9 Million Parts, 10 Million Ideas

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You may be surprised to learn there’s no such thing as a 100 percent finalized blueprint for an RCL ship. This iterative design approach, such a contrast to traditional rigid shipbuilding, helps to ensure that guests will experience the latest and greatest innovations and technologies, not the best thinking from four years ago.

“We begin building the ship as soon as we’ve completed 30 percent of the design,” says RCL’s EVP of Maritime Harri Kulovaara. “This gives us permission to experiment, exploring new directions at any point in the process – always in the interest of the ship and the guest.”  And you can fit in a lot of experimenting when your product – such as Symphony of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship – has more than 9 million parts.

Yet this flexibility doesn’t come at the cost of design cohesion. RCL’s Newbuild team, led by Kulovaara, has embedded innovation, collaboration, and engineering exactitude into every step.

Thinking outside the hull starts early, by recruiting “dreamers who are also drivers,” those with the passion to push their own boundaries while challenging each other. The culture of open, honest idea exchange launches with a charrette, an intense, days-long, full-team scrum of collective blue-sky thinking. “During the charrette – which is exhilarating and exhausting,” says Newbuild VP Kevin Douglas, “no idea is a bad one. It’s a safe zone.”

The charrette is necessary because, as Kulovaara says, “No one here wants to repeat what we did the year before. It’s about working together to create something new, something better. If we aren’t raising the bar, we aren’t operating at our highest potential.”

Although trial and experimentation are encouraged, the teams follow a rigorous risk assessment process and consult partners from its vast global network across the value chain, from shipyard builders to material designers to welders. “It’s about having the same vision—being able to look around the room and say that together we’re going to build the most innovative and guest-centric ship that the world’s ever seen,” says Kulovaara.

Thanks to RCL’s industry-leading investment in technology, the Newbuild team has access to world-class computer modeling and virtual reality (VR) tools. They can simulate thousands of solutions in only a few hours—a virtual sandbox that allows designers to try options too costly or impossible to compare in reality. VR also provides designers – and others – with an incredibly realistic experience of the effect of individual design choices on the overall look and feel of a ship. This dramatically reduces time and resources and allows the project teams to identify risks much earlier in the process.

All of this adds up to the most distinctive ships on the sea. As Douglas puts it, “We operate on the edge of what’s possible.”