By Leslie McAloose – January 6, 2020
Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), recently became the first 5G shipyard in the nation, thanks to a partnership with Verizon to bring the high-speed and high bandwidth capabilities to the shipyard’s infrastructure.
Employing roughly 11,500 people, HII is the largest military shipbuilding company in the country, and is responsible for producing technologically advanced warships for the Navy fleet, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Marine Corps, as well as many foreign and commercial customers.
With the ongoing country-wide release of 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology, HII reached out to Verizon to explore how this technology could further leverage their shipbuilding capabilities.
Verizon has been in the process of deploying their technology to enterprise businesses, assisting functionality in high speed trains, Internet of Things (IoT) enabled devices, and drones.
Because 5G brings improved bandwidth and ultra-low latency, the technology will immediately be able to better meet connectivity needs on the NNS network. This will augment the shipyard’s need for security and network reliability, critical for a business that handles classified information from the government.
The increased speeds will also help facilitate more rapid security updates throughout the infrastructure, because service deployment times will be considerably reduced.
Bharat Amin, executive vice president and CIO of Huntington Ingalls, explained the immediate impacts of 5G in a news release. “Adding this capability to our infrastructure will allow our workforce to have the right information, at the right time, and at the right location to perform their jobs,” he said.
Other benefits of 5G deployment through the shipyard are also being explored. For example, NNS is looking into different ways its engineers can implement augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to facilitate everything from employee training to actually designing components.
And, in a highly technical world where communication may be inhibited by physical constraints, such as conveying details from someone in one part of the shipyard to another worker who is physically within the hull of a ship, 5G capability is expected to further reduce those limitations.
“5G will be a game changer when our engineers can put on a pair of AR goggles connected to 5G and map out 3D drawings or video chat directly with those employees working inside a ship in real-time,” said Brian Fields, vice president of Business Transformation and CIO at Newport News Shipbuilding.
While 5G networks are being introduced throughout the country, NNS is one of the early large scale businesses to tap into the new technology. “The first and most meaningful use cases for 5G will be in the enterprise space and we’ve built our 5G network to support those truly differentiated experiences that will reshape entire industries,” explained Tami Erwin, executive vice president and CEO of Verizon Business Group in a press release. “We’re thrilled to bring 5G to Newport News Shipbuilding and explore how it can ultimately reshape the way shipbuilding is done.”
Incorporating 5G into shipbuilding is the latest technological strategy for NNS. In recent years, the shipyard relaxed its smartphone policy, permitting more widespread use of smartphones and tablets when recognizing that devices can support shipbuilding ventures while still protecting classified or proprietary information. Earlier in 2019, they were named as a 2019 CIO 100 Award recipient for their initiative known as Integrated Digital Shipbuilding (iDS), a strategy that uses AR and mobile technology to cost-effectively build ships.
In fact, the USS Enterprise (CVN-80), the Navy’s third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, is expected to be the first ship to be built completely paperless. “Digital shipbuilding is the largest transformative initiative, digital or otherwise, that Newport News has embarked upon since switching from diesel to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the 1960s,” Amin said in a news release at the time. “I feel proud of my team for helping to drive change and empowering shipbuilders with the tools to build today’s warships with tomorrow’s technology.”
‘Tomorrow’s technology’ is being realized with the NNS implementation of G5 technology with Verizon.
From an IoT perspective, the shipyard’s 5G adoption can more effectively tap into sensors that trigger alarms, machines, and processes, delivering data in near real-time so action can be taken in milliseconds, versus seconds or minutes previously. The more rapidly information is conveyed, the faster action can be taken.
Additionally, business operations within NNS that may be able to incorporate G5 technology within the shipyard include advanced robotics, updated, real-time analytics, automation, and 3D holographic design.
Fields concluded by saying, “Using 5G to connect our shipyard ecosystem and improving the productivity of our employees who are designing and building the nation’s warships will truly be transformational.”
Leslie McAloose has served as the Director of Operations, Mid-Atlantic region for Ameri-Force since 2018. Her background in maritime recruiting began in 2012 and led her to a long-time role with Colonna’s Shipyard. Leslie has first-hand deckplate experience and a strong rapport with regional shipbuilders and craftsmen. Leslie is a graduate of Old Dominion University.