Ship designing before the age of computers

Presume there are some “old timers” here that remember those far away times?:


Yes, I recall this from a shipyard in the early 1960s; not seagoing vessels, but self-propelled Rhine River and Swiss lakes passenger and commercial ships.

The top picture in your link shows the ‘Lofting Floor’. There, the 1:1 stencils were made to enable to form the three-dimensionally curved hull plates.

The other side of the coin:

Next step, building the ship.
Here from the building of Island Constructor in 2008:

Source: Eight minutes of the Island Constructor - Ulstein

End product:


Not me, but my second ship in 1977.
Before 'Function over Form ’ became the mantra.
Maria Elisa - page 1 (

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It means the end of those beautiful machinery and piping models, the real 3D look and touch models.

How’s that work?

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I should have said “How’d that work”. meaning a little more info on that specific shipyard in the early 1960s with self-propelled Rhine River ships ect.

More computers means you can make it thinner and get it to last 5 years and out of warrantee.
The auto industry has always spent more on design life prediction ( short) than trying to make them last.
FEA in steel structures can make them very accurately thin

Said by an old style rig designer already in the mid-1970s:
“I let them young guys make their calculations on their computers, then I’ll double it”

PS> Some of the rigs he designed are still in operation.


The case that led to my decision to abandon practicing law involved inland barges that were modified for coastal service. Rather than calculating the stresses on the forward transition plates (where bow section meets body of the barges) they just made the existing plates bigger.

The bows fell off both barges on their delivery trip.

Did that happen outside the environment??:


The company was a structural steel constructor for bridges and industrial buildings.

Just after the end of WWII, there was an urgent need for barges and tugs as a lot were destroyed in the final times of the war; even the railways in Germany were largely destroyed.

All coal, oil products and steel were imported, also part of the grain and other products to feed the Swiss people.
The company entered this business.

The Upper-Rhine has a substantial decline and therefore a series of locks; those too were damaged in the war. Thus, all ships motorized or not, were towed on wire up and down the river, to counter the strong currents. The first pusher tugs arrived here at about 1960.

When the huge German yards were rebuilt, the company moved to specialized ships as self-discharging sand and gravel transporters on the Rhine, or split barges with tugs, or passenger ships on the Swiss lakes.

About 40 years ago, the company was sold and then closed a few years later.

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Were you involved with the company? With the lofting?

Yes, I was, but just as an apprentice.

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