Passing the Torch

On June 20th, 2008, in Vol. XV, Art. 34, we wrote about some of the American geniuses who made invaluable contributions to the shipbuilding industry. Three of the men mentioned – D. K. Ludwig, Elmer Hahn and W. Edwards Deming – pioneered simpler design and manufacturing efficiency during the post-WWII declining years of the U.S. shipyards.

On June 20th, 1984 – exactly twenty-four years to the day prior to our brief acknowledgment – L. D. Chirillo and R. D. Chirillo provided more specifics about those contributions during the Subcommittee on Merchant Marine Hearings of the Ninety-Eighth Congress. Here are excerpts of the prepared statement:

“Government records show that in building Liberty Ships alone, the Kaiser yards saved the United States more than $ 226,000,000 in WWII money; i.e., 25% less than costs by traditional shipbuilders. More important, Kaiser needed only two-thirds the time. When the race to build ships faster then they were being sunk was won and the survival of the United States was assured, the then Chairman of the Maritime Commission, Vice Admiral Emory S. Land, said, ‘The most dangerous bottleneck was the shortage of men able to operate shipyards.’

“After WWII, Elmer Hann, the former General Superintendent who had all production responsibilities at Kaiser’s Swan Island Shipyard in Oregon, brought the Kaiser methods to Japan. In America after the war, there was a glut of merchant ships. Fabulous Kaiser left shipbuilding as the wartime emergency shipyards shut down. Elmer Hann found employment with National Bulk Carriers (NBC) of New York, which at that time operated Welding Shipyard at Norfolk, Virginia.

“Daniel K. Ludwig, the owner of NBC, envisioned building large carriers for the iron-ore trade between Venezuela and the United States. As the facility at Norfolk was too small, Elmer Hann was sent on a worldwide search for a place where big ships could be built. According to Hann’s recollection: ‘An in-depth feasibility study of all phases of a multi-ship construction and operating program presented many problems to attain the economic level required. Of paramount importance was to obtain ownership or the use of an appropriate shipbuilding facility that would fit our budget.’

“After searching in Great Britain and Germany, about ‘… November 1950, we heard that a portion of the Japanese Naval Shipyard at Kure might be made available if such would suit our purposes … I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mr. Amari, head of the Japanese Shipbuilding Bureau, when he was given permission to visit some U.S. shipyards.’ Today, the misperception is widespread that Japan’s shipyards were reduced to rubble as Germany’s had been. However, before the end of WWII, Japan’s Navy was completely destroyed, her merchant marine was reduced to one-fifth of its pre-war size and our submarines had effectively stopped flows of raw materials. Their shipyards were no longer able to contribute to the war effort and our military planners predicted a need for them in order to salvage and operate what was left of the Japanese merchant marine after the war. Japan’s overseas military personnel and colonists had to be repatriated and there was need for massive food shipments to avert famine. Thus, the shipyards were not bombed.

“The myth that the Japanese shipyards were resurrected and modernized with U.S. funds is wrong on two counts. The shipyards were not destroyed and the Marshall Plan did not apply to Japan. The massive effort to transport people and food was accomplished by the Japanese themselves. Then, the 150,000 deadweight-ton capacity dry-dock in the former Kure Naval Dockyard, in which the world’s largest battleship (YAMATO) was built, remained undamaged. Further, the dock was equipped with a crane having a lifting capacity of 100 tons.

“Mr. Hann recalled that: ‘Negotiations with the Japanese government in leasing of the facilities had to be approved every inch of the way by Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) … A lease of ten years plus another optional five years was finally completed and approved by all concerned by mid-summer 1951. One salient feature of the lease required an open door policy for Japanese ship-construction engineers along with training if so desired by bonafide companies (on a cost basis). During our tenure, between four-and-five-thousand persons visited our plant and studied methods and techniques being employed.’

“Regarding technology transfer, Mr. Hann advised: ‘Our all-welded construction was introduced into Japan for the first time, to the fullest extent allowed by the classification society. We used American Bureau of Shipping … as most of our machinery … came from the U.S.A. for the first several years. Job and material controls were organized into one department. Sequence and scheduling of work was carefully planned and closely monitored along with quality control and inspection which were kept separate from production departments.

“‘To recount all would fill a book; basically we adhered to:

1. Careful analysis of vessel as to size blocks and shape with refined drawings, together with machinery, piping, etc. to be installed at assembly shop or area.

2. Coordinated material control.

3. Allocation of labor and time schedule for each operation.

4. Installed machinery, piping and other equipment to a great extent before erection.

5. Reduced staging to a minimum.

6. Introduced inorganic-zinc coating at the assembly line.

7. The key to rapid construction is how to weld without distortion and shape of weldment or modules that defy or resist distortion especially when such effects the vessel’s measurements and locked-in stresses.

“‘We used a group of junior engineers with one or two to each department or area to study methods and procedures and shifting them frequently from one department to another. Most became top-notch supervision over the years.’

