Could Crash Modeling Have Saved the Costa Concordia?

Event simulation helps automobile manufacturers design safer vehicles — and it can do the same for shipbuilders.

The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster has generated many questions, but one in particular haunts survivors and onlookers alike: Could this disaster have been prevented?

The Costa Concordia tragedy has been a major headline on newsstands in recent months, and today Cadalyst posted a viewpoint article, by Mr. Robert Yancey, discussing ways in which shipbuilders should start modeling their event simulation programs after that of the automotive industry, to help prevent future accidents. Advancements in simulation modeling has allowed the automotive industry to build safer and more reliant vehicles, and the shipbuilding industry should adopt the same design and testing processes to keep passengers safe.

In simulation modeling, engineers use a digital design of a vehicle to generate a simulation model that represents all of the key elements of the design, including material properties, mass properties, occupant models, and the impact event (e.g., side impact, frontal offset, etc.). The accuracy of these models is now so high that most automotive companies do extensive virtual testing of their vehicle designs before ever building prototypes, and the physical testing is really just a final verification of the crashworthiness of the design. In most cases, there are no surprises during the physical test. 

Land to Sea

Could ship designers follow the automotive industry’s example? Could we employ simulation modeling to create more advanced designs that can better respond to the type of event that destroyed the Concordia? The answer is yes.

Engineers could use much of the technology developed for automotive crash modeling to model a ship’s impact on rocks, icebergs, sandbars, and other hazards. We cannot always prevent these events from happening, but if we can develop ship designs that more effectively respond to these impacts — especially to provide sufficient time to safely evacuate the passengers — we could improve passenger safety and confidence.

In the case of the Concordia, the ship’s hull was divided into several watertight compartments; one or two sections of the hull could flood without sinking the entire ship. The ship had longitudinal bulkheads, intended to keep it from listing when flooded. During the recent disaster, however, the ship came to rest on a rock ledge; this caused the vessel to become unstable on the uneven bottom and roll on its side. This position complicated the rescue operation, because many of the lifeboats could not be deployed with the ship listing to one side.

Collision of Costa Concordia 5
Disaster simulations could help ship designers prepare for uncommon scenarios, such as having a ship run aground and roll onto its side. Image courtesy of Roberto Vongher, via Wikimedia Commons.

This occurrence, and many other unusual situations, could be simulated on a computer. Just as a car-crash simulation varies according to speed, direction, impact zone, and other elements, a good simulation model of a ship could replicate many of the conditions that the vessel might encounter. Armed with the results of these simulations, engineers can adapt the ship design to better respond to each of these situations.

Can simulation modeling help with the design of cruise ships?

To read the full Cadalyst article, please click here.

June 2024

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