Those words may not be exactly what Ray Kinsella heard in his Iowa cornfield in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams”, but the outcome has been almost as amazing. In the movie, Kinsella hears an other-worldly voice tell him that if he builds a baseball field “he” will come. “He” turns out to be Ray’s dead father, as a young man, returning to play in Ray’s Field of Dreams.

Now you would be hard pressed to find a cornfield in Mobile, Ala., especially one near a shipyard. And as far as we know, none of the brain trust at Austal USA hears voices. But somebody knows a good idea when they hear it.

Austal USA is a world-class aluminum shipbuilder, built primarily on the backs of two U.S. Navy contracts — the 421'6"×103.7' Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) and the 338'×93'×12' expeditionary fast transport (EPF) vessel.

The shipyard’s 700,000-sq.-ft. aluminum module manufacturing facility (MMF) is a modern, hyper-technological facility with a production line that produces a ship that’s 85% complete when it finishes its trip across the building.

The shipyard’s Ray Kinsella moment came when its brain trust decided that what worked for aluminum could also work for steel.

In March 2021, the shipyard broke ground on its $100 million steel production assembly line facility right next to its aluminum MMF. Production began in April.

Mike Bell, senior vice president of operations, said the shipyard is bringing its lean manufacturing processes and facility design to the steel shipbuilding market. These processes have helped deliver 24 ships to the Navy in the last nine years.

“We’ll be the only shipyard that can build aluminum and steel combatants,” said Bell.

New steel construction at Austal USA includes the shipyard’s first Coast Guard contract — a $3.3 billion agreement for the detail design and construction of up to 11 offshore patrol cutters. And then there are two Navy contracts worth approximately $300 million and $128 million.

Such a fast start might have some of Austal USA’s competitors hearing voices.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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