Philadelphia-based Rhoads Industries provides complex component fabrication, turnkey equipment installations, and industrial maintenance and emergency services. Its maritime division, Rhoads Marine Industries, is making waves with shipyard service solutions that are growing eponentially. David Soyka reports on Rhoads’ course to success, which sails the company forward, even in the choppy waters of today’s economy.
While most manufacturers are just beginning to surface from beneath the turbulent economic waters of the past few years, Rhoads Marine Industries is riding torrential waves of new business. “Revenues for our first six months of operations in 2010 were about $800,000,” notes Joseph Hare, vice president of shipyard operations. “For the period between June and the end of the current year , we’re projecting revenues of more than $10 million.”
A unit of Rhoads Industries – a family-owned company that has provided industrial fabrication and maintenance services to the mid-Atlantic region since 1938 – the Rhoads maritime division is strategically located at site of the former US Navy Shipyard, at the mouth of the Schuylkill River on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pa. The port of Philadelphia is one of the East Coast’s busiest seaports (more than 2,300 ships visit it each year). It’s a hub for the crude oil refining industry, which draws more than 600 petroleum carriers annually, and it’s supported by a substantial number of tug and barge operators. The Navy Yard, the Rhoads Shipyard location, is also a base for the Naval Sea Systems Command facility and its supporting contractors, as well as the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.
Rhoad’s extraordinary success is attributable to not just being in the right location; it is also the only facility of its kind. “There hasn’t been another capable repair shipyard on the Delaware River since 1990,” Hare says. “Rhoads Marine Industries is the region’s only facility that provides the full range of ship maintenance, upkeep, layberth support and collision damage repair services for both commercial and military customers.”
AMERICA’S FIRST NAVAL SHIPYARD
Established in 1776, the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard became the country’s first shipyard when the Continental Congress leased waterfront land to support the new nation’s fledgling navy. But it closed in 1995, after more than 200 years of operation. Even though a large portion of the shipyard operations departed, the Naval Sea Systems Command continues to operate a significant research and development infrastructure at the Navy Yard. The 1,200-acre industrial complex also includes one of the most advanced commercial shipbuilding facilities, the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.
“As part of the Navy Yard’s adaptive reuse process, Rhoads has become a prominent member of a robust industrial enterprise community, teaming not only with the Navy Ships Systems Engineering Station [NAVSSES] and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, but other major tenants such as Northrop Grumman, The Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, Excel Welding and Metals USA,” Hare says. “Given the limited number of shipyards and dry docks on the eastern seaboard of the United States, Rhoads has committed to a long-term lease with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to develop our own stand-alone ship repair and shipbuilding facilities. We are re-commissioning a significant and unique industrial capability in this part of the Navy Yard.”
An ISO 9001:2008-certified company, Rhoads maintains more than 250,000 square feet of fabrication, assembly and warehouse facilities strategically located in and around the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the nearby Huntington Valley. Rhoads’ capabilities include plate rolling and bending equipment, as well as advanced welding equipment to meet the needs of customers engaged in complex ferrous and non-ferrous metal fabrication.
The Rhoads’ Shipyard provides a 150-ton overhead crane capacity with 75-foot floor to hook capability, precision build platforms, as well as on-site sandblast and paint capabilities located adjacent to two piers and a dry dock. “These same facilities have serviced some of the largest warships ever constructed, and were maintained in excellent condition until being transferred to civilian control, and this contributes, for the most part, to our ability to rapidly ramp up to our current production capabilities,” Hare notes. “Prior to our arrival, the Rhoads Shipyard Facility had been out of service for more than five years. The process of re-commissioning started in January 2010 and proceeded rapidly over an 18-month period, during which time Rhoads invested more than 2 million dollars in restoring functionality to the pier, dry dock, dry dock pump house, caisson and winches, shipyard portal cranes, lay-down areas, and associated warehouse and shop facilities.”
CURRENT KEY PROJECTS
Now that the re-vitalization of the old shipyard has been completed, Rhoads has never been more challenged to keep up with a range of significant opportunities. As Hare puts it, “Today, at any given time, we are engaged in the production of up to 500 tons or more of product, both for our prime customers such as Aker, which recently took on a $400 million project to build two new Liberty Class tankers to transport oil from Alaska to the US west coast, as well as various local and national commercial and military customers. In the past seven years, we produced major structural components for more than 14 new construction ships, while we have completed major projects for a dozen or more ship repair customers.”
In addition to commercial customers such as Penn Maritime and the Overseas Shipbuilding Group, Rhoads supports the Naval Ships Systems Engineering Station of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division with specialized hull, mechanical and electrical services related to harvesting of engineering parts from numerous inactive ships. Rhoads has also teamed up with Northrop Grumman, supporting that company’s role in supplying turbo generator systems for US Navy aircraft carriers George Bush (CVN-75) and Gerald Ford (CVN-76). It also provides mobile “Tiger Team” support to Lockheed Martin for alterations to the vertical launch missile systems of the Aegis Class of guided missile cruisers.
