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Irving set to cut AOPS steel next summer

On the eve of DEFSEC Atlantic, Irving Shipbuilding installed the final piece of the steel frame that makes up its new assembly and production facility in Halifax. At a ceremony attended by federal, provincial and municipal politicians, employees of Walters Steel and members of Ironworkers Local 752 raised the last, signed structural steel beam.

It was a proud moment for Kevin McCoy, the company’s president. But it also served as a reminder of how much remains to be done before the Halifax Shipyard begins work on the first class of navy ships under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).

“We are one year out,” he said in an address to DEFSEC the following morning. “A year from now, we are going to be cutting steel and [into] full production” on the first Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship. “There are nights when it is tough to get to sleep when I think of all stuff that has to happen: to get the new building finished, to get the processes changed, the new IT systems, the training, the people, the machines, to get the design finished, the contract nailed down.”

McCoy talked in terms of firm timelines – a rare occurrence for process many see as moving too slowly – and not only for the AOPS, but also for the Canadian Surface Combatant.

Not only do targets have to be met over the next nine months to ensure construction begins on the AOPS next summer, key issues need to be resolved before 2020 when the final patrol ships are nearing completion and the CSC is slated to begin.

“One of the stated principles of the [NSPS] was to break the boom and bust cycle of the shipbuilding trades,” he said. “If we are not building the CSC in 2020 we fear that we are going to be in an employment dip – we’ll have to lay off our employees and then start back up again when CSC comes along.”

Specifically on AOPS, McCoy said Irving had just completed a critical all-party review of a design, believed to be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class. “It started in an iterative way, block-by-block-by-block, with everybody understanding that the key ingredient…is having the design complete prior to starting the actual ship production. We have all the major components located: the length; the beam; the compartments are fixed; the major spaces are fixed; in the next year we will get down to the small pipes, cables and outfitting all the stuff you need to finish the ship.”

McCoy expects to close a contract with the government by January in order to then begin placing orders for materials.

The ships will be built in three mega blocks in the shipyard’s new ultra hall and then joined up on its land level facility. McCoy said the process will ensure that over 80 percent of the ship is complete, including lights, cables and insulation, before the vessel is launched. “The plan is to launch the first ship with over 80 percent complete, and that will go up to 87 percent as we go forward.”

Both AOPS and the CSC will be constructed in one of the largest single ship construction buildings in North America, and using some of the most advanced systems. “We are building ships in the most modern way that they are being built around the world. We have been exhaustive in the benchmarking. Everything is digital,” he said.

Though the modernized facility is the most visible change, McCoy said the greatest challenge may be process. “We have literally hundreds of processes that we have to change. When we signed up to win this contract…we had to agree that we would bring our processes and procedures up to world class best and we have to be there by February of 2015.”

That includes a workforce that can meet the highest international standards. To that end, Irving has been working with Nova Scotia Community College on a curriculum to deliver its digitally comfortable workforce.

If there are doubts about what this means to the Canadian economy, McCoy said that on the facility alone Irving will have invested approximately $340 million, almost 80 percent of which will have gone to Canadian companies. “You don’t have to wait to build ships to get serious about the economic impact from NSPS,” he concluded.

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