Doubling down on productivity: Military-Grade Boat Manufacturer Increases Output by nearly 50%
If you’ve ever seen a patrol, fire rescue or work boat out on the water, it might’ve been a Lake Assault Boats product. Based in Superior, Wisconsin, the company is one of the few in the country that creates specialized military-grade boats that are “custom-built and mission ready.” From the initial boat design with their team of marine architects to skilled welders ensuring quality on every weld, Lake Assault delivers completely customizable boats with a focus on attention to detail and quality.
One of the challenges of creating these custom boats is access. The hulls are large and cumbersome, which previously left skilled welders climbing ladders and crawling through the framework of the boat to reach certain welds.
Lake Assault needed a system where they could build their boats safer, faster and more comfortably for their team. That’s when they turned to ALM Positioners, the industry-leading provider of welding and assembly positioners which help increase manufacturing productivity, safety and ergonomics.
“Coming from the traditional way of building boats, the headstock tailstock positioner from ALM was a night and day difference for us,” said Mike Henning, production manager at Lake Assault. “We can manipulate a 40-foot boat so much easier, which means we gain more efficiency and quality.”
The powerful headstock tailstock positioner ended up being a complete gamechanger for Lake Assault. With a lift capacity of up to, 15,000 pounds, rotating and accessing, a once tiresome and lengthy task, suddenly became simple.
“With the positioner, you’re saving wear and tear on the body, but there’s also a clear quality difference,” Henning said. “Anytime you can be comfortable, you’re going to be steadier. That means better welds and a better product.”
Today, Lake Assault has over 70 employees who build over 50 boats annually, half of them which are completely custom builds. These boats have many hardworking uses, including fire and rescue missions that save lives as well as boats used by the U.S. military. There is a demand for the boats to perform well, and the stakes are high. While that type of quality can’t be rushed, the ALM positioner proved it could be made more efficient.
“With the ALM positioner and tooling, gained about 47 percent efficiency,” Henning said. “That’s huge for us to maintain our high-quality standards and increase efficiency by almost half.”
With clientele such as the U.S. Navy, you can imagine the quality standards are stringent. The parts are of the highest quality available, and the welds have to be perfectly uniform. And it all has to happen on a deadline.
“All of our work is on contractual deadlines,” Henning said. “The positioner has allowed us to hit our delivery dates sooner, which is a win for everyone.”
Making the most out of skilled labor
The American Welding Society estimates there will be a shortage of about 400,000 welders by 2024. That lack of skilled labor is already being felt within the industry as companies struggle to find talent. Lake Assault found that the use of the positioner allowed them to do more with less staff, something that was critical to increasing productivity during a time when skilled labor is so hard to come by.
“With the positioner, we can just get more done. You’re eliminating so much time for welders repositioning or physically crawling through the boat,” Henning said. “And, without a doubt, it’s safer. You get fewer back injuries and no opportunities to slip off a ladder. It’s absolutely better for everyone.”
Not only that, but when new skilled laborers do join the team, Henning found that the positioner made it easier to train them.
“Young laborers can get up to speed much quicker because veteran welders can easily access tough welds,” Henning said. “The more comfortable our welders are, the faster they can learn and the better they’ll perform in the long run.”
Their veteran laborers and new welders have one thing in common: the pride in knowing that every boat that leaves their shop is destined for a hardworking life. With a positioner to help with the heavy lifting, the team at Lake Assault is ready to rise to any challenge.
“We love what we do and take pride in creating a tool that gets work done and saves lives,” Henning said. “It can be a challenge, but completing mission impossible is kind of our catchphrase around here.”