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Ingalls Shipbuilding covers 800 acres at the Port of Pascagoula and and has more than 11,000 workers, making it the largest private employer in the state.

Ingalls: Shipyard of the future

» Bond issues fund infrastructure and facility improvements

By LISA MONTI

Huntington-Ingalls Inc., America’s largest military shipbuilding company and Mississippi’s largest private employer, is entering the second year of its Shipyard of the Future initiative.

This year, the Legislature approved a $45 million general obligation bond issue for Ingalls to go with previous issues.

As in the past, the company will match the issue 2-1.

Ingalls’ previous owner, Northrop Grumman Corp., matched 2-1 issues of $40 million in 2004, $56 million in 2005 and $56 million in 2008. The shipbuilding divisions of the corporation were spun off and formed a new publicly traded company in 2011, Huntington-Ingalls Inc., with headquarters in Newport News, Va.

The new company likewise matched the $20 million state issue in 2015, according to company spokesman Bill Glenn.

Brian Cuccias, president of Ingalls Shipbuilding, has said the state’s investments will help maintain jobs and supplier opportunities for years.

“These changes will not only improve the quality of life for our shipbuilders to make them more efficient, but they will enable us to support Navy affordability targets and make us more competitive in future bidding efforts,” Cuccias said.

» READ MORE: Ingalls Shipbuilding gets Navy contract, could total $3.1B

The Pascagoula shipyard covers 800 acres  and has a work force of approximately 11,500. There are 10 ships under construction and four different ship classes being built. It’s the only shipyard in the country currently building that variety and level of complex ships, Huntington-Ingalls officials say. The current backlog is $6 billion.

The Shipyard of the Future initiative kicked off in early 2014 when Cuccias took over as company president, said Gaylene McHale, director of shipyard integration and production engineering. “We started with analyzing what the next 50 years of shipbuilding might look like and where we need to improve,” she said.

HII officials considered decreasing defense budgets and increasing competition to build ships for the Navy, Coast Guard and other customers, and they took the approach of putting their employees ahead of the brick-and-mortar changes.

“A lot of time when companies look at modernization, they look at buildings,” McHale said. “We stepped back and asked what do we need to do people-wise and process-wise to make employees safer and our processes more efficient. We looked at what we’re doing today and where we take our efforts in the future from the perspective of looking first at all of our employees,” she said.

The Shipyard of the Future initiative focuses on three areas: the people, the shipbuilding process and the shipyard facilities.

On the personnel side, McHale said, “We have put on a full court press on our training and professional development.” There is a new maritime academy in place and a robust apprentice program that has been part of personnel development for years. “We have 13 apprentice programs in place and continue to maintain our commitment to workforce training,” she said.

There also is a new health care center in nearby Gautier that is accessible to employees and their dependents. Also, a new “near-miss” program is aimed at heading off accidents and injuries. And employees are being asked for their input on new processes and buildings “so it is not just engineers and planners coming up with ideas” that might not work well in the field, she said.

From the process perspective, McHale said Ingalls is looking at updating its ship designs, some of which date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s to catch up with changing technology.

“We’ve held sessions with craftspeople and asked for input on how we build ships today and got very specific examples of how to make the process more productive. We’re feeding that back to our engineers and designers,” she said, noting that those executing the work often have great ideas on how to simplify and improve both the product and the process used to produce it.

McHale said the entire layout of the Pascagoula shipyard is being looked at to identify issues related to work flow and how to minimize weather impacts by covering work areas. “It results in a better environment for the worker and allows more efficiency in how the work is done. We are putting a significant effort in trying to cover parts of the facilities,” she said.

A year after the initiative was put in place, McHale said Ingalls is seeing some of its future-looking ideas implemented, including installing new equipment and expanding a covered assembly work area.

“By the end of the year we will have worked through the engineering and design of some of the new facilities,” McHale said.  And, facility improvements such as the new robotic shapes cutting capability will be in place and  will be cutting parts more efficiently.

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