A Newport News shipyard apprentice’s bright idea keeps a submarine on schedule

Dave Ress, The Daily Press
·2 min read

As an apprentice, basically on the cram course to gain the equivalent of years of shipbuilding experience over a four-year work-study program, Austin Shrewsberry is still pretty new to Newport News Shipbuilding.

But the one-time Apprentice School football offensive linesman from Giles County was paying attention in his A-School classrooms, in which apprentices earn college credit as they learn their trades. He hit the books especially hard when an injury sidelined him.

That study, along with what he saw working in the yard’s machine shop, gave him an idea. He and the other machinists in the yard’s M53 department learned that installation of a new overhead crane would stop work on 20-foot-by-12-foot submarine stabilizer when they were only part-way through the job.

“It was going to stop things for two weeks, plus the two or three days it would take to set the job up again,” Shrewsberry said. “I didn’t want to see the boat and all the work downstream fall behind.”

He thought the answer might be a tool from a different part of the machine shop — an oil-damped, solid bar that reduces vibration when a milling machine rotates its cutting tools through the huge work pieces the shop handles.

The problem: it didn’t fit the older milling machine Shrewsberry was running in his end of the shop.

A trial, a failure, an inspection and then some measurement showed that the problem was that the threads on the tool were metric, while the threads on the drawbar — the piece on his milling machine that holds tools steady — were standard American ones.

So he disconnected the drawbar, made some detailed measurements of the whole piece, and then hit the drafting table to draw plans for a new piece that could handle the new tool.

“Then I went upstairs and me and another apprentice machined a new one,” he said.

It didn’t quite work the way he wanted, so he and the other apprentice tried again. It worked.

“We were able to finish the stabilizer in the next two days, before they started on the crane,” said Cole Irvine, the M53 foreman.

Irvine said he tries to run a shop where everyone feels free to make suggestions. In the case of Shrewsberry’s drawbar, it was an idea Irvine thinks will pay dividends for years.

Being able to use the oil-damped bar means Shrewsberry’s milling machine can cut into its work pieces faster than it had been able to before. That means a quicker turnaround time for all the stabilizers for the submarines Newport News will build for years to come, Irvine said.

“We were able to get the job done and make a huge improvement in the process,” Irvine said.

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com