(Un) memorable fabrication

Oceaneering fabricates subtle creations in high-profile structural projects

The FABRICATOR August 2008
August 12, 2008
By: Tim Heston

Oceaneering's structural fab operation has built "dark ride" vehicles for theme parks around the world. It has custom-fabricated and erected aluminum components for a mammoth advertisement overlooking Times Square. It has welded a structural mount that holds up the recovered World Trade Center antenna, now on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. And it has fabricated and erected duplex stainless steel bridges over killer whale pools at the San Diego and Orlando SeaWorld® parks. That's quite a portfolio of jobs, and all of them quietly have gotten their start at a structural fabrication facility on the outskirts of Baltimore.

SeaWorld Orlando

Figure 1 Killer whales wow the crowd at SeaWorld Orlando. Not that anybody would notice, but holding those moving screens in the back is a duplex stainless steel bridge fabricated by Oceaneering Intl.Photo courtesy of SeaWorld Orlando.

Unmemorable Fabrication

The Entertainment Systems and Manufacturing divisions of Oceaneering Intl. go to great lengths not to be noticed. Millions have seen their work, but most wouldn't think it has anything to do with structural metal fabrication.

That's just what the 30 people on the shop floor are aiming for.

The fabrication and machine shops are part of an Oceaneering facility in Hanover, Md., minutes away from BWI airport. It houses the company's manufacturing group, which performs work for the Entertainment Division, as well as work for other, better-known Oceaneering Intl. business units, which together employ some 7,500 people.

SeaWorld Shamu show bridge” height=


Figure 2
Oceaneering personnel erected a prefabricated duplex stainless steel bridge over the Shamu show pool at SeaWorld Orlando.

These business units produce some of the company's flagship products for the oil and gas industry, defense projects, and subsea exploration. Oceaneering's subsea vehicles got national attention when they helped recover the Liberty Bell 7, the NASA Mercury Program capsule that sank 16,000 feet to the bottom of the Atlantic. The company's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) also helped researchers explore the remains of the RMS Titanic.

Managers at the Hanover fabrication facility work far from the North Atlantic, and they're thankful they don't draw such attention. The group has built "dark ride" vehicles for theme parks around the world. It has custom-fabricated and erected aluminum components for a mammoth advertisement overlooking Times Square. It has welded a structural mount that holds up the recovered World Trade Center antenna, now on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. And it has fabricated and erected duplex stainless steel bridges over killer whale pools at the San Diego and Orlando SeaWorld® parks.

That's quite a portfolio of jobs, and all of them quietly have gotten their start at a structural fabrication facility on the outskirts of Baltimore.

An Unusual History

The Hanover structural fab shop serves two roles. As part of Houston-based Oceaneering Intl., it acts as a service center for other business units that provide jobs ranging from defense-related work to projects for the corporation's core business, the oil and gas industry. It also acts as a contract structural fabricator for companies and government agencies outside of the Oceaneering organization. About 60 percent of the shop's work is derived from Oceaneering's Entertainment Division.

SeaWorld stainless steel bridge


Figure 3
On the shop floor, Oceaneering engineers tested the carriage that would carry screens across the duplex stainless steel bridge spanning the Shamu Stadium show pool at SeaWorld.

The Hanover operation has origins with Eastport Intl., a business that specialized in, among other things, remote subsea search and recovery vehicles. Because of this business and work for the U.S. Navy, Oceaneering became interested and acquired Eastport in 1992.

Meanwhile Eastport was diversifying. Although its manufacturing operation primarily supported the company's defense contracts, by the early 1990s it had also started to venture into another business—entertainment. In 1992 Eastport was in the middle of its first major entertainment contract at one of the country's largest theme parks when the deal between Eastport Intl. and Oceaneering finally closed. Once it did, things changed.

"When I joined [Eastport], it was a mom-and-pop organization," recalled Carl Overby, fabrication shop foreman at the Hanover facility. Overby has been with the organization for 18 years."The biggest thing we had was a single Navy contract. We then just started to diversify into entertainment and rides. We were acquired by Oceaneering, and today we're busting out of the seams."



Figure 4
Shamu performs at SeaWorld San Diego while the duplex stainless steel bridge, holding the large screens, sits in the background.
Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego.

