A Rising Tide: Building Ships While Building Up an Industry

Defense of Canada’s northern waters has always been a bit of an afterthought. All that sea ice — metres thick in some places — acted as a deterrent to those looking to stake a claim. But global warming means those waters are increasingly navigable — and open to anyone who might want to access them. Enter the AOPS. The state-of-the-art Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship will become Canada’s first line of seaborne defense, starting in 2018. Progress toward that launch date is moving ahead with the completion of the first of six AOPS propulsion systems, built by GE, a milestone marked this week with a special ceremony at GE’s plant in Peterborough, Ont. Back in 2010, however, our aging fleet was at the end of its operational life and having a hard time keeping up with demands, whether it was from smugglers and traffickers, pollution or search-and-rescue calls. The time had come for an upgrade. That same year, the Government of Canada announced the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), with an aim to support Canada’s marine industry by building vessels at home. The replacement program represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create jobs and encourage investment on a national scale. The $2.3-billion AOPS contract was awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax. By signing onto the project, Irving committed to maximizing direct Canadian content and engaging small- and medium-sized enterprises wherever possible.

J. Murray Jones, Warden of Peterborough, Kevin McCoy, President of Irving Shipbuilding, Elyse Allen, President & CEO of GE Canada, Jim Irving, Co-CEO Irving Shipbuilding, Maryam Monsef, MP Peterborough-Kwarthas and Minster of Democratic Institutions, Daryl Bennett, Mayor of Peterborough, Jeff Leal, MPP Peterborough and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Jerry Dias, President of Unifor.

The AOPS propulsion engines are powered by two 4,500kW GE propulsion motors and four 3,600kW GE generators. Dignitaries who celebrated the completion of the first of six at GE Peterborough this week included (left to right) J. Murray Jones, Warden of Peterborough, Kevin McCoy, President of Irving Shipbuilding, Elyse Allen, President & CEO of GE Canada, Jim Irving, Co-CEO Irving Shipbuilding, Maryam Monsef, MP Peterborough-Kwarthas and Minster of Democratic Institutions, Daryl Bennett, Mayor of Peterborough, Jeff Leal, MPP Peterborough and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Jerry Dias, President of Unifor.

“One of the key tenets of the NSPS is to grow a sustainable maritime industry across Canada,’ explains Kevin McCoy, President of Irving Shipbuilding. “It’s not just the shipyard. It’s folks providing motors and generators and valves and pumps and wire and cable. We believe that as part of the NSPS, the whole industry should benefit.” When it came time to find a Canadian supplier for the Integrated Power Propulsion System that would allow the AOPS to cruise at up to 17 knots, the choice was easy. “GE probably powers most of the navies around the world, so we were thrilled to have them on the project,” McCoy says. There was just one problem. There were no Canadian GE plants that made the motors Irving’s leading-edge design required. If the contract demands were going to be met, GE Power Conversion would have to transfer technological know how from plants in the U.K. and France to its facility in Peterborough. The technology transfer was no small feat, but there was an upside: the process would help Peterborough build new skill sets that it could tap into to secure future contracts. “GE’s collaboration with Irving Shipbuilding on this important infrastructure project utilizing best-in-class technology, created an opportunity for developing a made-in-Canada solution and also delivered new business opportunities to our supply chain,” says Elyse Allan, GE Canada’s President and CEO. For Bradley Smith, GE’s Vice President of Regional Programs, the collaboration is important because of the legacy it provides for the local economy. “We could have built these engines in Europe and shipped them from Europe, but there’s more value to Canada by building them in Peterborough,” he says. “And that value isn’t just transactional, it’s sustainable.” Assembling any system as complex as a propulsion motor meant GE had to rely on its growing network of third-party suppliers — for manufacturing support, materials, logistics and even packaging. “When we have an opportunity like this to deliver great subcontracts to our supply chain, everybody wins,” Allan says. “Our suppliers are able to grow with GE. They’re part of a major infrastructure program and they can use that to showcase their capabilities to other Canadian companies and other multinationals.”

Kevin McCoy and Jim Irving of Irving Shipbuilding inspect a bearing manufactured at GE Peterborough

Kevin McCoy and Jim Irving of Irving Shipbuilding inspect a bearing manufactured at GE Peterborough, part of the first marine propulsion system to be installed the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.

With 200 employees on staff, ABS Machining in Mississauga, Ont., is one of those suppliers. “It’s a big project, a five-year project so it’s got life to it,” says Angelo Venturin, the company’s Vice President of Manufacturing. “It doesn’t just feed the guys in Peterborough. It feeds the guys in Toronto or across the GTA. And then some of the work we get supports some of our suppliers, so it’s good for all of us.”

Up Close With AOPS

The AOPS – Canada first set of new combat vessels under the NSPS – will conduct armed sea-borne surveillance of Canada’s waters, including the Arctic. Here are some of the new ship’s specs:

  • 103 metres long
  • Crewed by a complement of 65
  • Able to cut through one-metre of first-year ice
  • Powered by two 4,500 kW GE propulsion motors and four 3,600kW GE generators
  • Open water speed of 17 knots and endurance of 120 days
  • Range of 6,800 nautical miles at a speed of 14 knots

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