The USS Forrestal has docked for the last time. The historic aircraft carrier, infamous for its 1967 fire, which killed 137 sailors and injured another 161, is currently undergoing dismantlement at a port in Brownsville, Texas.
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And yet, the focus is on All Star Metals, a subsidiary unit of Scrap Metal Services, and the company tasked with taking apart the 1,067-foot (325 meters) vessel.
It may seem like a defining project for any scrap metal company, but to All Star Metals and its president, Nick Shah, it’s merely one more project in what has been a busy schedule over the last few years. In a conversation with Industry Today, Shah talks about the history of his company, what they’re currently up to, and why the company’s internal philosophy fuels his belief that the name All Star Metals will be around for many years to come. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Looking at the aircraft carrier sitting in the port of his company’s facility, Shah sometimes can’t believe how far his business has come. “I, along with the rest of my team, never thought we would be where we are today,” he says, adding that, with regards to founding his company back in 2003, “we really just tried to think outside of the box, and looked for areas of business that could be greatly improved.”
Shah and his team focused on scrap metal recycling, and what began as a team of nine individuals, is now part of a larger company in Scrap Metal Services, a global scrap processing and recycling company which has 14 locations throughout North America and Mexico and processes between 80,000 and 250,000 tons of metal a month to be exported all over the world. Shah says that while All Star Metals has come a long way in the scrap metal industry, he and his team are always looking to grow more and innovate the way they take on dismantlement projects.
All Star Metals specializes in structural demolition, HazMat remediation, and logistical services, although what they employ varies from project to project. Shah says that when taking on a job like the USS Forrestal, they have four stages of dismantling they go through to ensure that every step of the process is properly taken care of. The first stage is what he calls Primary Cleaning, where “we go in and take out anything stuck to the walls, such as equipment and furniture, allowing us to freely move around,” he says, adding, “much like movers would do inside a house.”
The second phase involves remediating issues like asbestos, which Shah says, “can pose a big issue if not taken care of initially, especially on older structures like the USS Forrestal.” Workers will then come in and close off everything, until the area has been deemed safe to continue. Upon approval of conditions, the third step that follows is known as the Secondary Cleaning phase. “Secondary cleaning involves the cleaning of any insulation or cable for the most part, but can also involve the removal of hydrocarbons such as oil, which may be present in tanks or reservoirs, for example.”
The fourth phase of the dismantling process is the actual cutting of the vessel, or what Shah refers to as “torching.” “We remove specific parts in a strategic order, where once they have been detached from the main body of work, they can then be broken down into even smaller parts once they are isolated in our facilities.” Shah notes that, “we’re doing all four of these phases simultaneously, however, so rather than taking the entire ship and conducting our Primary Cleaning through all of it at once, we section off different parts of the vessel and carry out the process at different phases in each area given the size and space.”
While the entire dismantling process is highly comprehensive in nature, Shah says that the preparatory process, prior to actual dismantlement, can sometimes be even more thorough and time consuming. With regards to the USS Forrestal, Shah and his team had to wait until they reached what is known as the “Ship Disposal” stage, which is when the federal government allowed them to finally go in and inspect , alongside federal representatives, every layer of the ship.
“When inspecting the ship, we went in and scrutinized every inch of the vessel, going into different compartments and taking the samples as required by our protocol,” he says, adding, “we then bring those samples back to our home office and run tests to determine what exactly needs to be remediated, how strong the condition of the vessel’s steel is, and based on that, we submit a bid.”
Shah says that this entire process, specifically the one tied to the USS Forrestal, took six months alone to complete. “There’s an abundance of engineering in place, and with safety, environmental, and health standards that need to be adhered to, we always develop a highly technical plan which details how exactly we’re going to get the job done,” he says adding, “the plan includes every factor of the project, from environmental compliance and safety, to how exactly we’re going to finance the operation itself.”
In discussing the USS Forrestal, Shah says that the federal government solicited three companies to go ahead and process its aircraft carriers that were up for dismantling. The USS Forrestal was the first to be bid upon, and All Star Metals, through their proposed plan, was awarded the contract to take it apart. This decision process began in August of 2012, and took until May 2013 to get completed, but Shah says that it actually took until October to effectively pass through government clearance checks, due to the classified nature of the equipment and other technology inside the ship. “We have two years, which began on October 22nd, 2013, to finish the project, so while the entire process is highly dynamic and thorough, there is a sense of urgency in how we go about our work as well.”
Shah says that while they have an established process in terms of how they go about preparing for and carrying out a project, the variety of structures they take apart has them constantly innovating their strategies and tailoring their philosophy specific to the project’s makeup. “Because we’re dismantling something different each day, whether it’s an aircraft carrier like the USS Forrestal, or an oilrig, a tanker, or even a frigate, we’re taking on projects where no two models are the same.”
He says that often times he and his colleagues will reach out externally to individuals in their industry, to both solicit and provide advice on how to adapt to changes and trends within their respective projects, particularly when dealing with a vessel or structure they haven’t dismantled before.
“I think business has really become about relationships,” he says, adding, “there are many people in our business that have leaned on us during a time of need, which is something we don’t really consider as a favor on our part, but more of an obligation to help them with whatever it is. We’re in the business for the long run, and our understanding of the value of relationships and their give-and-take nature, is instrumental to long term sustainment and success.”
All Star Production
With such a complex process of work, where exactly does All Star Metals actually handle all its ship remediation and recycling procedures? Based in Brownsville, Texas, Shah says that inside their main facility one will find “millions of dollars of state-of-the-art equipment, with our most heavily utilized being our heavy lifting cranes,” he says, adding, “which are crucial in their ability to lift cut-out sections of the ship off of the original structure in the water and onto the ground where we can then break it down into smaller pieces to either be sold or recycled.” Shah says that they have many of these cranes, whose lifting capacities range from 150 to 330 tons.
In addition to their cranes, All Star has everything from Bobcats and jackhammers, to air compressors and a variety of ancillary equipment. “When you’re taking on the size of jobs that we find ourselves involved in daily, you really need to have everything in your arsenal ready,” he says.
With safety and environmental concerns paramount to their process, Shah says that All Star Metals has implemented several risk programs, including a QA-QC test specific to the ships they take apart. “It’s really our goal to minimize the waste that’s being disposed versus being recycled, and our team is always trying to come up with new ways to more effectively do so.”
And that really captures the mindset of All Star Metals, a company that prides itself on constantly innovating and ensuring that their work is as high in quality as possible. Shah says that experiencing the volatility of their industry first hand, with regards to a currently slumping construction sector and, inversely, a surging automotive sector, has aided them in becoming multidimensional in how they approach their business.
“There’s a lot of demand for steel in the automotive industry, which is great, but we can’t know for sure when that’s going to slow and the time comes to find another industry to go after.” Nevertheless, 2014 figures to be a busy year for All Star Metals, and given their dedication to their work and the people involved, their Brownsville facility should continue to see a steady stream of business float in for many years to come.