NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD —
A few months ago, Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) learned the air conditioning condenser of one of the Navy’s minesweepers, USS Gladiator (MCM-11) stopped working while at sea. When local repairs were unsuccessful, NNSY immediately sent a fly-away team which determined the condenser needed to be replaced.
After discovering a condenser wasn’t readily available, a condenser was obtained from another minesweeper, USS Champion (MCM-4). This process allowed the Gladiator to get back to sea.
In December 2018, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) tasked NNSY with building a new condenser for the ship. The Navy first looked at outside manufacturers for the part and quickly learned it would take about a year to get the condenser. Due to operational missions, the ship couldn’t remain in port for an extended period of time. Even though the shipyard hadn’t built anything like this in decades, its personnel were ready to do whatever was needed to build it and help the ship get back to sea.
The first thing the condenser team learned was the Navy’s minesweepers are a bit different from the rest of the fleet when it comes to the metal within the ship and its equipment. The metal used on these ships must be non-magnetic in order for them to perform their missions and keep the ship cool in warm seas.
Before they could start building, the team members designed a production schedule and met daily to ensure they were staying on track and to address any challenges they came across along the way.
“Over the years of working here, I have learned this shipyard can do just about anything,” said David New, Code 262 Engineering Branch Head. “This project was different than anything we have done because we didn’t have the vendor drawings we would normally have for a project. We all knew going in, we were starting nearly from scratch, and would need to reverse engineer some of the parts.”
With working on a timeline, the team began the project by taking an old condenser apart to help determine how it is designed, how it functions, and to scan parts, and create drawings for the condenser.
“Building this type of condenser was new for us, and we did not have any paperwork or knowledge of how the manufacturer built this type of condenser,” said New. “This project brought a lot of unknowns and challenges when we discovered the original joint designs of the equipment didn’t meet our current design standards, and when the different types of material deformed when joined together.”
Minesweeper condensers are made up of stainless-steel shells and copper nickel components. The challenge the team was facing was figuring out how they could mesh them together successfully without having deformation issues.
“One of the biggest challenges we came across when we were building the condenser was the bowing of the pipe,” said Donald Edge, Code 960 Inside Shop Director. “The bowing of the flanges was even a bigger issue that was caused by the heat of the welding. When that happened, we had to send it back to the machine shop to get fixed before we could work on it again.”
Throughout the entire project, the team learned through trial and error, built a record of documents for future condenser projects, and conquered numerous challenges.
Within two months, the team successfully built and tested the air conditioning condenser that allowed the ship to get back to the fleet and perform global operations. The NNSY condenser team looks back on the journey as more than just a project, it was something much bigger.
“Given the opportunity to build something like this really puts our shipyard in a positive light. It also says a lot about our workforce as a whole and what we are capable of. We create, build timely and efficiently, within budget, and deliver first-time quality,” said Lee McElhiney, Shop 41 Inside Shop Supervisor. “We take a lot of pride in everything we do here each and every day because our work not only affects each one of us here in the shipyard, but our communities, our Navy, and ultimately our country.”