Tom Buske, manager of production at ACE Marine, worked for Marinette Marine for many years before taking the lead at the Green Bay-based company, which builds aluminum rescue boats for the Coast Guard. He talked with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun about the opportunity to start the manufacturing plant from the ground up in 2008 for Fincantieri Marine Group, which also owns Marinette Marine.
ONE OF THE THINGS we’re most focused on right now is future business and facility expansion opportunities. Fincantieri Marine Group developed ACE Marine under a business model that allows us to build a culture from the ground up; we started with a brand new workforce. We had an opportunity to build a culture that encourages individuals and empowers them to make positive change on the shop floor.
Currently, we’re involved with the 45-foot Response Boat Medium for the Coast Guard; it’s a replacement for the 41-foot Utility Boats. The current production plan calls for 180 boats. The Coast Guard has an option for up to 250. In October 2008, we started production on this program, and now we have a total workforce of 60; 47 of them are direct production employees.
We anticipated the RBM program will run for several years, so we wanted very detailed work instructions and procedures that we can give to our workforce. We are very heavy on training and education. We see that as a catalyst for the continuous improvement process and we apply that to all aspects of our operation, whether it’s on the production floor or in the office. We also use heavily the applications of lean manufacturing and 5-S principles. This helps us eliminate waste, improves our material cost, helps our overall organization and improves our performance.
We’ve done it all without sacrificing safety. We are on track to close out 2011 with 642 days and ¼ million man hours since our last lost-time accident.
I was involved with Kvichak Marine Industries in Seattle (which is partnering with Marinette Marine to build RBMs for the Coast Guard), so I understood the product we needed to build.
At Kvichak, we developed a detailed design working closely with the Coast Guard. I traveled between Seattle and Green Bay until we got to full production.
When we went into production here in Green Bay, we had the design refined. We were able to attract a very skilled workforce. As we were starting up this facility, the yachting industry was tanking and there were workers available with aluminum boat construction experience.
We are part of the North Coast Marine Manufacturing Alliance. We are trying to brand this entire region as the North Coast, with the intent to bring more business to this region. We’re working with NWTC and the UW-Marinette campus to provide the skilled resources we need as this industry grows so we have people in the pipeline.
We won’t know if the Coast Guard will exercise their option to add 70 extra RBMs here, for a total of 250 boats. Because of what we’ve accomplished here, Fincantieri Italy is very interested in marketing aluminum boats out of this facility throughout the world.
Fincantieri U.S., through Marinette Marine, is bidding on the Navy’s 72-craft Ship-to-Shore Connector program; it’s a replacement for the Navy’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft.
We are anticipating that the Navy will award this contract in 2012 – it’s an over $4 billion contract. The plan would be to build those here in Green Bay at ACE.
We have the right facility, the right processes and the right culture. We credit our success to our skilled, dedicated workforce – one whose imagination, commitment and focus is coupled with what I refer to as the great Northeast Wisconsin work ethic. I believe we have a very bright future.