Ship maintenance

New technology helps maintain fishing vessels at Puget Sound shipyard


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When Sam Pruiett started at the Puget Sound Shipyard 30 years ago, he had to improvise when he didn’t have the right tool for the job.

“So if I needed deep sockets for a particular job, I would see a socket in half and then weld a piece of pipe into it and use it on each boat,” said Pruiett.

Not anymore.

“Today I can go have one 3D printed for me,” he said.

PSNS stores have started incorporating new gadgets into their operations, from 3D printers for making tools to virtual reality headsets for teaching safety procedures.

The ongoing technological evolution of the shipyard is an employee-led effort of those who are considering a way to improve a process or equipment used in their area of ​​expertise, said shipyard commander Captain Howard Markle .

“Each of these new technologies that we are using in the shipyard has come down to us because someone in our organization said, ‘There is a better way,’” said Markle.

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At the weapons shop, which received a 3D printer about a year ago, mechanics thinking of a way to modify or develop a tool to make their jobs easier can have a prototype printed in a day or two.

The store has printed parts designed by mechanics, ranging from a guide that helps punch a straight line through the dead center of a pipe, to a specialized claw hammer that won’t chip fresh paint on the hull of the pipe. ‘a vessel when removing the rubber stoppers. .

Some of the innovative new tools made with 3D printers at the Puget Sound Shipyard, including a claw hammer, at the bottom.

Although devices often have to go through a few development cycles before reaching the hands of shipyard workers, it is much cheaper to print multiple versions of the device rather than having one made out of print. other materials, said Bob Hewitt, who is in charge of operating the store’s printer.

“You get a part that a mechanic can try out really quickly,” he said. “You go through a few iterations and changes until you have something that you can use every day. ”

Printed tools like this claw hammer also have another advantage – they’re much lighter than their metal counterparts.

“Now instead of having that hammer in your bag with all your other tools, you have this one in there and it only weighs 10 ounces,” Prueitt said. “On some parts of the boat, you could remove 300 or 400 plugs in a day. Consider doing all of that with a big hammer around.”

The lifting and handling workshop, which operates the industrial cranes that lift materials around the shipyard, recently acquired virtual reality headsets which are now used to teach trainees the peculiarities of safely operating cranes. .

Alexander Pittman, a 20-year-old shipyard worker with the lifting and handling workshop, was at first skeptical about the feasibility of using the technology to train new hires.

“I’m a licensed crane operator so I was like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be a cool video game’ and then I gave it a try and it was like ‘Wow, I feel like I’m operating a crane “Pittman said.” It’s wild. “

PSNS Lift and Handling Training Supervisor Dylan DeMers operates a virtual reality system that manages a crane operations training program.

Lift and Material Handling Training Supervisor Dylan DeMers said using VR to train the next group of crane operators is just as good, if not better, than the real thing.

“The system will give you a scary and realistic headspace for what it’s like to operate a crane,” DeMers said. “When you start the engine, it feels like you are starting a diesel engine. When you lift a heavy load, you feel the resistance.

This realism allows trainees to be placed in emergency scenarios.

“So it’s like, ‘OK, what are you doing as a crane operator? What’s the emergency response?’” Said Pittman. “Now we can train crane operators in these emergency scenarios while placing them in a safe environment. ”

It takes more than 4,000 hours, essentially two years of training, to certify a trainee to operate a crane. Every time a trainee gets on a crane to practice driving one, a minimum of three people are needed to mentor the trainee, which costs other workers hours of work and means there is a crane of less to use for maintenance operations.

With virtual reality headsets, a mentor can supervise four trainees at a time.

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Training someone to drive a crane is a bit like teaching someone to drive a car. DeMers said. As with any new driver, trainees can be tough on the crane equipment by getting stuck on the brakes or hitting the gas harder than they should be.

“They will inevitably wear out the machine, resulting in a multitude of associated costs,” he said.

The shipyard has four virtual reality training systems with software to introduce trainees to the fundamentals of crane operation.

The shipyard plans to expand virtual reality training programs for the use of forklifts and training on aerial work platforms.

In addition to the manufacturing and educational benefits of the shipyard’s new gadgets, Ron Zmijewski, with the Shipyard’s Process Improvement Group, has spent the past few years working on ways to use technology to reduce waste. physical impact that manual labor hours can have on an employee’s work. body.

“A lot of our workforce goes on a ship and works on the ship with hand tools, so much of their day is a challenge for their body,” Zmijewski said. “The idea is how do we make people come home feeling like they came in, feeling good at the end of the day? “

The answer lies in assistive human technologies, such as an upper body exoskeleton, Zmijewski said.

Ron Zmijewski, with the Shipyard Process Improvement Group, models an upper body exoskeleton at the Puget Sound Naval Museum in downtown Bremerton.

The exoskeleton is a backpack-like device that redirects the weight of a person’s arms raised above their head through a series of springs and weights so that they can rest against their hips instead. . This allows employees to perform their work more comfortably.

One of the contraptions alone costs around $ 6,500, but it’s well worth it, Zmijewski said.

“Compare this investment in not getting tired or injured, and allowing you to use your fine motor skills and not use your big, heavy muscles,” he said.

Workers are currently testing a few exoskeleton models for short trials while the shipyard works to develop policies for safe and widespread use.

Over the next two years, Zmijewski said he hopes to bring more exoskeletons to the shipyard.

All of the recent breakthroughs by the shipyard are not just benefiting the PSNS, they are having an impact on the entire Navy fleet.

Any idea created in one of the Navy’s four shipyards is shared among the others, said Suzie Simms, head of the Naval Sea System Command Tactical Innovation Implementation Lab.

“What I’ve found, when I get the mechanics from Puget talking with the mechanics from Norfolk or Pearl or Portsmouth, it’s magical to watch the interaction between them,” said Simms. “It creates enthusiasm for innovation.”

It is also to save money.

“When you start calculating by task, by vessel, by availability, the incremental increases in cost savings are huge,” she said. “Just the simplest tool can save a huge amount of money.”

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