Case Studies

Alix Loiseau – Royal Caribbean International 

Making virtual ships seaworthy 

“I never did want to be called Dr. Alix.” 

So muses Alix Loiseau, whose dentist father and disciplinarian mother initially tabbed him for medicine while raising eight children in Haiti. But while the boy’s older brother became an oral surgeon and his sister a dentist, he was drawn to subjects such as art and architecture, though he was also strong in math, especially geometry. 

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International 

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International

Flash forward a few decades, and with all those skills put into practice, his parents must have been proud when, on January 27, the world’s largest cruise ship departed the Port of Miami for her maiden voyage to the Caribbean.  

The Icon of the Seas, this 20-deck, nearly 2,000-foot vessel is called, and it was drafted with surgical precision—Loiseau and the virtual design and construction team he fronts at Royal Caribbean International producing a digital model that enabled the Finnish shipbuilder Meyer Turku to very efficiently assemble Icon on the other side of the Atlantic in around 18 months.  

“We’ve set a new standard for how to design a ship,” Loiseau tells Blueprint. “The whole industry had adopted our model.” 

Everyone on board 

A modest sort, Loiseau’s quick to defer much credit to Royal Caribbean brass, which, having committed to this new flagship, wasn’t about to be penny-wise and $2.5 billion foolish. Loiseau having progressive ideas of how to expedite the design process through technology, the bosses heard him out and invested a relatively modest $2 million in tools. 

Hence the acronyms of SHIM and CAVE for, respectively, Ship Information Modeling and Computer Automated Virtual Environment. 

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International 

A term he coined, SHIM is essentially the maritime equivalent of BIM, the Building Information Modeling process that allows a designer to assemble a virtual conventional building and, hopefully, get the bugs out of the system before any ground is broken. Loiseau, having cut his teeth in conventional design, has applied BIM principles to ship architecture that, at least in Royal Caribbean’s case, can be more complex than anything for dry land. 

A cruise ship, he explains, is like a self-sustaining community and is that ever the case with the latest vessel of the Icon class. This ship is fashioned to accommodate a crew of 2,300 and as many as 7,600 passengers. It’s powered by a diesel-electric system and just a few of its many amenities are an ice-skating rink, seven pools including one suspended, eight so-called neighborhoods, a concert hall, six water slides and a Central Park facsimile. 

That’s a lot of details that, if not tended to with the aforementioned surgical precision, can consume untold amounts of dollars. But with SHIM and CAVE at Loiseau’s disposal, he could economize by ensuring vendors followed three principles. 

First was content exclusivity in which vendors had to agree to standards before being onboarded. Should a vendor be hired to install carpeting, that was it. No ceiling, no painting, no tiling—carpeting and carpeting only. 

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International 

Second was the vendor sharing coordinates that ascertained where something would be installed. Then there was scope boundary—the vendor having exact specifications of what it was hired for and nothing else. 

Some might call it micromanaging, but to Loiseau, it’s common sense enhanced by technology. Upon receiving around 100,000 vendor files, he and his department banked all that content into CAVE software. The process having begun in July 2020, Loiseau was able to present the ship’s first digital iteration to the Royal Caribbean leadership by the following December. For the next year, the plan underwent tweaking and finally was presented to Meyer Turku in early 2022. 

Immigrant mindset 

“I’m channeling my immigrant mindset,” the good-natured Loiseau says. “I’ve always chosen the path less tread no matter how difficult the journey.” 

Of course, coming from a well-to-do family aided his professional development. He’ll be the first to admit sometimes he needed a kick in the butt, the young Alix being something of a dreamer and, unlike his siblings, not particularly disciplined in matters academic.  

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International 

But his parents emphasized education, putting the kids in Haiti’s most demanding private schools. In 1998, when the family was visiting South Florida, the 19-year-old Loiseau was told he’d stay in the United States and pursue college.  

Come 2002, Loiseau was an architectural student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. However, he perceived that the traditional architecture path wasn’t favorable to a Haitian. Thus, he’d have to outwork his contemporaries and, even better, differentiate himself by immersing himself in something nascent or cutting-edge. 

For Loiseau, that meant three-dimensional technology, which was in its early stages but seemed to pack much potential. Upon completing his thesis on how it applied to architecture, he was hired by a structural engineering firm and then worked for architects. 

“If you can do something in 3-D, why even bother with 2-D?” he rhetorically asks. “Not everybody can read plans, but they’ll understand it more in 3-D, and you’ll sell your ideas faster.” 

Loiseau sold his ideas well enough to work at five firms before joining Royal Caribbean as a consultant in June 2018 and, one year later, becoming director of virtual design and construction and helping raise the bar for maritime drafting everywhere. How his techno-smarts helped sustain the process through the pandemic, what with CAVE providing virtual tours of a ship either in the design or construction phase. The worst of COVID-19 seemingly over, it should be smooth sailing. 

It certainly has been aboard Icon of the Seas, which will homeport in Miami at least until next year. Earlier this year, its crew even rescued 14 Hondurans who, for eight days had been clinging to a small boat adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.  

Alix Loiseau | Director, Virtual Design and Construction | Royal Caribbean International 

All of this adds to the pride Loiseau feels as Royal Caribbean’s man for virtually anything that has to do with ships. And the prestige of having the largest cruise vessel can be a fleeting one, the industry players in an arms race of sorts for bragging rights on the high seas.  

As for what’s next for Loiseau and Royal Caribbean, there’s always something on the blueprints and with him having automated so many processes, his employer is sure to set industry standards. Now 47, he’s taken well to life in South Florida, where Loiseau and his wife are raising a 4-year-old son. 

And if he has any advice for would-be designers in any industry, it’s to remember that yesterday’s way of doing things is just that. 

“If you are avoiding virtual technology, you are on your way to making yourself obsolete,” he says.        

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