NSRP: U.S. Navy, Industry Partner for Research
Navy, Industry partner for research; sharing costs, risks, and rewards to reduce total ownership costs .
America’s shipyards are fierce competitors, but they can also be close collaborators. The National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP) is a cooperative effort for American shipbuilders and the U.S. Navy, with the aim of improving efficiency and economy to reduce the cost of Navy ship construction and repair in American shipyards.
According to the Navy’s NSRP program manager Connie Bowling of the Naval Sea Systems Command, the program seeks to reduce the cost of building, operating and repairing Navy ships by improving productivity and quality through advanced technology and processes.
NSRP seeks to share and rapidly implement manufacturing best practices, take advantage of breakthrough technologies and processes with the entire shipbuilding industry through government and industry collaboration.
Projects have been awarded to more than 200 entities from 37 different states. Resource allocation decisions are made by the industry-led Executive Control Board, after consideration of input from Navy sponsors. "Navy and industry set the strategic focus and direction, but the initiatives have to come from come from industry,” Bowling says.
NSRP has a budget of about $30 million a year, split between the Navy and industry. “We require a cost share for the products,” Bowling says.
The NSRP research program is not subject to Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), but project funding decisions are supported by a competitive process characterized by independent third-party evaluation of project proposals. NSRP calls for the resulting work to be shared across the shipbuilding industry and not be held as proprietary to a single entity. “We can quickly award projects to the consortium with the agreement that the R&D results, products and costs are shared with all.”
Participants represent all of the Navy’s platforms, including the associated technical warrant holders and Program Executive Offices (PEOs), and each of the Navy shipyards. The Coast Guard is also involved. “All of the key factions of the Navy and our shipbuilding industry, including some of our tiered suppliers, are working together to make better ships at a more affordable price,” Bowling says.
NSRP is focused on more than just controlling acquisition costs, but reducing total ownership costs (TOC), as well. The program complements, and has proven successful in leveraging, other programs such as Office of Naval Research (ONR) Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) and SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research), the latter providing smaller companies and organizations the opportunity to contribute and benefit. In addition, each of the PEOs has a research and development program that is coordinated with NSRP activities.
NSRP opened the aperture for academic programs as well as small and new companies. Even college courses and relatively small projects can have a big impact. A relatively low-cost NSRP-supported project created a mobile, autonomous, robotic welding platform to replace manual welding processes in order to realize substantial savings in time, set-up requirements, safety and overall cost in Naval ship construction.
The robotic welder, created in a basement workshop as a modest NSRP project involving a small business and the University of Tennessee, is a success story. Bowling says four shipyards are now employing the welder for use on the Navy’s DDG 1000, DDG 51, LPD 17, the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, and tank barges, and others are purchasing the system to introduce at their yards. “We’ve saved 88% reduction in setup time, 93% reduction in removal/disassembly time and 30% reduction in total time on the job. And that’s just the easily measured stuff. We have reduced support structure needs like man-lifts and scaffolding, while at the same time improved worker safety, and enabled more flexible labor alternatives for shipyard supervisors.”
Not all projects relate directly to tangible shipbuilding processes, but focus on such things as education, better environmental practices, streamlined business processes or advanced information technology applications.
Research investments are determined by consensus based on the agreed upon NSRP strategic plan, and results are shared with all participants. The NSRP Executive Control Board meets four times a year, and includes participation by the sponsoring PEOs. Research panels meet regularly to report on their projects and discuss ways to increase collaboration. And, an annual event at the Washington Navy Yard, attended by top Navy leadership, including theAssistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition, gives the project teams the chance to showcase their work, and Navy program managers the opportunity to witness NSRP value delivery.
The shipbuilding industry is highly competitive. Risks can be high and margins low. So shipbuilders are not known for sharing their technological advancements with each other. “It took a long time for them to get comfortable with this model,” said Bowling.
But, Bowling says, the industry understands the value of working together to help the nation and the Navy spend their limited shipbuilding and repair dollars wisely. “Industry gets that. The Navy gets that. Ideas and projects are flowing in, and this program is hitting its stride.”
At NSRP’s inception, it required significant creativity to establish the mechanisms and business practices across NAVSEA/ PEOs and industry to avoid anti-trust violations. “We have gained effectiveness over the past decade after figuring out the legalities and processes to do what was intended - focus on results,” Bowling said. “Once we determined our common objectives, and got through the business aspects, with proper accounting rules and audit trails in place, and established equitable meeting scenarios, we were able to become productive,” she said. “Now the focus is on the greater good. We can determine what’s broken, what needs to be improved, and how quickly can we get there.”
NSRP projects are targeted at engineering planning, production, environmental issues, education and training, facilities, technology, and regulatory compliance for shipbuilding, including new construction and repair, and more. “We’re focused on the critical factors that impact acquisition and TOC, so we can make the most out of our investment,” says Bowling.
For example, an industry proposer can recommend an industry-wide problem to be solved, or a technology that can be matured—such as in design, welding, or painting—with a cost proposal and a team to do the work. If the industry board and the government agree that the project addresses program strategic objectives the project can compete with other proposals for funding. “We’re trying to address similar problems at similar shipyards. Industry tells us collectively what they think should happen. We look to see if that recommendation could be used on a Navy ship, could meet a military specification or requirement, or further the development of a needed technology,” she says.
