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Damen Naval’s complete virtual reality recreation of the Combat Support Ship Den Helder pushes the boundaries of nautical innovation.

The new Combat Support Ship (CSS) Den Helder has not yet been delivered, but the crew can already get to know the ship thanks to an extensive Virtual Reality package. Shipbuilder Damen Naval has delivered a virtual copy of the ship to the Materieel & IT Command (COMMIT). It is the first time the company has created a VR version of an entire ship for and with the Royal Netherlands Navy. The VR version of the ship was created in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence’s maritime simulation centre (SCM). After the VR package was transferred to COMMIT, they in turn transferred it to the Royal Netherlands Navy. The idea is that her naval training institute will use the virtual ship for training sessions for the new crew. This will allow them to find their way on board the CSS even before they see or visit the ship in real life. And the technology can also be used to train maintenance engineers or security.

“The slogan for new crew members on board used to be ‘Know your ship within 24 hours’. Now we can change that slogan to: ‘Know your ship 24 hours before you board’,” explains Damen Naval Project Director Arjan Risseeuw. “The virtual ship is a copy of the design created in our 3D design software Cadmatic. Everything is in it: the steel, the pipes and cableways, the equipment and all the spaces. So, you can walk through a virtual version of the ship, while the real ship is still being built.”

“The VR model already allows us as crew to think remotely about details in the ship’s operations that you normally do on board,” says Captain Lieutenant at Sea Stefjan Veenstra, Commander of CSS Den Helder.

Damen Naval’s Technical Specialist VR Björn Mes and his team had to stretch the limits of hardware and software at times to create the virtual version. “We have never put such a large and detailed ship in VR before and the combined team from Damen Naval and the SCM spent a lot of hours ‘on board’. You don’t often see VR-projects of such scale, even within Damen Naval. It was a challenging project, but the end result looks really good. “By cleverly using the models and metadata from our 3D software, we can save a lot of time. A great example is the pipework in the engine room. Previously, a colleague spent weeks putting all the pipes and valves in the right place in the VR model. With the new toolchain, most of the CSS engine room pipework is generated in a few minutes and we only need to check it and adjust where necessary”

This is the first time Damen Naval has used the toolchain developed inhouse for such a VR project. The toolchain was created to automate parts of the VR construction process and to speed it up. The Combat Support Ship Den Helder is gradually coming to life. Last month, for instance, the diesel generators were tested. The ship is expected to go on sea trials in early 2024 and will be delivered to COMMIT later that year. The Royal Netherlands Navy will then carry out a part of the work itself, before the ship can be commissioned in 2025.

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