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NCI launches shipbuilding partnership with Newport News company

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MARTINSVILLE –Virginia Sen. Bill Stanley believes a shipbuilding program could help change this region's economic fortunes. On Wednesday, Stanley and New College Institute Executive Director Leanna Blevins took people on tours of NCI's new Shipbuilding Mobile Experience Lab.

NCI plans to begin offering the high-tech, education program by next fall.

Stanley, a Republican from Franklin County who is chairman of NCI’s board, said New College reached a memorandum of understanding agreement with Newport News Shipbuilding to bring the program to New College.

While Martinsville is not near the coast, officials believe it could still serve as a training ground, due to changes in the shipbuilding industry.

“The whole shipbuilding industry is starting to do some digital transformations of how we build ships,” said Brent Woodhouse, manager of digital shipbuilding workforce development for Huntington Ingalls Industries. Huntington is the parent company of Newport News Ship-building. “One of the big things we’re doing is moving to 3-D model-based connected data. So we’re moving away from traditional 2D drawings.”

“We’re embracing technologies such as tablets, laser scanning, doing 3D work construction, getting into additive manufacturing/3-D printing, and then we also use some augmented reality-type devices for training our sailors and shipbuilders before they even get on the ship,” Woodhouse said.

He added: “With the new workforces that are coming in, they are all digital natives [people who grew up with digital technology]. So most manufacturing industries, especially shipbuilding, they have a very heavy Baby Boomer population that’s about to retire in the next eight years. So we’re in the process of hiring a lot of new employees that [have] grown up on tablets and computers. They think differently. So we have to find a way to embrace that innovation, and one way we’re doing that is with our digital shipbuilding programs.”

Employers have learned that talking about a subject isn’t the same as letting people experience it, Woodhouse said. That’s why the mobile lab offers a lot of hands-on demos.

“Students, they can maybe come and see and feel what these technologies are being used for at the shipyard.”

Taking the tour

Among those who toured the lab were high school students from Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties and representatives of some of the companies in this region that are suppliers for Newport News Shipbuilding, among others.

Stanley said in his remarks Wednesday: “This program is a priority for Go Virginia [a bipartisan, business-led economic development initiative]. It is a partnership with Old Dominion University, which we have partnered with and have a great relationship with. So it’s a perfect fit for the New College here in Martinsville. What you are going to see today Wednesday] is an exciting way of educating the new, future workforce in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Stanley added: “Most people have said before, when we brought this [new program] to their attention that we are going to do this at New College, they said, ‘What? We’re going to build ships in Martinsville? That’ll never happen.’ There was a lot of skepticism. They just didn’t get it, because this credential program, what you’re going to see here and what our students can now be taught, can be used and utilized in so many of the 21st century industries, not just shipbuilding. But more importantly, let us not forget this: There are 14 vendors, 14 manufacturing companies in our region down here that serve the Newport News shipyard, that provide services to the Newport News shipyard.”

“If we can create a pipeline, that I know Dr. Blevins and I can do, a pipeline of students that can come here and get the certification in the credential program that Newport News Ship-building experience here will offer, we’re going to create a pipeline of students that will bring industries to our area, because they are going to come where they know they can have a ready, willing, able and well-trained workforce,” Stanley said.

Before a tour of the lab began on Wednesday, Alan Clark -- mobile experience lead for digital shipbuilding for Newport News Shipbuilding – told the audience: “Think of the idea of digital transformation…. It isn’t technology for technology sake…. What you’re thinking about is how do we change what we’re doing as a result of using the technology. If you don’t change your process or become more effective, you’re just wasting money, bottom line.”

He added: “Think about the paper map… When was the last time you pulled one out? When was the last time you used a phone book? Now we pull this thing (digital device) out. Everything we need to know or think we need to know is in this phone. It’s not the phone; it could be your laptop, tablet, iPad, iPod, whatever. It’s not the device; it’s the app inside it that makes the difference. The app inside the device brings all the information to one place, one place where we can access it whenever we need it, wherever we need it, in a way that we can utilize it.”

Clark and Linda Carrithers -- design engineering manager, digital shipbuilding, Newport News Shipbuilding -- then talked about laser scanning, visual work instructions, visual build management, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), and augmented reality [think about the technology in the rear-backup in your car] for industrial use.

For example, with laser scanning, Carrithers said in an interview, “…Where you don’t have a design model, instead of sending designers with drawings and sketch pads, with markings and having to have to physically figure out what the ship looks like, we use laser scanners to document what the ship is and take dimensions and stuff from that.” She said that tremendously speeds up the process. “Instead of 130 people with drawings, we’re taking 25 people to the ship checks,” she added.

With visual work instructions, she said, “we’re taking 3D product model and making Lego-type instructions, step by step, but it’s in a 3-D model form. So instead of using a 30-page drawing, the task he [the worker] needs today is only two pages of the drawing. He’s got to figure that out. With digital, we only give him instructions for what he needs to do for that particular task.”

Blevins listed in an email several benefits she believes the digital shipbuilding credential pro-gram at NCI will provide: “Regional suppliers would have graduates who understand their products and services. Regional advanced manufacturers would have graduates who have transferable knowledge and skills. NNS [Newport News Shipbuilding] would have more graduates who understand and appreciate their business and their needs.”

Blevins added: “Students would gain knowledge and skills that are applicable in a variety of career fields, including engineering, information systems, logistics and supply chain management, project management, design/drafting, production and warehousing.”

Paul Collins reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at

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