Because of the growth, Oceaneering moved to its current facility in 2005. The Hanover operation is about 145,000 square feet, about one-third of which is used for management and engineering. The rest is devoted to fabrication and assembly."When we moved here in 2005, we had predicted that we would have enough space for a minimum of 10 years," said Project Manager Richard Ely."We're already planning to expand the facility."

It's of little surprise, considering the company's projects. Workers fabricate unique assemblies as part of various entertainment and defense projects. At one end is the machine shop. Machinists use the collection of boring mills and lathes to machine, among other things, new enclosures housing the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The fabrication shop takes up most of the floor space, with a row of welding cells, a Standard shear with a 12-foot bed, a collection of Marvel band saws, and a MultiCam waterjet system with a 10- by 20-ft. table. A waterjet cutting system might not represent a typical piece of structural fabrication equipment, but Oceaneering doesn't perform typical structural fab work. Many jobs require special material, such as aluminum and duplex stainless steel.

"For a lot of these jobs, you can't just buy an I beam or W beam," said Shop Superintendent Chris Hartwig."We need to cut the top and bottom flanges on the waterjet, then weld together our own beam, and then finally fabricate it into something."

In late 2007 Hartwig led an effort to consolidate the shop equipment for more efficient part flow. The shear was moved from against a far wall to an area right by the welding cells. Band saws, previously scattered, were placed adjacent to the welding cells and shear. The waterjet now sits closest to the loading dock, ready to cut plate for custom fabrication. And the floor has plenty of space for the massive preassemblies required for these specialized structural fabrication projects.

Welding for Shamu

Waterjet cutting closeup


Figure 5
Oceaneering's waterjet performs a test cut. The company has used this machine to cut, among other things, duplex stainless steel plate for custom structural components.

You can't get much more specialized than fabricating a bridge over a killer whale pool. In 2005 SeaWorld parent Busch Entertainment Corp. contacted Oceaneering with a challenge. The SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Diego wanted to offer guests "Believe," a new presentation of their most famous resident, Shamu, in part with an audiovisual presentation that relied on massive flat-screen plasma displays that would rotate and move back and forth over Shamu's main show pool. The screens needed a bridge structure to support them, carriages to hold them and rotate them, and a rail system to move them (see Figures 1-4). So the parks called on Oceaneering to build it. The bridge couldn't be built out of just anything. It had to withstand a corrosive environment, and it had to be safe for the whales.

A decade before, the company wouldn't have even been approached for such a job. But by 2006 things were different. Ely explained:"In the early stages, we were primarily a steel and aluminum shop. But because of our relationship with the Navy side [of the Oceaneering business] as well as the growing entertainment side, we had to learn to work with new materials."

So by the time the SeaWorld project came along, Oceaneering managers didn't flinch when hearing the material requirements: 100 percent duplex stainless steel.

"The material could withstand the saltwater environment, and it wouldn't harm the whales," Ely said."Duplex [stainless] has one of the highest corrosion-resistance ratings in the stainless family of materials."

Chevrolet Billboard Times Square


Figure 6
Oceaneering's staff built the aluminum and fiberglass Chevrolet billboard installed high above Times Square.
Photo by Michael McDonough.

Duplex stainless steel structural members can't be bought off-the-shelf, so the shop had to fabricate them from scratch, cutting duplex plate with the waterjet (see Figure 5) and welding them into I beams, angle beams, and box tubes.

The duplex required both gas metal arc (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc (GTAW) welding, and Oceaneering's welders had to become qualified to weld the material using both processes. The majority of the joints were fillets, though the structure did have a few flange-to-flange butt joints. Almost 99 percent of welding was done on the shop floor.

"The biggest challenge for us was using this exotic material for the first time," recalled George Koch, QA manager, who managed the visual and dimensional inspections, as well as the nondestructive examinations.

Another challenging issue involved material distortion and keeping the structure flat—within 1/32 in. over a 120-ft. span—so the screens would seemingly "float" across. The crew had to shim the surface to keep that flatness and ensure the carriage wheels stayed in full contact with the track. The carriages, which carried the screens, would be out of alignment had any major warping occurred, causing a variety of faults and visual discontinuity of the screens' video displays.

A key factor for success was complete assembly and testing by the crew on the shop floor, so that the erection process went smoothly. In fact, the on-site process resembled any other steel structural erection—except for, of course, the whales.