NSRP projects have addressed coatings, modular construction, welding techniques and processes, reduction of rework, production planning, exchange and interoperability of data, materials, standardized procedures, safety and health issues and environmental concerns, and more.
For example, a single-coat primer and coating system for voids and tanks that will last the life of the ship has been developed and tested; saving money that otherwise would have to be spent on difficult and expensive process during overhauls.
“Many of these things have a long return on investment,” she said. “But when these ideas are looked at for their total ownership costs over the life cycle of a ship, they’re no-brainers.”
Focus on Marinette Marine Corporation
Located on the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisconsin, Marinette Marine Corporation (MMC) was founded in 1942 to support the shipbuilding needs of America during World War II. The shipyard was privately held, and was acquired by The Manitowoc Company in 2000. In 2008, the company was acquired by Fincantieri Marine Group Holdings in 2008. Fincantieri has shipyards in Italy building both commercial and naval ships, from cruise ships and mega-yachts to aircraft carriers, frigates and submarines. MMC has built three of New York City’s landmark Staten Island ferries, Guy V. Molinari, Senator John J. Marchi, and Spirit of America.
A number of ships for the Navy and Coast Guard have been built here at the MMC facility on the Menominee River. The Coast Guard’s 16 Juniper-class 206-ft. and 14 Keeper-class 175-ft. seagoing buoy tenders were built at Marinette, as was the 3,500 ton Great Lakes icebreaker, USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB 30), along with several of the Avenger-class mine countermeasure vessels; torpedo weapons retrievers and Yard Patrol Craft for the U.S. Naval Academy. More recently, the yard built the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) self-powered causeway sections for offloading elements of the sea base to the shore.
Today, Wellens says the focus at Marinette is on building LCS.
MMC is a partner on the Lockheed Martin-led team responsible for the Freedom-class variant for LCS, one of two variants being built for the Navy. The other is the Independence-class being built at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.
MMC started construction on the first LCS in 2005. USS Freedom (LCS 1) was launched in 2006 and commissioned in 2008 at Milwaukee. Construction on Marinette’s second LCS, Fort Worth (LCS 3) began in 2009, and was delivered to the Navy two months early. The Fort Worth is scheduled for commissioning in September 2012.
In addition to LCS, two other ships are being built at Marinette now. On June 16, the yard celebrated the launch of the fisheries survey vessel Reuben Lasker for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The ship is extremely quiet so it won’t disturb marine life, and features advanced navigation systems, acoustic sensors, and scientific sampling gear to conduct research on fish, marine mammal and turtle populations. The Arctic Region Research Vessel (ARRV) Sikuliaq is currently being built alongside LCS. Sikuliaq is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and will be operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks to conduct science mission on behalf of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) community.
New way to train new workers
This past year, UW-Marinette again teamed up with Marinette Marine and ShipConstructor Software for the development of a new Shipyard Orientation Program course. Along with other contributors, the team created a virtual shipyard to get a basic understanding of shipyard layouts and functions.
SOP is an immersive, virtual 3-D shipyard training model for newcomers and non-shipbuilders that provides self-paced instruction to achieve a basic understanding of shipyard layouts and functions. Students can go into buildings and perform tasks to learn about safety, reveal properties of ship systems and components, and become familiar with process of ship construction and maintenance.
The concept for this course was to create a 3D virtual shipyard that coupled with a shipyard orientation curriculum enables new employees to fly an avatar around to explore the virtual shipyard, click on items, and learn about the interconnectedness of processes and production, at their own pace. This time, the course was designed to be offered fully online, in a 24/7, on-demand, instructorless platform. The virtual, 3D yard addresses the industry need for a standardized, cross-discipline orientation program that is both cost-effective and shipyard neutral. This model is generic, and represents various items seen in any shipyard and is not just modeled after one shipyard. But Langteau says the program can also be customized for any shipyard, with their particular layout, rules and procedures. There are other local educational synergies. Northeastern Wisconsin Technical College has a facility that’s walking distance from the shipyard. “The technical college system in Wisconsin is a model because they work well with local industry as to what our needs are,” says Wellens. “The State of Wisconsin awarded us a grant to develop that curriculum. NWTC has subject matter experts with shipbuilding experience—some former employees of Marinette Marine—in the areas of electrical, welding, pipe fitting and ship fitting.”
Wellens also says tours of the yard have been conducted for area high school students, and they can take vocational courses that earn dual credits leading to their high school diploma as well as the technical college. “Working with area high schools and colleges, we’re aligning the vocational curriculum through education and employment with concentrations in shipbuilding trades.”
NSRP funding available for research using two different vehicles
A Research Announcement (RA) project is a major initiative project. In general, they are higher dollar value and from one to three years in durations. A panel project is generally under $100-150k and short—up to 12 months—in duration.
RA projects also bring together a cross functional team to solve a problem and usually more time and testing to resolve or mature. The panel vice the major project (the RA) path is available to solve a more immediate problem or to determine viability of a bigger problem. ”Our panel projects are key to NSRP success,” says Bowling. “We have subject matter expects from across the industry—(shipbuilders, centers of excellence, technical warrant holders, small business, etc.—who gather to solve or address a functional issue, such as. welding, safety, painting or surface preparation, or education, to give a few examples.
Examples of RA and Panel projects can be found at www.NSRP.org
(As published in the August 2012 edition of Maritime Reporter - www.marinelink.com)