Newport News Shipbuilding's carrier construction program is building two new facilities to move more work indoors. The reason is simple: The massive buildings allow more work to be done out of the rain, snow and heat.
Historically, inclement weather has had a major impact on building aircraft carriers, creating a challenging, and oftentimes, inefficient work environment. Several years ago, the shipyard set out to change that and built three construction facilities designed to help shipbuilders move more assembly and outfitting work indoors.
Earlier carriers were built in the dry dock, but with the Ford class, we’re doing work earlier to make the overall process better,” said Geoff Hummel, Kennedy’s construction director. “With more work we can do early on, we make the build process that much more efficient,” he said. In fact, from Ford to Kennedy, 30 percent less work is being done on the ship, and 20 percent has been moved to the shops. These numbers will continue to grow over the life of the program.
In June 2015, NNS broke ground on the Joint Manufacturing Assembly Facility (JMAF), with the goal of bringing even more work indoors.
“It’s the people behind the art and science of shipbuilding who make all the difference,” Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin said at the ground-breaking. “This facility is going to help them in their daily jobs. It will improve their quality of life and safety by moving work indoors, where they are protected from the weather. And it will provide on-site support services and equipment, which gives them everything they need to do their job in one location. These improvements will increase productivity and efficiency, while driving down overall cost and ensuring schedule performance.”
Buildings aren’t the only way to protect shipbuilders from the elements and improve efficiency.
“We’re also getting weather covers on the platen,” said Mike Butler, program director for Kennedy. “On the final assembly platen, we’re going to have large covers that we’ll be able to move on rails to cover units and superlifts. They will provide shade and protect our shipbuilder’s from the rain.”
This investment will help boost productivity for tasks like unit-joining, component installation, space outfitting, and surface preparation and coating.
As buildings and covers are erected to ramp up production, Newport News is also upgrading the tools shipbuilders use to construct Ford-class carriers.
To lift massive superlifts into the dry dock, shipbuilders need a massive crane to handle the weight.
“Big Blue is our 1,050-ton crane in the North Yard,” Hummel said. “We can’t build carriers without it.”
The crane was built in 1976 to lift up to 900 metric tons, but to hoist Ford-class superlifts, Big Blue’s capacity was reinforced to 1,050 metric tons. The investment has paid off—the heaviest lift performed on Ford weighed 1,026 tons.
The shipyard is also investing an estimated $50 million in welding equipment modernization. Phased to complete in 2019, the investment will bring in modern technologies to improve mechanization, process efficiencies and standardization.
“Welding technology has moved from analog to digital,” explained Brian Burroughs, who leads Newport News’ welding school. “The shipyard does more automatic welding now, too.” With updated welding equipment, shipbuilders will be more precise with structural welding, pipe welding and more.
New buildings, covers and tools all help shipbuilders do what they do best: build aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. By investing in the shipyard work environment, Newport News is making construction safer, quicker and more efficient for the thousands of shipbuilders who will deliver Kennedy, Enterprise (CVN 80) and future Ford-class carriers.