RRS Sir David Attenborough – supporting the build phase

The Houlder team has been onsite and onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough, assisting the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and its partners from concept development to delivery and beyondPart one of this case study outlined the vessel design phase, while part two explained how independent naval architecture consultancy can ensure a smooth tender phase. This final segment will showcase how Houlder oversaw the build phase.

Build supervision

The tender phase resulted in contracts with Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine (which has since been acquired by Kongsberg). Houlder had two naval architects onsite throughout the construction period at Cammell Laird in Liverpool. Cammell Laird also subcontracted a small proportion of the steel work, particularly for the stern section of the ship, to A&P Tyne in Newcastle. Since Houlder has offices in major maritime hubs around the UK, including a Tyneside base, the team was able to efficiently oversee the whole construction of the vessel in-person across multiple shipyards.

With other vessel components built worldwide, Houlder also travelled to witness factory acceptance tests on behalf of the owner. These involved checking that the equipment was fit for purpose before it was shipped to the UK to be installed. For example, the engines were provided by Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine in Norway. Meanwhile, the winches were built in Vietnam, the propellors and shafting in Sweden, and the cargo crane in Italy. It was particularly important that the large 50 tonne cargo crane, built by Heila Cranes SpA, was reviewed as it allows the ship to fulfil its additional role – resupplying the Antarctic bases. As well as ensuring suppliers met the standards outlined in the statement of requirements, Houlder also made sure that everything was supplied on time.

As a large ice-class research vessel designed to operate in the harshest environments, the RRS Sir David Attenborough had complex construction considerations, from ice breaking capabilities to accommodating research facilities. Houlder’s naval architects have extensive experience with specialist vessel design consultancy and engineering. As the owner’s representative in the build phase, the team was able to examine the steel work and construction regularly, again making sure that everything was built to expected standards and passing back any comments on behalf of BAS.

Commissioning systems

As the vessel neared sea trials and systems started going live, Houlder put engineers onsite instead of naval architects to oversee the commissioning and outfit of the machinery and equipment onboard. For example, the team supervised the testing of piping systems and checked that cable routes had been installed accurately. By having varied expertise across the marine industry, As a leading shipping design consultant, Houlder was able to bring in the right experts at the right time. The team understands the full lifecycle of assets – how they are designed, built, managed and decommissioned and eventually recycled. This enabled them to provide full advisory services to BAS throughout the project.

With some testing remaining prior to sea trials, the COVID-19 global pandemic arrived on the scene. While this caused an understandable level of upheaval and disruption, Houlder remained flexible and quickly adapted to remote processes where possible. For example, throughout its business, Houlder was able to pivot to virtual factory acceptance testing using a high quality video link. This allowed the team to review assets as though they were onboard. If preferred to in-person visits, this environmentally sustainable and efficient process remains an option for clients to this day.

Sea trials and beyond

The Houlder team witnessed the sea trials on behalf of the owner, making sure that the ship met the performance characteristics required by the contract. By witnessing these sea trials, Houlder was able to verify the shipyard’s evaluation that the vessel worked as intended and was able to support them in demonstrating this to the classification society. The team also advised BAS on any remaining paperwork and completed final checks prior to operations. Finally, Houlder drew up guarantees regarding any defects, outlining how Houlder would assist throughout the lifecycle of the vessel if any problems occur.

David Pugh, Principal Engineer at Houlder, commented: “Houlder acts as a partner, not a supplier. It takes a consultative, straight-talking, down to earth approach that leads to the development of strong working relationships that often last for the entire lifespan of an asset. Our clients often become friends as well as peers. We were delighted with how the RRS Sir David Attenborough turned out and to be able to get together at the naming celebrations and admire the teams’ hard work was fantastic. From its inception right through to today, it has been a pleasure to work with BAS and all of the partners involved in this cutting-edge project.”

The team was also recently invited back to the vessel in London at the Ice Worlds Greenwich festival of science and engineering, hosted by Royal Museums Greenwich, which celebrated the vessel’s milestones ahead of COP26 – UN Climate Change Conference. You can read more about how Houlder contributed to COP26 here.

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