk to all of the stakeholders, which I think is generally under-appreciated.
CAD/CAM – has it evolved over time? What are some of the newest products and breakthroughs in technology?
There has been some development on the CAD/CAM technology that has proven very useful and reduced our work. We do not have those long hours calculating stability or finding an optimal propeller. We have capabilities on the design side that help a lot with the conceptual, preliminary and final design phase of a project. We have excellent software for hydrostatics and stability, structural Final Element Analysis (FEA), Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), visualization, renderings, propulsion and propeller design and evaluation, etc. You can do comparative analysis of your new design and thus, optimize it for the specific function or environment. These software solutions are excellent and have helped our design development. On the production engineering side, we have now very good software for 3D modeling of the hull and systems that will create the information for the construction and shop drawings to build the vessels. This type of software is, however, generally very expensive and adds greatly to the cost of the engineering. They are valuable tools but one has to understand them and make the best utilization of their capabilities. Still the technology has some drawbacks especially on the output side and drawing generation – largely related to the fact that we are still required by our shipbuilding clients, as well as our regulatory and classification bodies to provide a 2D representation of our 3D engineering output. In addition, like the shipyards, we on the engineering side are losing the skilled personnel to provide production engineering. The main problem is that if you hire a person that is proficient on specific software, sometimes that person does not have any idea of how to construct a vessel or install a pipe or detail a structure. You need that because you are building the vessel in all its detail in the computer. Generally, there is a lack of skilled production personnel, and the shipyards and design firms can’t seem to find enough of them. Cost has been a difficult part to manage and it takes a lot more money to start a new engineer than years ago. By the time you provide the computer, the software licenses and all other items, it adds to a lot of money – many tens of thousands of dollars per person. We are also losing our “seat-of-the-pants” approach and gut feelings or intuitive naval architecture, in other words. We are depending too much on the computer for creative tasks. As an engineer, you need that so you have situational awareness of the project and so you know what to expect.
Today, over 140 GPA-designed offshore vessels are equipped with diesel electric systems. What is the state of that technology today?
The technology of the Diesel electric system has evolved in the last decade. Systems are more compact, lighter, more reliable and more affordable. They provide cleaner power now than in previous years. You can have many different styles of managing, distributing and generating power by many different manufacturers to adapt to different types of applications. Shipyards and operators are more familiar with them and thus, the system is very popular and accepted now worldwide. This gives you better pricing, better quality of installation and improved operation and reliability. The diesel electric in combination with batteries can provide an enhanced “hybrid” system that is more efficient and gives a high level of safety and reliability compared with systems of many years ago. Diesel electric is expanding into many different applications but it is best applied where the demand of power varies. The magic of diesel electric is the power management that allows generating and delivering the required amount of power as the system, operation, or vessel demands. Electricity is going to be the way machinery is going to be energized or powered in the future. How we generate that electricity is going to be what will change. This is the system of the future.
The motto at Guido Perla & Associates, Inc. (GPA) has always been: Engineering Ideas into Reality. Tell us about a recent ‘idea’ that GPA has transformed into ‘reality.’
On the latest research vessels designs from GPA, we were presented with the idea to develop a hull shape that would preclude air bubbles from the wake of the vessel to go under the hull and affect the sonar and instruments on the bottom of the hull. This needed to be accomplished without use of appendage or any other protrusion. GPA engineered a hull shape that did that and was easy to build for the R/V Neil Armstrong and sister ship Sally Ride (AGOR 27 & 28), the newest UNOLS research vessels for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This has been proven on sea trials.
LNG as a fuel, LNG-powered vessels and/or LNG bunker barges are frequently mentioned as design projects as the industry moves towards a cleaner environmental footprint. What is the biggest impact of “LNG” on the typical vessel design?
Volumetric efficiency, cost and the difficulty of handling it. For the same autonomy and cargo or operational performance on a vessel while running on fuel oil, LNG requires four times the space to store the fuel and equipment to protect it, degasify it and feed the engines. Because of that it will require a larger vessel. It adds a large cost to the vessel to maintain the same performance as the vessel operating on fuel oil. GPA has been working on reducing the space utilization and cost of installing an LNG system on a vessel. We have developed what we call the LNG Power Pack. In a standard Offshore Supply Vessel of around 4,500 deadweight tons, and around 88 meters overall length, it will add about 12 meters of length and about an additional 30% of the original cost of the vessel to provide the same performance autonomy and deadweight capacity as the original diesel powered vessel. This is more pronounced on smaller vessels such as tugs. Some vessels are more adaptable to this alternative fuel and the final installation will have a smaller impact on the final outcome of the vessel, but the increase in cost is proportionally large; it does not matter the type of vessel.
What can vessel owners looking to build new tonnage in today’s atmosphere do to get the most efficiency and value out of each CapEx dollar that they spend in the shipyard?
Simplicity is the best bet. Simplicity comes in many ways and it is applicable to every stage, phase, discipline, regulations, laws or operation onboard a vessel. All together comes to the final goal, the best cost for your dollar. The best design is the one in which you take away everything you can and still perform the way expected. It should start with a well designed vessel for the owner, for the operation and for the shipyard building it. Designs are in essence similar, but operators and shipyards are different and to really get to the best results, it should be tailored to and engineered for both of them. If your company or enterprise does not require going out to bid your project, our advice is to select the shipyard that you want and bring it to the table from the beginning. You get the best of all sides.
(As published in the December 2015 edition of Marine News - http://www.marinelink.com/magazines/default.aspx)