Sailors keep bilge keel project on track

This article has photo gallery Published on SBLT John McClelland (author), LSIS Lee-Anne Mack (photographer)

Location(s): Rockingham, Western Australia

Topic(s): HMAS Stirling, Fleet Support Unit - West

Able Seaman Marine Technician Lachlan Mack marking parts for Project 1430 Bilge Keel Fabrication in the Fleet Support Unit-West, HMAS Stirling, WA. (photo: LSIS Lee-Anne Mack)
Able Seaman Marine Technician Lachlan Mack marking parts for Project 1430 Bilge Keel Fabrication in the Fleet Support Unit-West, HMAS Stirling, WA.

Tucked away in Western Australia's HMAS Stirling, is a team of specialised Navy personnel creating an enviable centre of high end fabrication.

The Fleet Support Unit – West 'pipe and plate' workshop has undergone a significant program of renewal completely redefining their capabilities over the past two years.

This change was driven by a decision in early 2014 to use Navy fabricators to construct the new bilge keels for the Anzac frigates, rather than external contractors.

Australian ships are built and maintained to stringent guidelines set by independent shipbuilding organisation Germanischer Lloyd. Compliance requires very particular qualifications, procedures, testing, and materials which the workshop had been without for decades. 

In preparation for the project, weld procedures were developed, sailors were trained and new equipment and materials were purchased. 

Anzac System Program Office Project Engineer Lieutenant Darren Matcott and said the reinvigoration was great for both the people involved and the fleet.

"The workshop was set up for 'dimensional control', a process which uses lasers to measure components for accuracy to within fractions of a millimetre," he said.

"The new procedures were perfected on several smaller projects which managed to achieve the required standard."

Industry partner, BAE Systems provided design work for the new keels and has been working closely with Navy personnel to ensure the fabrication work achieves the certification required before it can be welded to a ship's hull.

The first Navy fabricated bilge keel has undergone and passed initial acceptance testing and is currently being fitted to HMAS Stuart while in dry dock in Henderson undergoing her anti-ship missile defence upgrade. 

The Fleet Support Unit – West fabricated keels will be installed on the other frigates during their next scheduled dockings.
 
"The project’s success thus far has hinged on the strength of the industry partnership, the hard work of the sailors, vision and willingness to take an opportunity, and back the ability of our technical sailors to deliver such a high quality product," Lieutenant Matcott said.
 
"While setting up the training, procedures and equipment required to produce the first set of keels may appear at first to be expensive, the project as a whole will deliver substantial cost savings, and leave Defence with a workshop capable of fabricating high end product in the future."