Workers on the ship design team at BAE Systems in Portsmouth have started using a 3D graphics system which allows people to walk through a computer-generated version of a warship before it has even been built.
It means engineers can spot design flaws and safety issues long before the steel is cut, potentially preventing costly design changes later on.
The system can also be used by sailors and safety inspectors to give their input on the design of a warship.
It works in a darkened room dominated by a giant screen on one wall, which displays the view of the ship.
Wearing 3D glasses and movement trackers, a computer follows your movement and allows you to explore every part of the ship from the bridge to the living quarters and engine spaces.
Steve Kirby, the deputy head of transformation for BAE Systems, unveiled the technology at an event at Portsmouth Naval Base yesterday.
He told The News: ‘This is ordinary technology that is bringing our complex designs to life in life-size view well before they’re built.
‘It enables us to understand the design and work with the right people early on to make sure we get it right first time, which is important to us and our naval customer.
‘It provides real monetary value if we can get the programme right first time, and there is a safety value as well because we can spot issues early on.
‘Thirty years ago we designed ships on sheets of paper in a drawing office.
‘But technology has moved on in the last five years.
‘Gaming technology is moving on so fast that the computing power is now there to be able to manipulate all the data for the ship.’
Elements of the design of a warship were previously drawn on hundreds of sheets of paper, with different engineers working on different sections.
Sometimes those areas could overlap, and with more than one person working on a part of the warship, there would be clashes in the way pipes, gangways and bulkheads were built.
Rectifying these clashes meant drawing the whole thing all over again, with the changes in place.
And in some cases the problems might not be spotted until the design stage, or beyond.
The new computer system means any such problems can be spotted immediately.
Wearing the 3D glasses, engineers can walk around the ship in full scale and spot any design flaws which might cause an issue when the warship is in service.
Royal Navy sailors are also brought in and given the chance to explore the ship to give input based on their experience of operating at sea.
BAE Systems hopes this will cut the costs of remedial work.
BAE is currently using the technology to help build the Royal Navy’s three new Offshore Patrol Vessels and Type 26 frigates, called the Global Combat Ship.
Neil Sillence, 45, is part of the design team which uses the computer system.
He said: ‘Designing warships has come a long way in the 23 years I have been working for the company.
‘It makes the job more satisfying because you get more clean drawings and you can see the design in full at all times.’
BAE has built five of the computer suites at its sites around the country, with three in Glasgow, one in Filton and one in Portsmouth.
The five sites are networked together so users can communicate at the same time while looking at the design.
At the moment the system is primarily used for design purposes.
But the creators believe it can be expanded into other uses in the future.
The virtual ship could be subjected to flooding and fire damage to assess how a disastrous situation on board could unfold.
Avatars of sailors can be placed on board to see how people will be able to move through the ship.
And the models could be revised many years down the line when the warship comes to have refits and upgrades.