“Elmer Hann taught the Japanese: organization of work in accordance with the basic principles of Group Technology, emphasis on welding without distortion to control costs, the importance of college-educated middle managers trained in the entire shipbuilding system, etc. With such methods and only pre-WWII shipyards, by 1964 Japanese yards were producing 40 percent of the world’s total shipbuilding tonnage. Japan’s total that year, 4,085,190 gross-tons, exceeded the combined total of the next five leading shipbuilding nations.

“No wonder the Emperor personally decorated Mr. Hann.

“Contemporary with Elmer Hann’s activities at Kure, the third individual, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Professor of Statistics, New York University, was also making a significant contribution.

“Toward the end of 1945 in Japan, manufacture of civilian goods was begun sporadically and industrial production recovered slowly from 1946 through 1947. But products were deplorably poor in quality. The Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) determined that dissemination of statistical control methods (SCM) could significantly improve quality and productivity.

“Reading foreign literature on SCM, JUSE members became familiar with the name of Dr. Deming, an American statistician who was often retained by our federal government. Dr. Deming had visited Japan in 1947 as advisor to SCAP in statistical sampling of population, nutrition, etc. JUSE learned that Dr. Deming would visit Japan in 1950 and started an association that was the catalyst for a huge SCM drive on a national scale.

“Dr. Deming gave 35 lectures in the summer of 1950 to Japanese top managers and engineers. Six months later he was in Japan again. By the spring of 1981, Dr. Deming made 19 trips to Japan. SCM began to permeate Japanese industry. Regarding shipbuilding, the 1967 issue of Technical Progress in Shipbuilding and Engineering, published by The Society of Naval Architects of Japan, reported in English that statistical control ‘epoch makingly’ improved quality, laid the foundation of modern ship-construction methods and made it possible to extensively develop automated and specialized welding.

“With such application of SCM, an interesting thing happened. Management’s systems began to furnish workers with meaningful indicators of how work processes were performed. For the first time sensitive barometers existed indicating the impacts on work processes of even the smallest innovations. Spontaneously, supervisors and workers began to suggest how to make improvements. Thus, the birth of real quality circles, i.e., those having an analytical basis, was a consequence of statistical methods. To further exploit the human desire to work smarter, managers trained supervisors and workers in simple analysis techniques. People at all levels in a Japanese shipbuilding system participate in problem solving on a daily basis.

“In 1962, Dr. Deming was honored with an award by the Emperor of Japan …

“In Japan, Kaiser’s system, passed from Hann to others, remains in good hands and is constantly propelled by Deming’s admonition, ‘The obligation to improve the system never ceases.'” –

Now why can’t officials in our country pay attention to that simple admonition of Dr. Deming? This entire supply chain of ours is still stuck in a 1950s first gear, and while every aspect of American technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, our maritime superiority is now history.

Why is that? It’s not because we lack the talent. We just proved that.

Could it be that longshoremen’s unions are concerned that our patented container yard and shipboard storage and retrieval systems would reduce the number of employment opportunities in the transportation and maritime industries? Of course not. That suspicion was laid to rest way back when Malcom McLean was being harassed. His introduction of containerized cargo ultimately paved the way for the eventual creation of hundreds of millions of new jobs here in the U.S. and around the world. It took a while, but folks gradually came to realize that any improvement to a system can only be to everyone’s advantage. That’s what Mr. McLean proved and that’s what Dr. Deming’s admonition (advice?) was all about.

Well, could it be that the weapons industry is so profitable that our elected officials feel that our military stance – and aggressive behavior – is the only profitable avenue open to those who really count?

If profit is the true motivation, let’s look at it this way. How much more would there be on the bottom lines of those “weapons manufacturers” if they abandoned their practice of bombing humans back to the stone age, and instead strove to promote the advancement of humans to a highly-developed 21st century?

Think of the number of new container ports that the former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said needed to be built. Another 200, is the number he advised. That would achieve a number of desired goals. Not only would thousands of jobs be created, but costs would be lowered all along the shortened supply chain – and the air pollution bugaboo would also be put to rest.

Think of the number of new Title XI vessels this country would need to carry goods up and down U.S. waterways and across the world’s oceans – to satisfy the demands of our newly employed fifty million, or so.

Think of the dozens and dozens of shipyards that would need to be revitalized so that millions of those new workers could build the several thousand vessels we’d need to import and export goods in a recovered world economy.

And think of the many new cities, bridges, airports and railway systems that would be needed for the transportation and manufacturing opportunities generated by that North American Canal we’ve been advocating since the early 1980s.

Those giant companies, now dedicated to the manufacture of death-dealing instruments, are the logical ones to cash in on U.S. expansion and a worldwide peaceful environment.

Let’s listen again to Dr. Deming: “The obligation to improve the system never ceases.” Amen.