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The Art and Science of Floating Iron – Ship Manufacturing

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 9/10/2008

Water occupies nearly three-fourths of the Earth’s surface in various forms such as oceans, seas, and lakes. Man has been adventurous right from the word “go” and hence always sought to devise ways and means to overcome this bountiful element of nature and literally take it for a ride.

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    History

    Imagination is a strong asset and whenever I imagine myself to be a primitive human being belonging to a period several centuries ago, I picture myself standing wearing nothing but banana leaves (can’t go beyond that in the time machine for sake of decency - when people walked in their natural state) and visualizing the vast body of water while leaning against a tree; I find that suddenly a branch of the tree is broken by wind and falls into the water but hey - it does not sink. That gives a Newtonian acceleration to my ideas and suddenly I find myself floating in the same water on a log of wood. Well my story may be pure imagination with regards to myself but this is exactly what might have happened with the ancient man who would have found a way to float without swimming and this was one of the earliest ships to be used by man.

    It must have so happened that after a lone ride in the river, the man would have thought to take his kids and wife along and joined together a few pieces of log so as to create a bigger raft and the evolution of ships started. As they say, the rest is history and today every one of us knows about Titanic (of course it was a sad story) or even the latest Queen Elizabeth II.

    From fulfilling the very basic needs of fishing of the earlier men to more sophisticated needs such as wars, research and leisure, ship building has come to stand as a specialized trade with huge shipyards all across the globe which cater to the ever increasing thirst of people for the salty waters. Of course you might be surprised to know that small sized nations such as South Korea and Japan hold a major share in the overall shipbuilding industry of the world and account for more than two-thirds of the overall figure collectively.


    Current Scenario

    Nowadays ships are basically divided into two categories, namely war ships and commercial vessels. Although vastly different in their purpose and scope, the basic principles underlying the manufacture of these giant structures remain the same and require a substantial level of technical expertise and skills to successfully launch a vessel in water. In addition to sailing on the surface, boats were constructed which could swim under the water level and these are known submarines. The whole array of marine vessels is quite diversified and varied like the aquatic life itself.

    Construction

    Manufacturing of ships, boats or submarines starts with a naval architect producing a blueprint on paper (or computer screen) and calculations about stability and so forth. All these processes culminate in the starting of the actual vessel whose structure is built near the shore and usually the other parts such as the main engine, etc. are shipped from other specialist manufacturers such as Sulzer, BMW and so on. In the next few articles we will study some basic concepts of the engineering aspects of ship manufacturing.