"It was interesting to see how the whales interacted with the workers," Ely recalled."I heard stories that they were very curious, and they sometimes distracted the installers, splashing them to get a reaction. That's not something we see every day."

Metal Fabrication at Advertising's Mecca

Chevrolet Billboard constructio


Figure 7
Oceaneering staff preassembled a module for the Chevrolet billboard at the Hanover facility.

On several Friday nights a shipper for Oceaneering sat on one side of the George Washington Bridge, waiting for the go-ahead to transport a massive aluminum and fiberglass structure to one of the busiest places on earth (see Figures 6 and 7).

By 1 a.m. they got the go-head and drove to Manhattan Island to supervise the installation of a Chevrolet billboard high above One Times Square—advertising's Mecca. Once finished, huge robots would periodically emerge in cuckoo fashion, one with a wrench and the other with a welding gun, and "align" the sign, providing an eye-catching visual display that Chevrolet managers hoped would stand out among the glitz.

The sign was prefabricated in Hanover, with some outside help for certain fiberglass sections. The project's greatest challenge was, ironically, the most visually mundane—the display bezel behind the LED "Chevrolet" letters, a 6061 aluminum honeycomb panel 40 ft. long, 8 ft. wide, and 4 in. thick.

"The display bezel was a rolled piece of aluminum with a flange on it," said Hartwig. The bent flanges were formed in such a way to make the entire bezel look like a picture frame, with miter cuts on the corners."It was very challenging to get the quality finished product that we desired and our customer demanded. We had to cut it into segments, weld it together, and work it so it lined up with everything else [on the sign]."

Subtle Support of a National Treasure

 World Trade Center Antenna Display


Figure 8
Oceaneering fabricated the base (outside of the shot) for the World Trade Center antenna display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of the Newseum, Freedom Forum; photo by Maria Bryk.

During its opening this spring, the Newseum, the new Washington, D.C., museum devoted to the history of media, unveiled a structural support and mast, together measuring 28 ft. high, as the centerpiece for its 9/11 Gallery (see Figure 8). It was the antenna that crowned the 350-ft.-plus tower atop the World Trade Center. Crumpled, rusted, and in two pieces, the antenna found its way to Oceaneering's Hanover facility last year.

Oceaneering already had a relationship with Freedom Forum, the private foundation that funded the Newseum, having already designed interactive seating for a"4-D" theater attraction with seats that move and provide sensations that relate to action on a video screen. So when the foundation was able to acquire the antenna, representatives approached Oceaneering to see if the facility would temporarily store it, plus design an unobtrusive mount for the antenna to sit on within the exhibit.

The antenna arrived in two pieces—the mast and the structural material under it—at the Hanover facility in an environmentally controlled container."We were asked to assemble it and hang it from our bridge crane," Ely said,"so that we could have several visitors come and look at the antenna's orientation, to see how it was going to be displayed in the Newseum."

Workers adjusted its orientation with come-alongs that attached from the antenna to various columns in the facility. Then, using a Faro arm laser tracker, Oceaneering designers and engineers measured mounting points from the antenna down to the floor. Those points were fed into SolidWorks® software, and from that engineers designed the mounting that would keep the antenna in the desired orientation.

"They didn't want it to distract from the antenna, of course," Ely said."And both the Newseum and the New York Port Authority, which were the owners of the World Trade Center remnant, did not want anything done to alter the appearance."

Because of the extreme damage, fabricators had to reinforce one of the structural members, under the approval of the project's conservators from the Newseum."They came and watched us do a structural reinforcement of one small area of the antenna, adding a steel bar between two corners of the structural members and welding it in place," Ely said."We did it without disturbing any other parts of the antenna."

The mount, designed by Oceaneering engineers, isn't anything outlandish or complex, just a single arm of high-strength structural steel, fabricated from a bar that was waterjet-cut, machined, welded, and painted black. It is attached to a plate mount with studs that were embedded into the concrete floor during construction."When you look at it, you hardly see the mount at all," Ely said.

Ely recalled the fabrication job was nothing spectacular, involving standard waterjet cutting, machining, and welding practices. But having one of the most identifiable remains of the World Trade Center hanging from the shop's bridge crane made it a job no one at Oceaneering will forget.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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