PEMA automation supports Ingalls’ transformation
Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of renowned Huntington Ingalls Industries, is an American shipbuilder that has built nearly 70% of the U.S. Navy surface fleet of warships. The shipyard, being in the business for 81 years, has become the largest private manufacturing employer in the state of Mississippi as well as a major contributor to the economic growth of the state of Alabama. Currently, the shipyard covers 800 acres and employs 11,500 people.
“Ingalls Shipbuilding is one of the two major shipyards within the corporation. The company is massive and you could easily meet a new person every day. The great thing is that in the company there are a lot of opportunities to grow and develop. I’ve worked here for 15 years now,” tells Kevin Roossinck, Manager of Welding Engineering, Ingalls Shipbuilding.
Specializing in military ships, Ingalls Shipbuilding has pioneered the development and production of technologically advanced, highly capable warships. They produce ships for the surface Navy fleet, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, as well as foreign and commercial purchasers.
“We have delivered 31 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the U.S. Navy and have now four more under construction. Additionally, we provide the U.S. Navy with San Antonio-class LPDs and have delivered two LHA 6 class ships. A third LHA 6 class ship is currently under construction,” describes Roossinck.
Kevin Roossinck, Manager of Welding Engineering, has worked at Ingalls Shipbuilding for 15 years.
The new thin plate panel line uses the laser-hybrid arc welding (LHAW) process combined with tandem MAG, which is capable of welding plates up to 18 meters (60 ft) long and starting from thicknesses as low as 4mm.
Early 2014 Ingalls launched its extensive “Shipyard of the Future” initiative. The shipyard carefully analyzed shipbuilding needs for the future, how Ingalls matched with those demands and in which the shipyard could improve. Then, the initiative was divided into three areas: people, shipyard facilities, and shipbuilding processes.
Roossinck adds, “we wanted to modernize our processes and take advantage of technological developments that had been made in automating high mix, low volume products specifically.”
One of the challenges for future shipbuilders is lighter weight materials. The usage of thin panels constantly increases because it provides better performance with lower fuel consumption, faster speed, and agility for the ships.
Roossinck continues, “as we have been moving to stronger and thinner steel construction, distortion prevention became a big concern. We wanted to utilize new technology to implement welding processes that would leave us with a finished product significantly flatter and less distorted.“
Originally Ingalls had a panel line with mechanized equipment that was better suited for welding thicker materials. Additionally, the one side welding station on the line was not capable of producing full penetration welds from a single side due to joint variation. As a result, Ingalls replaced the one side welding station and added an entirely new production line targeted towards thin panel construction.
“Early 2014 we had our first conversation with Pemamek, and right from the start, we were quite impressed. Pemamek’s team was able to articulate some of the issues that we had been through with our existing panel line,” Roossinck continues.
The collaboration started in 2015 when Pemamek won the contract to design and engineer the new panel line. By 2017, Pemamek began its delivery and installation of a state-of-art plate lengthening line, designed to feed two complete modern flat-panel lines simultaneously. The new thin panel line uses the laser-hybrid arc welding (LHAW) process combined with tandem MAG, which is capable of welding plates up to 18 meters (60 ft) and starting from thicknesses as low as 4 mm.
“We installed a complete panel line including an automated PEMA hybrid laser one side welding station and two gantries with four robots each. We also replaced our existing SAW-OSW with a new integrated PEMA milling OSW.”
In the LHAW panel line, one of the advanced features is a fully automated robotized welding station for entire panel stiffening. The solution includes multiple robots utilizing Pemamek’s hi-tech programming and control software, PEMA WeldControl 200.
In 2018 Ingalls decided to invest in additional PEMA shipbuilding automation and the PEMA Bulkhead production line was ordered. The solution consists of integrated milling and laser-hybrid one-sided welding station, profile and T-beam assembling and tack-welding solutions, as well as two robotized welding portals both of which include two robots and special conveyor solutions. The automation solutions will be installed and commissioned in late 2020.
Roossinck continues, “The result of PEMA solutions has been a significant improvement in performance from a distortion standpoint and improved consistencies of individual processes within the production flow. We have become leaner, more efficient and more consistent with the quality and flow of our panels through the shop.”
According to Roossinck, a successful adaption requires “on-the-job” training and support from the supplier, but also employees need to learn to trust the technology.
“We had to learn to become more computer-based and rely on technology and models to do most of the work for us. There is a trust factor there and it takes some time for employees who are used to doing everything by hand themselves to turn most of the labor over to a computer or machine,” Roossinck remarked.
To help smooth the transition from manual labor to automation, Roossinck emphasizes early and open communication between suppliers and the customer’s production team. Roossinck adds, “communication upfront with the production team is important to prepare them for how PEMA equipment is going to change the way they do their job.”
In the LHAW panel line, one of the advanced features in a fully automated robotized welding station for entire panel stiffening.
Ingalls Shipbuilding has become the largest private manufacturing employer in the state of Mississippi. In 2020, the shipyard covered 800 acres and employed 11 500 people.
At Ingalls Shipbuilding the PEMA automation lines have resulted in a raised level of automation, enhanced production quality, and improved workflow.
“The line allows us to split our panel production between thick and thin material, which has streamlined the flow of panels through the shop. The overall production is much faster because we have more than doubled our capability to build panels by adding a line of equipment that is more efficient than the existing production line it compliments, “ Roossinck tells.
As a result of the modern welding automation and streamlined production, Ingalls has noticed significant improvements in the distortion data, as much as 68% better than the shipyard’s baseline performance.
“The PEMA equipment has helped us break through where we thought the bottlenecks would be and the result is a more efficient line from start to finish. We have fundamentally changed the order in which we produce panels. Pemamek’s flexibility and customization of equipment allowed us to do that,” summarizes Roossinck.
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