Babcock successfully trials new approach in fleet time support

Babcock has successfully trialled a new system for Fleet Time maintenance activities, geared to reducing the burden on ship’s staff (particularly valuable for lean-manned ships) and ensuring optimum safety.  The five week trial was undertaken on Type 23 frigate HMS Northumberland during her recent Fleet Time Support Period (FTSP), and is now being considered for wider roll-out.

The trial involved a new Safe Systems of Work control system, which saw Babcock take on elements of the role traditionally undertaken by the ship’s staff.  Because the ship is under military control during Fleet Time, maintenance carried out on a live system requires the ship’s system operators to be there to control and monitor the work.  Under the new approach, a dedicated Babcock platform safety co-ordinator and team takes the role of ‘trusted agent’ to the ship’s Commanding Officer (CO) to run mechanical and electrical system isolation, carrying out aspects such as permits to work, ship hazard safety control, and access control to the ship.  The care, protection and security of the ship remains the responsibility of the CO.

Babcock Surface Ship Support Transformation Manager Andy Correy highlights improved safety control and maintenance planning, and freeing up the crew to focus on other important activities, as key benefits of the new approach.

He explains: “Traditionally Fleet Time Support Periods are intense periods of engineering support, so dedicating a team solely to SSOW will deliver several benefits.  Babcock currently undertakes this type of role on ships in upkeep, and providing this service as an additional responsibility during Fleet Time (recognising Babcock’s first class safety service and culture), when the ship is manned, stored and fuelled, is a big step forward.  For example, it will reduce the ship’s staff workload enabling them to focus on activities such as training and regeneration of personnel.  As we move more towards increased automation and lean manning of warships, maintenance still needs to be carried out and ship’s staff are worked as hard as ever on operations, so the opportunity to reduce their workload when alongside is welcomed.”

He continues: “The collective focus on safety on board will also lead to better control of contractors and overall support planning.  Babcock’s safety team are more readily available than ship’s staff who may be busy with other work, so authorisation to start work packages can be turned round more quickly, in turn improving productivity.”

The new approach has been proven to be successful on HMS Northumberland, achieving the trial’s aims and anticipated benefits.  The Fleet Time Support Period on Northumberland became one of the largest such packages of work in recent times, and saw the SSOW team handle some 480 mechanical and electrical system isolations, and issue around 380 permits to work plus 150 access passes to third party contractors.  Feedback from the crew has been that the new approach saved them considerable time, enabling them to undertake other key activities during this maintenance period.

As expected with such a significant process and cultural change, some minor matters arose and were worked through during the trial, leading to some adjustments such as planning improvements for emergent extra activities being successfully made.  The next step will be for a full review to be undertaken to capture all lessons learnt and experience gained, and ensure that these are fully incorporated into any future roll-out.

The governance of SSOW has been developed by Babcock’s warship maintenance capability team utilising a broad stakeholder community across DE&S and Navy Command.  As part of the Surface Ship Support Alliance BAE Systems will follow the Babcock model in a trial on a Portsmouth based ship later in the year.  This is just part of a wider strategy to involve industry to help optimise existing support processes and introduce new concepts to de-risk support to future platform classes such as the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier and Type 26 Global Combat Ship.