Author: Charli K. Matthews
Last month, I saw the beauty of Manufacturing at Marinette Marine, a shipyard in Marinette, WI. I was invited to visit a shipyard by a member of our Empowering Women in Industry steering committee, Bethany Skorik. Bethany is also a dear friend of mine that I have known for over 5 years, and she continues to show me the value of the shipbuilding industry.
As I arrived at the facility, I saw a rush of people moving in and out of the building. This reminded me of the tire plant my dad worked at when I was a young girl. Prepared with my steel-toe shoes, I made my way to the sign-in for visitors. There were several people with hard hats and safety glasses waiting to see others at the shipyard. As they signed in, I looked around at all the beautiful warships on the wall. I became excited about seeing them up close! I introduced myself to the receptionist, who turned out to be from purchasing and was just filling in. I was very impressed that she was doing two jobs and not complaining about it.
When Bethany arrived, we got our hard hat, safety glasses, and ear plugs. Next, she introduced me to the security officer, Mr. Skorik. He is her dad! How great to be able to see your dad at work every morning! Bethany explained that at one time there were 11 of her family members at the shipyard. I noted the family culture, but it came up time and time again on the tour.
We talked about the increase of people needed to be able to run what she called the “serial manufacturing” process. We began the tour at the beginning of the process: Steel. There were sheets being cut into specific measured pieces. Once the plates are formed, they can be moved from place to place with cranes. They were sorted then sent over to welding and assembly. Let’s just stop right here! Y’all know I love the art of welding… BUT THIS! I saw 20+ welders all working together, beautiful sparks flying that reminded me of a 4th of July celebration. I thought, this must have been what the world looked like during WWII. It was proof to me that manufacturing is still very much alive (and needed) in our country. If you looked at the finished welds, you see each welder signed their initials. This gives the welders a sense of pride and competition for a good weld. It also gave the shipyard a way to track someone’s work. This tracking/labeling can be seen throughout the entire process. Precision and Excellence of work is absolutely necessary. This ship will be at home in the Navy, and it must be built with that in mind. These workers have great pride in doing this job with excellence.
There were several buildings dedicated to assembly. The newly-built workspaces were painted more brightly to have a positive effect for workers. In the past, these building were darker gray – again, what you might think of as the image of manufacturing during WWII times. This is not the case in today’s facilities. They also have medical stations for the care of the workers, with health and wellness integrated into their daily work routines – including stretching and a chiropractor on-site. I thought to myself, my brother, the Tuscaloosa chiropractor, would be so proud!
We moved from welding to sandblasting and assembly. Sandblasting in this shipyard is an improved process because safety measures are put in place to protect the technicians and the blasting materials are reused. Recycling and reusing blasting materials is a big cost saver and improves safety by limiting exposure of these materials to the workers.
Another impressive scene was watching the hull assembly – all the steel being welded together and the beginning of piping and electrical. Imagine cutting a war ship into 10 modules that can be quickly flipped around by cranes that have 20 people working on each module at once. This is done by a computerized system with specific calculations allowing the speed of the movement and precise changes. Some installations and welds may be more easily done upside down. This was truly amazing to see!
The next part of the tour was painting and machinery installation. With the machinery installation, some things can be done pre-launch; however, things like alignment must be done after the violent launching process. If you haven’t seen this in video, it is quite impressive. Great amounts of water are moved from the channel, and it is a good test of the ships production.
After the launch, more machinery is taken on the ship to be installed and tested. As we approached this area of the shipyard, I saw workers that looked more like contractors, suppliers, maintenance, and with lots of equipment. As we approached the ship, I was introduced to the supervisor. He was very kind to take a moment to speak to us about the process. As we boarded the first LCS ship, I had an overwhelming sense of pride. I had first been introduced to these ships years ago, when I had been running the social media for Fairbanks Morse Engine. They are very impressive! The navy lives and works on these ships. I couldn’t believe I was climbing the ladder down to see all the people and equipment that was being tested! Surrounded by equipment, pipes, valves, motors, pumps, engines, testing equipment, etc., I was in heaven. Also, I did note that the workers were mostly men and how women would have to be confident in their abilities in this space. I was a bit intimidated, and I was just walking the ship. Having said that, the men were very kind and were excited about my passion for the shipbuilding process.
We did not make it to the engine room because it was a very tight space and it was about 100 degrees, but I did get to see and meet amazing men and women who build ships that will keep our navy safe and productive! There are many more details that Bethany could give you, but I just wanted you to understand the general process of shipbuilding and the number of people, manufacturers, and investment needed for this type of serial manufacturing.
As we stood on one ship preparing for sea trials and looked across the way to the next ship that is owned by the Navy (which was heavily guarded) I am honored, I am thankful, and I am a believer in the power of manufacturing. What does manufacturing mean to you? Happy Manufacturing Day!