A Long History
“We build Navy ships, LHA and LPD (amphibious assault ships), destroyers and Coast Guard cutters,” said Benny Porter, welding technologist for Ingalls Shipbuilding “We do a lot of out-of-position welding and we have to do it in a lot of tight areas, such as the inner bottoms on a ship, and it makes getting access to the welds difficult.”
Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest employer in Mississippi, has been a part of the area since the 1930’s, building Navy ships at the mouth of the Pascagoula River as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Ingalls is the nations leading contractor of surface combat ships having supplied the US Navy with 70 percent of its warships. The yard today concentrates on modern destroyers and amphibious attack vessels in addition to Coast Guard Cutters.
The rich history of Ingalls began in 1938 across the bay from today’s operations, at the original shipyard. The first launch was in 1940, a cargo ship called the Exchester, the worlds very first all welded vessel. By the 1960’s Ingalls was producing larger and larger ships that called for more space and the company moved across the bay.
The construction of today’s ships can take two to seven years and will involve millions of welds during the build process. The bigger the ship the more distance between the point of the arc and the power source. These super structures are challenging and complicated. Safety for the employees is always a top concern.
The Mississippi coast environment also presents challenges. The oceanfront location provides a salty atmosphere that wears on machines and metal. In addition the hot and humid conditions that make up a good portion of the year along the Gulf Coast put a strain on man and machine alike.
“It takes kind of a unique skill set to work here. Not only that, it takes a unique type of equipment to work and survive here because we’re right on the Gulf Coast,” said Kevin Roossinck, senior welding engineer at Ingalls Shipbuilding, “so the equipment that we use here has to really be able to hold up in that type of environment as well.”
ArcReach System Provides Point of Use Controls
According to Porter, the complexity and length of a ship is the main reason they were looking for point-of-use weld controls: eliminate the time it would take to walk back and forth to the power source and reduce exposure to potential worksite hazards.
“We have a lot of areas where the welder is a long ways from his power supply, and he would have to go back to the power supply to set his voltage every time and every time he moves the welder is traversing cables and steel, it’s a safety concern,” said Porter, “At the point of the weld we have ranges or tolerances on a procedure and the welder has to stay within those ranges.”
One solution seemed promising but ultimately did not live up to the rigor of shipbuilding.
“We used to have wire feeders that would have a control cable in order to control the voltage. That didn’t pan out because the control cable was getting damaged to the point where machines were going down left and right,“ according to Roossinck. “We had to get away from that.”
Ingalls eventually found their solution in ArcReach technology. The ArcReach combined with a suitcase-style ArcReach wire feeder is specifically designed for shipyards and construction applications where the operator is situated a long distance from the power source.
The ArcReach System offered:
- Voltage and amperage adjustments at the point of the weld
- More finite adherence to weld parameters and tolerances
- No control cable, saving cost and repairs
- Improved safety, fewer trip hazards
The ArcReach technology transmits data across the weld cable, including voltage controls, and eliminates costly control cables and the inefficiencies previously related to changing weld parameters (leaving the area, etc.).
“Now with a ArcReach we can tighten those ranges even closer because the welder has more control than he did before,” says Porter. “We have raised the bar even further for the quality of that weld with the ArcReach.”
A test of a few machines went so well that Ingalls purchase the first 24 coming off of the line. The machines are placed on the panel line where ship walls, decks and hulls begin to take shape with welders working under a gantry system. Ingalls’ gantry system houses the power sources 30-feet above the operators. In the past, if a setting change was necessary, these operators would need to leave the work area, make their way to the side of the line and then climb up the gantry ladder to make adjustments at the power source.
The benefits of the ArcReach unit go beyond point of control. The ArcReach's have been a great success, providing productivity improvements and improvement in the tough quality standards at Ingalls. In addition, less walking around time by the welder has reduced trip and fall and other potential safety hazards.
“I think it helps in welder fatigue,” said Porter, “if he has to get up and climb up on the ship, up through four or five decks, he’s going to be tired. So I think that’s why you’re looking at improved safety and productivity.”
“The ArcReach system significantly impacts productivity because if we didn’t have it, we would have these welders having to climb up a ladder to go change their parameters so you get that added time benefit by just having the ArcReach system right there at your fingertips,” said Roossinck.
Roossinck says that experienced welders and rookies alike have found the system easy to use and reliable. The job has become less tedious because of the ArcReach system.
“Especially when they first start welding. If you have a new assembly that you have to start welding on, you have to mess with your parameters a little bit to get it tuned in. If you had to walk up the ladder twenty steps or however much it is every time to tweak your parameter a little bit, you’re going to waste a whole lot of time before you can get started on your project. From a productivity standpoint, it does have a significant impact on our production.”
Reliable and Rugged
Ingalls acquired the first ArcReach's three years ago, logging thousands of hours since implementation. From day one, the durability has been evident in the ArcReach’s reliability and steadiness in the unsympathetic shipyard setting.
“They’ve been reliable. There are usually bugs in systems when you first put them out, but we haven’t found any in these. They’re all operating now with no major problems at all,” said Porter.
Roossinck is seeing the same trouble free craftsmanship of the ArcReach, “We haven’t had any maintenance issues and we haven’t had any issues with the capability working, the technology working.”
Ingalls has long-term goals to use more ArcReach units in other areas of the shipyard, including on the ship deck. It’s on the ships that Ingalls sees the biggest benefit of fewer man-hours welding on the inner-bottom of the ships with the power sources deck side. It’s a long-term goal for efficiency.
“When we come up with an idea of something that we think may help us build ships more effectively, increase productivity, and increase safety, we go to a company like Miller for that,” said Roossnick. “I think that Miller has been very successful in giving us what we want and we expect to be able to support that technology.”