Other recent projects include:
- Removal of propulsion plant components from the ex-USS Yorktown, Thomas S. Gate and Ticonderoga;
- RMO (repair, maintenance and overhaul) of barges for the City of Philadelphia, Overseas Shipholding Group (OSG) and other customers;
- Preparation of ex-USS Radford for use as a marine reef;
- Repair to US Army Corps of Engineers Dredge McFarland; and
- Repair to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Dredge Illinois.
The Rhoads customer base is not limited to vessels coming in and out of the shipyard, nor is it focused simply on the local enterprise community. Rhoads projects can be as close as the next pier, or as far as the other side of the world. One example is a gas turbine main propulsion unit for the Norwegian Navy, which Rhoads installed on-location in Norway as a subcontractor to Wesco. The project included the installation of a gearbox and various Pratt-Whitney gas turbines as well as associated components. Following successful testing at the Rhoads facility, Rhoads dismantled, export crated, and shipped all components to the installation site. Rhoads’ mobile “Tiger Team,” a group of highly skilled craftsmen hand-picked for this project, then traveled to Norway and installed the equipment on the Norwegian Littoral Combat Ship.
Locally, Rhoads was responsible for the complete build of the NAVSSES gas turbine test engine in the Navy’s land-based experimentation site, which included fabrication and installation of all structural steel, ducting, cooling water piping, hydraulics, pneumatics, fuel oil systems and the installation and alignment of a water brake for fully operational testing and integration.
Aker/Kvaerner awarded Rhoads a “turnkey” contract to fabricate and assemble the complete “Exhaust Gas Module” for the CV2600 cargo vessel. This contract, with just-in-time requirements, was the first contract awarded for large subsections to an outside supplier. The complete Exhaust Gas Module was built and assembled in Rhoads’ Building 16. The project included the CAD design of structural sections from ship overlay drawings, fabrication, and installation of all ship structures, day tanks, specialty items and piping in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) specifications, codes and regulations.
Rhoads Marine Industries started out with about 45 employees in 2010; today it employs up to 200 craftsmen, depending on project requirements. “We’re fortunate in that the labor pool in the Philadelphia area is excellent for the kind of skills we’re looking for,” Hare says. “However, we actually draw candidates nationwide as fabricators, millwrights, boilermakers, electricians, shipwrights, steamfitters and specialty welders. These trade groups, especially those supported by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, have access to some of the most advanced industry training programs anywhere in the United States, and this contributes significantly to our ability to compete effectively against regional firms with lower wage rates, but lesser expertise.”
Rhoads Industries, in all of its business lines, has historically invested in its employees with continual training, including partnerships with local trade school programs. “We employ proven metrics to gauge our progress in providing the knowledge, tools and skills of continuous improvement to every employee,” Hare points out. “We also maintain an open door policy to encourage employee feedback and continuously evaluate this input to improve quality, efficiency, and economy. Our goal is to promote a ‘can-do’ attitude among all of our employees and instill pride in our commitment to quality and craftsmanship. That is the cornerstone of our success.”
However, he adds, “Our potential ship repair business, along with the maintenance and repair needs of all of the vessels servicing and visiting the Port of Philadelphia, amounts to much more capacity than can be handled by Rhoads Marine Industries for the foreseeable future. For this reason, we value the significant teaming opportunities that continue to be presented by virtue of the networking that occurs among the industrial tenants of the Navy Yard and with other local companies such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Excel Welding, and Metals USA.”
Equally important to Rhoads success has been its ability to form strategic alliances with local industry specialists, when the need for these services arises. “The Delaware Valley is a great source of expertise in all things that support our Shipyard Mission,” Hare describes. “Recently Rhoads teamed with Dryden Divers and Cutting Technologies, Inc., both local New Jersey firms, in a project to remove a de-commissioned Navy ship’s sonar dome. Even though this had never been done previously, we were able to successfully remove the dome and ship it to the Navy customer just-in-time for re-use in an active fleet unit.”
Rhoads is also a member of the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange and the Maritime Advisory Committee of the Delaware River and Bay, as well as a number of other local industrial groups and organizations. “We seek to establish relationships with every maritime business in the Delaware Valley,” Hare says.
And that moves the company forward at an incredibly fast pace – which represents a significant challenge. “But we have confidence in our ability to grow even more,” says Hare. “Building on our almost 75 years of industrial steel fabrication and installation experience, we’ve demonstrated our ability to provide quality and precision fabrications at a reasonable cost and on schedule. Now we are producing the same kind of work in the maritime environment. We’re particularly proud to be a part of, and contributor to, the renaissance of the Philadelphia Navy Yard as the port of call for major military and commercial customers.”