Project Participants: General Dynamics Electric Boat
Project Start: April 2012
Welding at shipyards remains a large cost-driver in the construction of US Navy ships. This is particularly evident with the VIRGINIA class submarine (VCS), where there are hundreds of thousands of structural weld joints alone. Therefore, it is no surprise that a large focus has been placed on welding technologies in attempting to meet recent US Navy cost reduction initiatives.
Shipyard welders must complete a thorough series of checks at the start of their daily shifts prior to actually performing welds. This ship startup includes getting proper assignments from shop supervision, checking out the correct weld wire, and verifying qualifications and the work to be completed. Because these activities often require supervisor approval prior to starting work, and supervisors are responsible for several welders per work area, there are potentially significant delays for every welder in actually achieving arc time. The overall objective of Improved Welder Productivity project is to identify inefficiencies, potential process improvements and technologies aimed to better prepare a welder for his daily tasks. It is the goal of the project team to reduce welder start-up time and rework, and increase welder output (arc time).
This project is a coordinated effort between GDEB, CNST and iMAST. The approach will be similar to other standard process improvement efforts. The first phase begins with a comprehensive investigation of the current welder startup process to identify the time drivers to get a welder fully prepared to execute welds at the start of their shifts. Upon completion of the investigation, improved processes will be studied and proposed to increase welder productivity. The second phase will focus on targeted, small scale pilot testing of process improvements identified during the Phase I investigation. This phase will involve the implementation of rapid response initiatives that aim to reduce inefficiencies in the current startup procedures; and the development of a pilot “Smart Welder” system that leverages state of the art technologies in welding equipment. The Smart Welder system will include weld machine and computing hardware capable of providing the necessary information to the welder to actually begin welding, as well as the required software and data interfaces to extract that data from existing systems at GDEB. It is estimated that this project will result in a savings of $1.28M per VCS hull.
Findings from this project will be applicable and beneficial to construction activities at other major shipyards and easily extended to commercial and other combatant platforms.