U.S. Shipyards: Lean and Mean?

Thursday, June 03, 2004
The National Shipbuilding Research Program – Advanced Shipbuilding Enterprise (NSRP-ASE), the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and the Navy's Office of Naval Research (ONR) responded to continuing shipyard and Navy interest in Lean manufacturing by hosting a Lean Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Forum in Norfolk, Va. on May 11-13, 2004.

The third forum to be held under NSRP’s Lean Shipbuilding Initiative (LSI), the event served to facilitate the advanced joint learning necessary to accelerate U.S. shipyards’ efforts to incorporate Lean Manufacturing principles throughout their operations. The deployment of Lean in U.S. shipyards directly supports the NSRP mission of reducing the cost of Navy ship acquisition and repair.

Aided measurably by research and development undertaken through NSRP, several of the nation’s leading shipyards have aggressively sought to counter decreased build rates and increasing costs for such things as materials and workers’ medical care through new technologies and more efficient processes, both on the shop floors and in the business offices. The yards have experienced rapid and significant return on investments in “Lean,” a manufacturing system pioneered by Toyota in which waste is targeted and eliminated in order to add value in all phases of production and repair.

The theme for Lean Forum 3 was principally focused on learning from the experiences gained within the shipbuilding industry and military in Lean manufacturing. As part of the shipyard segment of the agenda, progress reports on Lean activities in U.S. yards engaged in both construction and repair were highlighted. The forum featured a full agenda of speakers from shipbuilding/ship repair and various Department of Defense organizations, plus a lively panel discussion on Lean culture change and organizational issues. Forum participants were also afforded the opportunity to tour several Norfolk-area industrial facilities where Lean concepts and processes have been adopted and have produced positive results.

Feedback was very positive from the more than 300 who attended the Forum. “Attendance at the Lean Forum was a valuable experience for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. As a result of the forum being held locally, we were able to send a mixture of participants including process owners and senior managers,” Capt. Joseph Campbell, Commanding Officer, Norfolk Naval Shipyard said. “The participants were able to attend basic and advanced training to further their education of the Lean principles, practices and implementation strategies. The forum allowed the attendees time to network with individuals from both public and private shipyards to share lessons learned.”

A consensus highlight of the Forum was the dinner keynote address by General Paul Kern, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. In describing the transformational process undergone at AMC from the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 right up to the present day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Kern revealed that the necessary turnaround times for numerous pieces of battlefield-ready equipment would not have been achieved without the implementation of Lean principles and processes. AMC’s experience with Lean transformation was seen to reaffirm the ability of the public sector depots to meet today's challenges in support of the war fighter.

The Navy was represented by plenary speaker Nick Kunesh, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Logistics; Jim Brice, Assistant Deputy Commander for Industrial Operations at NAVSEA; and Art Divens, Executive Director for Amphibious and Auxiliary Ships under the Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Ships.

The remainder of the speaker part of the agenda was filled with more than 24 presentations from public and private sector shipyards, other industries, academia, Navy and other Department of Defense services. Topics covered the full range of each industrial sector’s enterprise, including extension of Lean practices to the supply chain and the customer base.

A favorite feature of the Lean Forum was the opportunity to tour Tidewater-area companies that have implemented Lean. Tour sites included the Navy’s Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Detachment at Oceana, Ford’s F-150 truck assembly plant, Ford supplier Johnson Controls, Howmet Castings, and two shipyards: Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Northrop Grumman Newport News. “Johnson's tour was simply outstanding, giving us much more than expected,” said Bobby Nakamoto, Operations Quality Manager at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. “The floor presentations…were all very well presented with the actual process being explained as it happened. You could tell that their quality stance was highly developed and incorporated into their system.”

The forum demonstrated continued growth of Lean in the U.S. shipbuilding and ship repair industry under the umbrella of NSRP's Lean Shipbuilding Initiative. Through the LSI and the Lean Implementers Group, comprised of representatives from U.S. public and private shipyards, the growing spectrum of industry Lean activities are linked for maximum impact on an accelerated schedule. LSI was developed by the shipyards for the shipyards to support industry awareness, understanding and adoption of Lean principles and practices.

NSRP is a collaboration of 11 U.S. shipyards working with government, industry and academia to achieve the continuous product and process improvements necessary for the U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry to reduce the cost of ships to the U.S. Navy and other national security customers.

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