Submarine Mandates on the Rise: Moog Scales Up Orrville Site to Meet Demand
1. As the Site General Manager for Moog Orrville where Moog designs and manufactures hydraulic actuators, what can you tell me about the submarine market?
There are actually a few significant milestones in the U.S. Navy relating to their fleet of submarines. The first is that they have recently increased the production build rates of the Virginia class boats from 1 boat per year to 2 boats per year. The Virginia class boats will also be equipped with a new payload section (Virginia Payload Module or VPM) on builds starting in approximately 2019 which will add 4 missile tubes along the centerline of the middle section of the boat. One other milestone is that a new submarine platform is being kicked off which is called Columbia class. The Columbia class boats will replace the current fleet of Ohio class boats which were originally procured in 1974-1991.
2. What do these milestones mean for the products Moog designs and manufactures at the Orrville site?
What that means for us in simple terms is that the number of units we produce will have a pretty dramatic increase compared to the quantity we have historically produced. Since the build rate of the Virginia class is doubling, that will effectively mean we need to pull the deliveries we expected to have in later years of production forward in order to support the new demand. On top of that, we will also need to build and deliver hardware for the VPM sections that are being added to the build. This is additional hardware that will increase our production rates in Orrville. When Columbia class reaches its full build rate we will be producing nearly 250% as much submarine hardware as we were just a few years ago.
3. So is it just about increasing the production capacity then?
It’s actually much more than that. As a result of the new Columbia class program, there is also an additional amount of design and engineering work to do now. Many of the heritage actuator designs are being updated and so there are drawings and manufacturing documents to prepare and release. Some of the products on this program are new designs which have required some advance design and qualification activities so that when production phases begin, the design is fully tested and approved by our customer and the Navy. Some of these new designs on the U.S. Navy Columbia class are also well positioned for use in the UK. The UK has announced plans to replace four of its Vanguard class boats in the near future and there is some commonality between the U.S. and the UK designs which will offer an advantage.
4. Can you share any specific activities Moog is doing in the Orrville Site to perform all this work?
At the moment we are carefully trying to balance the people, positions, equipment and capital resources we need to support our long term forecast. Part of the challenge we face is the timing. While we’d like to be able to staff up in many departments and start placing new equipment now, we have to do that in an economically responsible way. We have started an active recruiting and hiring process for both direct manufacturing and supporting professional positions. This will enable us to start the training and process improvements required to do the future work more efficiently.
We are also looking at replacing some of the older machining equipment we have with more capable modern equipment that will help increase both our capacity, and our productivity. I mentioned process improvements and by that I mean not only improvements in how we manufacture and produce things, but also improvements in several key business processes. We have to find ways to optimize everything we do in order to help satisfy the increased demand throughout our company.
5. What role does technological innovation play in your business?
The submarine business is a very unforgiving one. Sailors lives depend on our hardware performing as designed every time. For that reason, the Navy is prudently conservative about the introduction of new technology. Hydraulic actuation is a very tried and true way of making things move where reliability is key. However, electro-mechanical (EM) alternatives to hydraulics provide a number of potential advantages when you look at submarine lifecycle costs. Moog has helped guide our customers in a number of other industries, such as commercial aircraft flight controls and six-degree-of-freedom motion bases for simulation, through the challenging transition from hydraulic to EM. We started working with ONR (Office of Naval Research) more than a decade ago on exploring how to safely and reliably bring EM technology to nuclear submarines and that technology is starting to find its way into niche applications on today's boats. Over time, we expect the Navy to find more opportunities for EM actuation and Moog plans to be a trusted partner every step of the way.
About the Author: Jim York is the Site General Manager of Moog Orrville. This site has been part of Moog since 2005, and has been in business since 1957. In addition to the hydraulic actuators provided for military applications, the site also provides actuators for industrial applications. Jim has worked at Moog for over 18 years and has held a variety of positions in engineering, quality, and management.