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NEWS | Aug. 27, 2018

Shipyard innovation improves label plate process, reduces time and cost

By Silvia Klatman, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

It’s not every day an idea reduces hazardous waste, cuts down on processing time, saves the command $28,000 a year and produces a higher quality product.

Forward-thinking teammates in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s Sheet Metal Shop (Shop 17) came up with just such an idea when looking to improve label plates used on vessels.

“Our old label making process took us roughly three hours to produce a product that was basically black and white,” said Jordan Veach, Shop 17 label plates mechanic. “The new sublimation process takes about five minutes to do the same job, and the results are in full color with perfect picture quality.”

The previous method had been used for 60 years, so Veach was convinced that newer technology existed that would save time and reduce the use of hazardous materials. After just a few minutes of searching online, Veach learned about the sublimation process. He did extensive research then put together a proposal to pitch to the process manager, Kent Burton, Shop 17 inside shop general foreman.

“His information was well thought out, and he appeared to have thought this completely through from all perspectives,” said Burton. “We moved forward and bought the minimum set-up for an evaluation.”

Black belts Daniel Arnall with the Component Repair and Fabrication Department (Code 1060) and Dennis Dang with the Process Improvement Department (Code 100PI) conducted a define, measure, analyze, improve and control project for more than six months, bringing some impressive findings to light.

Substituting sublimation printing for the previous decades-old method resulted in label plates that were as durable with visually crisp lettering and graphics that could be produced in a full range of color rather than limited to black and red. In addition, fabrication time was reduced by 44 percent, costs by 7 percent and the defect rate dropped from about 26 percent to 1 percent—a whopping 95 percent reduction in deficiencies.

Given that every vessel coming through the shipyard requires label plates for shipboard systems, this is a significant win for customers. Aluminum sublimation can be used in non-engineering spaces, as well as when appropriate and requested in certain instances by ships’ force. The plates can also be used for awards, safety signs, and a host of other purposes.

Reducing the amount of hazardous waste was a major incentive to implement the new system. This translates not only into a drop in costs but, more importantly, a safer workplace.  Exposure has been reduced or eliminated since no hazardous waste is created.  This has had a dramatic impact on the entire department with hazardous waste dropping 60-70 percent, and the hazardous waste tank has gone from being emptied twice a month to once every two months.

The cost for materials has also gone down dramatically. The naval brass plates previously used cost $150 for a 4-foot by 2-foot section, while the comparable aluminum replacement is only $20. If exposed to light, previous materials were ruined, but the new method doesn’t have that issue. The aluminum scraps can also be repurposed, driving down costs even further. 

The cost for the proof of concept equipment was $3,200, and the lean event captured that annual savings should run approximately $28,000 per year. Since those positive results have been determined, the shop purchased a larger printer with increased capacity for $6,500. The lower costs with this process along with increased capacity means the equipment should pay for itself within five months.

Veach is a strong believer in providing high-quality products while being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. He stands behind worker safety, noting, “This gives us the ability to produce colored safety signs that last longer than all the other plastic signs around the shipyard.”

The label plate improvement has been so noteworthy that the other three members of the Structural Group Community of Practice—Pearl Harbor, Portsmouth Naval and Norfolk Naval Shipyards—want to implement the sublimation process at their shipyards.

As word gets out about the new system and the quick turnaround, the orders are keeping Veach and his teammates, Sean Joyner and Kris Holmberg, busy.

“We’ve got more work to cover the time we’ve been saving,” Joyner pointed out.