Keeping the Coast Guard on course
Bollinger US Coast Guard
Bollinger US Coast Guard - 1
Bollinger US Coast Guard - 2
On the banks of Louisiana's Bayou Lafourche, a symphony is hard at work. Rather than making music though, this symphony is creating boats. Ocean-going double hull barges, off shore oil vessels, tug boats, rigs, lift boats, push boats, and patrol boats for the U.S. Military. Everything originates from Bollinger Shipyards, a 70-year-old shipbuilder started by Donald Bollinger with help from three brothers returning from World War II.
Shipbuilding at Bollinger may start with a design usually licensed from the Darnen Group, an international designer and builder of ships based in the Netherlands. A Darnen design is actually the foundation for the company's most recent Coast Guard order: 38 Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters. This order is based on a Darnen Stan patrol vessel measuring 154 feet long and 26 feet wide. Bollinger has delivered 23 of the cutters so far, most recently in April when the USCGC Benjamin Dailey was handed over to Coast Guard officials in Key West, Florida. In total Bollinger has delivered about 150 vessels to the Coast Guard during the past 30 years.
Danny Richardel, Bollinger's Vice President of New Construction Production, explains that it takes a carefully coordinated team of people to bring any boat to life. It all begins with Bollinger engineers, who work closely with the customer to first identify the right vessel and make any needed modifications before starting the job of cutting and welding the metal that will make up the finished product. In addition to a full team of design engineers, Bollinger employs a combination of mechanical, electrical, and weld engineers; project managers, material managers, accountants, electricians, carpenters, fabricators, and welders. All work five-days a week, up to two shifts a day, with some, like the paint crews, working through the weekend when necessary.
Keeping jobs on schedule is critical to ensuring the Bollinger symphony stays on key. Even a small hiccup can send a carefully planned project careening out of control, resulting in a missed delivery date, a ballooning budget, or both. To keep disruptions to a minimum, Bollinger employs a lean manufacturing methodology throughout its ISO-9001 facilities. At its 250 -acre shipyard in Lockport, Louisiana, just one of many facilities dotting the Gulf Coast, Bollinger relies on several Hypertherm products- a HyPerformance® HPR260 plasma system, MAX200® conventional plasma, HyPrecision® 50 waterjet pump, and ProNest CAD/CAM nesting software to tie it all together.
Bollinger's foray into the world of plasma actually began with a non-Hypertherm system. Unfortunately, things didn't go well. The cut quality wasn't what it needed so employees were spending a lot of wasted time on secondary operations. Frustrated, Bollinger reached out to ALLtra Corporation who recommended adding a new Hypertherm plasma system to the existing CNC table already in place in Lockport. Bollinger agreed and couldn't be happier with its choice.
"The speed of the cutting process and thru-put are very important to us. The cutting process needs to be quick, and at the same time, the cuts need to be precise and clean," explains Dennis Fanguy, Vice President of Quality Management Systems. "The HyPerformance plasma is a real workhorse that's allowed us to eliminate grinding and rework. Parts now come off the cutting bed ready to use and marked with part numbers.”
Bollinger is cutting several different types of metal. Typically, the boat hulls are made of mild steel for strength while the superstructure is fabricated out of aluminum since it weighs less. Specifically, Bollinger uses the plasma to cut 5086 and 5456 grade aluminum, AH36 and A36 mild steel, and even stainless once in a while. Pipe, pipe saddles, and holes are also cut with plasma. The company uses the MAX200 on an eight-axis robotic pipe saddle and hole cutting machine from Jesse Co. in Washington state. There are some parts the plasma can't cut though. Small, intricate parts used in watertight doors, require a very high level of precision and need a different process.
"We're always controlling costs and looking for ways to reduce expenses. In the past~ we fabricated our own water-tight doors, but we lost that expertise and began purchasing those items," Richardel says. But there were pitfalls. They found the cost to purchase the doors and hatches too costly. They then tried outsourcing but kept running into quality and scheduling issues. "Going outside the organization was slowing us down. Our projects would get bumped so they took longer and our customers were not happy with the quality," Richardel says. The Bollinger team decided it was time to start performing the work in-house again.
The company turned to Koike Aronson, ultimately deciding on a K-Jet 6 12 system with the Hypertherm HyPrecision pump. After installing the system last October, the company is now manufacturing its own water-tight doors and hatches. "The doors were a catalyst for buying a waterjet, but really we just wanted to do more work in-house," Richardel says. Adds Fanguy, "The waterjet is so precise. Parts don't have heat affected areas and the machine set-up is quick. We can cut a variety of materials, like metal, plastics, and rubber."
Bollinger also discovered an unexpected benefit. The K-Jet system is so efficient Bollinger is able to manufacture and sell doors to other boat builders creating another revenue stream for the company. "It took about a day to figure out the ROI on the waterjet and it was positive," Richardel says. He estimates it will take less than two years to see a return on the investment.
In addition to speed and cut quality, minimizing waste is critical for Bollinger, a factor that was hard to control when its work was outsourced. Bollinger's design tool of choice is ShipConstructor, a 3D modeling tool used in the shipbuilding and off shore industries. It also uses Hypertherm's ProNest 2017 on both its plasma and waterjet tables, enjoying the CAD/CAM software's ability to efficiently nest parts together so very little scrap remains. It also uses ProNest's optional Bevel Machine Module to cut beveled edges.
Many months after building begins, it's finally time to launch. Boats like the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters for the Coast Guard are carefully lowered into the Bayou Lafourche using a system of tandem cranes. After rigorous testing to ensure complete seaworthiness in the demanding conditions Coast Guard vessels often encounter, it's time for Bollinger to schedule delivery and begin again.