Austal has officially opened its new state-of-the-art Modular Manufacturing Facility (MMF), equipping its US shipyard with the ability to build up to three 100 metre-plus vessels each year.
Phase One of the new $88 million facility boasts 35,000m2 of manufacturing space under one roof, including a 7900m2 warehouse, as well as paved parking for more than 2000 vehicles.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of Phase One was held at Austal’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard today. The event was attended by more than 300 dignitaries, including Alabama Governor Bob Riley, US Navy Program Executive Officer RADM Bill Landay, US Representative Jo Bonner and City of Mobile Mayor Sam Jones.
Austal Managing Director Bob Browning said the new facility meant Austal was ideally positioned to accommodate the concurrent construction of major multi-vessel programs.
“The on-time, on-budget completion of this facility elevates Austal USA to a new level of highly efficient aluminium ship construction," Mr Browning said.
"Not only is this significant investment poised to have a positive effect on the surrounding economy, it also gives Austal unrivalled capacity to facilitate the construction of the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) programs.”
“Through expanding our modular manufacturing capability, we have introduced increased efficiency into every aspect of the shipbuilding process, which will translate into faster delivery times and significant cost savings across each vessel.”
Mr Browning said modular manufacturing formed a key part of Austal’s Advanced Shipbuilding (ASB) program, which has been proven at the company’s Australian facilities over recent years.
“This is a historic day for the company and an exciting time for the industry given there is no other facility like this in the US industrial base.”
The MMF will increase Austal USA’s capacity to assemble and outfit unit modules before consolidating them into the full vessel, spreading demands for specific trades more evenly and streamlining the integrated design and production process. By automating component manufacture, including pipe runs, from a 3D model, Austal is able to assure consistent system configurations across vessels, which benefits operators and makes it easier to operate and support vessels in service.
Austal is also able to provide a safer, more efficient work environment for staff by organising production processes.
The MMF is equipped with routers for the precise cutting of aluminium plate, as well as automated pipe and plate benders. Over 7,000 tonnes of steel were used to erect Phase I of the MMF, while dump trucks moved 23,000 loads of dirt to prepare for the pouring of 23,700m2 of concrete as the building foundation.
Test constructions are currently underway at the new facility, with work on the US Department of Defense’s first 103 metre JHSV scheduled to commence before the end of the year. As prime contractor, Austal will design and build up to 10 JHSVs between FY09 and FY13.
Austal USA is also preparing for US Navy acceptance trials of its 127 metre Littoral Combat Ship, LCS 2 “Independence”, which successfully completed builder’s trials in October. The vessel is scheduled for commissioning in January 2010. The LCS 2 sea frame is based on Austal’s innovative 127 metre high-speed trimaran hullform, which reached a sustained speed of 44 knots and a top speed in excess of 45 knots during trials.
Construction of a second Austal designed and built LCS is already underway at the company’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard, with an ongoing commitment from the US Navy for a 55-vessel LCS program as part of its 313 ship fleet.
Subject to Austal being awarded the 10-ship FY10 LCS contract, the construction of Phase Two will see the size of the MMF double to 70,000m2, eventually allowing for up to six 100 metre-plus vessels to be built each year. The facility will also accommodate an additional 1200 workers.