The National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP) and the US Navy’s Office of NavalResearch responded to growing Navy and shipyard interest in Lean manufacturing by hosting a Lean Shipbuilding and Ship Repair Forum in Seattle early in April. Faced with an environment characterized by low build rates and rising costs for such things as materials and workers’ medical care, shipyard executives nationwide are aggressively pursuing means to reduce the cost of building and repairing ships. They have found a solid winner in “Lean”, a term coined by researchers to describe a manufacturing system pioneered by Toyota which identifies and eliminates waste in order to add value in all phases of production.
Initial spot successes in implementing NSRP-sponsored Lean projects in U.S. shipyards in recent years have led to industry-wide efforts to implement Lean as soon as possible. The Forum featured a full agenda of speakers from shipbuilding, ship repair and aerospace industries. Presentations by both public and private sector shipyards revealed that, even as a relatively new initiative, adoption of Lean in the US shipyards is already producing a return on investment by reducing waste and improving quality in several processes on and above the shop floor. For instance, shipyards reported successes in cutting costs and/or cycle times as much as 40 percent in some shops. In all cases, implementing Lean processes has mitigated a trend of growing ship construction and repair costs that is driven by external factors.