NORFOLK --- Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) employees clad in exoskeletons laboring in the drydock. Workers surveying an augmented reality 3-D model in advance of a shipcheck. Shipyarders using laser ablators that can zap rust from a bulkhead in a matter of seconds.
These are all examples of the vision of a vital future at the shipyard, and they are in the process of becoming a reality thanks to the Technology and Innovation Lab. The lab provides a multipurpose area that can be used for brainstorming between innovation leads and testing employee ideas. These ideas can range from increasing production to improving safety.
"It's not necessarily using the lab's advanced technology the way the manufacturer says to use it, it's about the creativity of our workforce taking these tools and using them in ways that haven't even been thought of yet," said Dan Adams, NNSY Technology and Innovation Community of Practice and Laboratory Lead. "I'm a firm believer that with nearly 12,000 people, we have a lot of creative energy at the shipyard."
Adams pointed out the lab has the partnership of 18 shipyard subcommittees which are all innovation-focused and meet regularly inside the lab to talk ideas and attack obstacles. Some of the Community of Practice's subcommittees, such as additive manufacturing, robotics and laser scanning, have their own designated work areas within the lab. "Each subcommittee is kind of its own cross-functional team with members from different departments across the shipyard," said Adams. "We've created an environment conducive to real collaboration and the development of a shared vision."
NNSY's 3D printing capability is currently limited to AVS plastic, but that's already proving to be a useful medium, resulting in products that reduce strain on the workforce. "Albert James came to us and said, 'I carry this 100 lb. transducer through the sub into the sonar dome to do fit-ups. Is there any way we can print a 3D replica?' We modeled it using the 3D software, printed it out, socialized it with the other shipyards, and now they're doing the exact same thing. It's worked out great!" said Adams. This accurate representation of the component weighs a mere five pounds.
Laser scanning is another technology proving to have great implications for the shipyard's future. It's already been used effectively on USS La Jolla's (SSN 701) piping system. "With a large area scanner, a laser does 360-degree scanning," said Brian Presson, Laser Scanning Integration Lead. "You get millions of data points, which form what's called a point cloud of data. We can go out for a ship check, and accurately capture a space that we need to do work in. We can turn that point cloud into a solid 3-D model. Say, we're going to chop the pipe here, we're going pull out all this stuff out and bring the new one in, we've got to make sure it lines up with our connection point. You can verify whether it lines up or not."
A new program called "REAL Ideas" is being established at NNSY to further encourage employees to bring their creative ideas to the lab. "With 1.65 million manhours of work to execute in FY-18, and 50 percent of the workforce with less than five years of experience, it's about getting people out on the deckplates, performing efficiently, faster," he said.
Thanks to augmented reality, Adams envisions the day a new shipyard employee can "put some goggles on, look at content captured with the laser scanning, and walk up to the bulkhead while someone explains, 'that's this and this,' leaning in and peeling back the onion layers and seeing the internal components explained before they ever go to work into that environment. That's a game changer right there."