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The Yacht Report - June 2006 - Westport Shipyard: On A Role

Written by Fabio Petrone

When asked why Westport builds in three facilities, John Iverson, Vice-President of Manufacturing, was quite frank: "It's about workers," he said. "If we increase our workforce here we will give our workers a long commute to get to work, which means that we probably won't retain trained people for very long. Plus the labor pool in the area is not very large, and we may simply overload the available skilled talent. By having three separate facilities, we can draw from the worker pool in each area."

The company also works with local colleges and high schools to find and train workers. Colleges in the area offer instruction via interactive television courses in such fields as marine carpentry, finish carpentry and electronics. In conjunction with the Center for Excellence for Marine Manufacturing Technology, these courses are made available to interested students throughout western Washington State. With programs such as these in place, Westport hopes to build and retain a good labor pool for years to come.

Another incentive to attract and retain good workers is the company bonus plan. A yacht built ahead of schedule gives each worker a bonus. Bonuses, which can amount to $250,000, are assessed when a yacht is launched and are shared by every Westport employee. While $250,000 is not much divided among 900 people, when this amount is shared ten to twelve times a year, the total annual bonus can amount to a tidy sum for a skilled worker.

Westport is all about production. "We can build a 112 in 51 weeks," Iversen said. "Soon we'll have that figure down to 49 weeks per build, enabling us to produce five boats a year." Upon inspection of the shop, it soon became obvious that everything is based on an efficient build time. Parts arrive just when needed, bottlenecks are eliminated, gear with long lead times is ordered early, and workers hustle from one job to the next.

Each yacht has a defined job list at each stage of the building process. "It took several weeks to develop the building schedule, and another year to work the bottlenecks out of it," Iversen said. "Bottlenecks developed in unexpected places. For example, we had a problem with the bulkheads, which are all laminated in-house. We were originally building each part one at a time. So we sat down, made a drawing of all the flat parts that are needed, and fitted them together in a large square, rather like building a jigsaw puzzle. Then we build a laminating table the size of the square and now we laminate many parts at once and router cut them to shape. With several parts made at once, we don't tie up the laminating table and cause delays."

Other bottleneck problems have met with the same kind of careful analysis and solution. For instance, when the company found that the electrical switchboards became bottleneck, procedures were revamped to increase the throughput of electrical components and the cabinet construction, once again improving efficiency.

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