February 8: Behind the Scenes of Designing and Building Warships and Other Vessels in Wisconsin

–submitted by Sharyn Alden

Mark Vandroff, CEO of Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette, Captivated the February 8th Rotary Audience.

“If there’s a ship out there adding quality to life, we’re probably behind it,” Vandroff said.

Mark Vandroff began his talk by saying Fincantieri, based in Italy, is the largest ship builder in the free world. In the U.S. the primary shipbuilding hubs are in Wisconsin, with a focus primarily on defense, and in Florida where pleasure industry, cruise ships are built.

Vandroff’s long list of credentials includes former senior adviser to the White House. He holds a B.S. in physics from the U.S. Naval Academy and a MS in Applied Physics from Johns Hopkins University. 

Fincantieri has three shipyards in Wisconsin –Marinette, Green Bay, and Sturgeon Bay. “Green Bay is our highway,” Vandroff said.

He pointed out that he and Joshua Humphreys, the iconic 18th century shipbuilder and naval architect who built the first six U.S. frigates in 1797, have something in common. “Not much changes when you’re running a large shipbuilding industry. We still face the same challenges that Humphreys did—sourcing material, supply chain issues, and differing opinions from Congress,” Vandroff said.

The way ships are built and launched, though, has decidedly changed. At Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) they now use Syncrolift, an ultra-efficient ship lifting and launching engineering marvel. The Syncrolift at Marinette, is the largest ship transfer system of its kind in the western hemisphere.

FMM was founded in 1942 when the U.S. needed more small boats to support the WWII war effort. By 1945, most shipyards became specialists. Vandroff said FMM has built a wide variety of ‘things that float,’ from boats and barges to Staten Island ferries to ice breakers for oceanography training courses for the University of Alaska.

Eventually, the focus changed to building warships for new customers like the U.S. Navy.

Vandroff noted shipbuilding in Wisconsin has enormous economic benefits for the state. At FMM’s Wisconsin facilities 2000 men and women are employed. And they’re building bigger ships, growing from crafting 3,500 ton ships to today’s 7,000 ton warships.

“We’re looking for people to hire. We’re building bigger ships so we need a bigger workforce,” Vandroff said, “from welders to engineers.”

If you missed our meeting last week, you can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAsw7x4AGWg&list=PLD8FIDQlj8al6JvWDHjRYyMuH637UAnM9.

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