Shipbuilding is one of the oldest industries in the United States, and has a venerable history throughout the world. But like many manufacturing endeavors, shipbuilding has moved away from some of the old Western strongholds. Harland & Wolff, builder of the Titanic, is currently down to 120 workers, and will soon be transformed into a waterfront development called the Titanic Quarter. With the closing of Saint John Shipbuilding in June, Canada now has only one large shipyard. In terms of tonnage, South Korea is the largest builder of commercial ships in the world, and as a result has become the target of complaints about subsidies. Much of the focus of other countries has been to keep a viable, if minimal, manufacturing base for naval ships.
In the United States, the Maritime Administration (MarAd) created the National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP), with the goal of helping the larger American shipyards — which in 1970 were already focusing on building naval ships — regain their competitiveness in the commercial market. This particular goal was dashed when Newport News Shipyard, now Northrop Grumman Newport News, formally left the commercial market in the early 1990s. As the only yard capable of building the US Navy’s largest nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, this move probably didn’t surprise many in the industry.
But the NSRP remains a nationally-recognized model for government/industry research programs, and has contributed to the common goal of developing economical construction approaches to shipbuilding. Although based in the United States, the program has had great success with technology transfer efforts with Japan, China, Australia, Spain, and Great Britain.
The current and future authors of this blog are truly the afterguard of the shipbuilding industry. They have been involved in shipbuilding for years, working for US government offices such as MarAd, NSRP, and ONR, and working or consulting for shipyards around the world.
It is our hope that The Afterguard will become an international forum for exploring and discussing both current and historic events, policies, and practices in the shipbuilding industry. We also hope the blog will become a repository for the knowledge and experience that the authors have gained over the years.
— The Editor