Nestled in the far southwest corner of Bayou La Batre, Alabama sits one of the top ship and boat building companies.
For over fifteen years Horizon Shipbuilding has been turning out some of the top vessels to grace the water, from small 30 ft boats for the US Navy to 200 ft supply ships. The family-run business covers 12 acres with every available space dedicated to building, repairing and maintaining boats.
Horizon Shipbuilding is a full service company whose capabilities include design, construction, operation, maintenance and repair. One of the most common boats Horizon builds are the 140 ft towboats designed to push or pull barges. Most of these towboats that Horizon has built end up pushing barges up and down the Mississippi River. These towboats can push as many as 30 barges at one time. A single standard barge is 195 ft long and 35 ft wide and weighs up to 1,500 tons. Barges are favoured along the Mississippi River because of the shear amount of product that can be moved at one time. Compared to trucks and rail, the barges move more and are less expensive to operate.
To move so many barges at one time, today’s modern towboats need plenty of horsepower. Most boats have two engines and to see boats with 3,000 or more horsepower per engine is not uncommon. These diesel engines produce the torque and power needed to safely guide the barges. One of the results of these powerful high torque engines is they can produce harmonics. Harmonics are vibrations produced by the firing and internal moving parts of the engine that can literally shake a boat apart. To ensure that doesn’t happen, vibration oscillator mounts must be installed between the engine and engine mounts. Vibration Oscillators (VO) combat the back and forth vibrations produced by the high horsepower engines.
Installing VO mounts is a big job considering that each engine weighs 18 tons and is over 16 ft long and 11 ft high. Roger Oliver, production superintendent at Horizon, who is responsible for “everything in the yard,” knows this job all too well. “By the time you get them in, get everything aligned, pulled back out and drilled and set back in there, you’re looking at a three day evolution. We used to have to take the engines right out of the boat, make the holes, and then set them back in.”
To install VO mounts, each engine has to be lowered into the engine compartment, lined up on the guide posts, holes marked, then hoisted back up and out so 24 holes through A36 material could be drilled with a magnetic drill and mounts installed. Then the tedious task of realigning the engine back on the guides. After which it is lowered down and finally secured into place. “When realigning these engines we shoot for a tolerance of zero, but the tolerance on an engine like this is .002 in.,”says Oliver.
For Horizon, the ability to fully design and construct a boat from the ground up is one of the keys to their success. And with as many as 14 builds going on at a time, the 230 plus employees at Horizon must look for every avenue to save time while still exceeding their customer’s expectations.
Oliver had always felt there was a better way to drill the holes for the VO mounts. While searching for a “small skinny drill,” he eventually came across a low profile magnetic drill from Hougen Manufacturing called the HMD150. He was intrigued by its small size and large hole capacity. He felt this might be just the ticket they needed to save time. He got a hold of Fred Buish from Tooling Concepts in Mobile Alabama and had him stop in to go over the Hougen drills. Olicwe inquired about the HMD150 and whether it could be the answer he was looking for. Together, they pulled the prints to installing the VO mounts and discovered they could raise the powertrain up just 10 in. while keeping it aligned on the guide posts. The HMD150 drill was only 7-13/16 in. high which would work perfect for drilling the holes under the engine.
The Hougen HMD150 is a low profile magnetic drill weighing only 22.7 lb. It has the capacity to drill holes up to 1-3/8 in. in diameter and 1 in. deep using the tool-less RotaLoc Plus annular cutters. To achieve the low profile, the HMD150 drill uses a right angle Hougen motor, high power gearing and a quill feed arbor system which incorporates positive slug ejection.
Oliver was excited that the drill would work but the holes had to be 1-1/2 in. deep. Standard cutters for the HMD150 are 1 in. deep. Roger put in a request and asked if Hougen could make custom RotaLoc Plus tools in the size of 15/16” dia. X 1-1/2” deep. Fortunately Hougen had a handful of 1-1/2” deep cutters already on the shelf and immediately sent them down to Horizon.
When it came time to install the VO mounts, Oliver and the crew at Horizon put their new method to the test. Once the holes were marked, they hoisted the engines 10 in. while they stayed aligned on the guide posts. An HMD150 was brought in to drill down to the max depth of 1”. Then the crew put the 1-1/2 in. long RotaLoc Plus cutter in the drill, placed the cutter back into the existing hole that had just been drilled and finished drilling out the last ½ in. They did this to all 24 holes. Mounts were secured, the powertrain was lowered back down, bolted into place and was ready to go into service. ”It’s much faster. We don’t have to pull the engine out. Once the alignment is done it takes just four hours for the job,” says Oliver.
When Oliver compares the three days the job used to take, now only taking four hours is a huge time savings. “We like the HMD150 because of its small size but not only that, it drills quite well. For its size it packs quite a punch and will get right on through the material. That’s what I like, American made products.”
At Horizon safety is always a concern and when moving 18 tons around, you must always be on your toes. “Here’s what it is, the drills’ lighter, easier to move around, it cuts down on moving these engines in and out of the boat. Cuts down on your lift time and crane time for this job.”
The Hougen HMD150 proved to be just what Roger and the crew at Horizon Shipbuilding needed for saving time. But in this case, days of time. Completing the job ahead of schedule, while delivering another top notch towboat. When asked if Horizon will be using the HMD150 for other jobs around the yard Roger says “Absolutely.”