RCBI Helps Azimuth Retrofit U.S. Navy Vessel

Azimuth bridgeWhen Azimuth Inc. needed help with work that would travel around the world, the north-central West Virginia engineering firm found assistance just a few miles down the road.

The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) delivered services for one particular project that made it possible for Azimuth to create carbon fiber panels necessary to update a U.S. Navy vessel with the latest navigation technology. Bringing the vessel, similar to a 1990s-era Coast Guard Guardian Class Cutter, up to current standards wasn’t easy in terms of functionality or aesthetics, said Kevin Poe, Azimuth’s Export Compliance Officer.

However, Azimuth is confident of the service it receives at RCBI and works regularly with RCBI -- leasing time on CNC equipment and taking advantage of the focused training it delivers, and Azimuth President/CEO Craig Hartzell is quick with his praise.

"RCBI is a great program," Hartzell says, "and I'm not afraid to tell anybody that."

Established in 1989, Azimuth has headquarters in Morgantown with offices in Westover, White Hall and Fairmont. Azimuth also has staff located in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. It employs about 90 individuals in West Virginia who design and build specialty communications and computer systems, particularly for the defense sector.

“Our work with the Robert C. Byrd Institute on the Navy vessel was a real win-win for Azimuth, RCBI and the state of West Virginia,” Poe said. “Without the assistance we received from RCBI, this project would have been much more difficult. We were able to do the work more efficiently and also keep jobs right here in West Virginia.”

Poe said the Navy needed to install GPS, depth-sounding systems, high-end computing power and other state-of-the-art technology in the fiberglass vessel to prepare it for the next generation of use. In addition to having a limited amount of space and potential weight issues, metal just would not have blended well with the existing materials used to build the ship.

“We decided to look at carbon fiber as an option and found that the panels were not expensive and were potentially a very good fit,” Poe said. “We needed to find some way to cut the panels to the proper sizes, and we decided to work with the Robert C. Byrd Institute since we had worked with them in the past.”

Azimuth and RCBI staff members combined efforts to build a jig to cut panels on RCBI’s specialized Northwood 5-axis High-Speed CNC Router, which allows users to produce complex designs on a single machine without multiple setups. The carbon fiber panels were cut into a variety of unique shapes to fit perfectly into the angle-filled vessel. They were glued into place and covered with mesh, then assembled into the ship.

“The console looked like the Stealth Fighter when it was all put together,” Poe said. “The Navy was very impressed and pleased with the result and thought it was truly cutting-edge.”

Having access to RCBI’s expertise was helpful in even more ways. Although each of the carbon fiber panels were supposed to be the same thickness, the CNC equipment at RCBI pointed out differences that were not visible to the naked eye. Just a few millimeters of variance in panel thickness would have created significant problems over the course of the project, however, and those were avoided by sorting them into groups of exactly the same specifications. Additional support for this project included RCBI staff traveling to the Naval Shipyard to deliver hands-on training and oversight during installation of the vessel’s command module.

“If we had not been able to do this project at RCBI Bridgeport,” Poe added, “we likely would have had to use a subcontractor in some place like North Carolina or Georgia. Instead of scheduling occasional visits, we were able to be in constant contact and resolve problems quickly, working hand-in-hand with staff at the Robert C. Byrd Institute. We also make it a point to spend as much money in West Virginia as possible and use West Virginia workers whenever we can, and RCBI helped us do that in this case.”

The relationship between Azimuth and RCBI continues to benefit both organizations, as well as a joint commercial and military supply chain of manufacturers through the RCBI 21ST Century Manufacturing Network. The joint projects include design and production of “Bombot” units that help protect active duty military personnel from IEDs (improvised explosive devices), CNC production of shoebox-sized computer cases that protect portable computer components for the U.S. Navy, and CNC production of a container for advanced Biometrics technology used by the U.S. military in forward deployed bases.

For more information about Azimuth, visit www.azimuthinc.com or call 304.292.3700.