The traditional and highly-skilled art of laminating in shipbuilding is being safeguarded by BAE Systems in Portsmouth. Two of the company’s most experienced laminators have been trained as NVQ assessors to enable them to hand down their skills and inject a fresh lease of life into the craft.
Laminating is core to the manufacture of the high-speed rigid inflatable boats produced by BAE Systems at Portsmouth Naval Base. It’s also used in the manufacture and maintenance of larger Royal Navy ships including Hunt Class mine counter measure vessels.The technique involves applying multiple layers, of composite under pressure or heat, to produce a material which is light, strong and stable. The same method is used in the manufacture of Formula One racing cars and high-performance aircraft.
BAE Systems’ small boats centre of excellence currently employs nine laminators in Portsmouth and the company is looking to increase that number in line with the growing demand for parts made of composite materials.
NVQ Level 3 training, equivalent to an A-Level, is now being given to three trainees by in-house experts Kevin Relf and Barry Grant, who have a wealth of experience. Composites team leader Grant has been a laminator for 42 years and his colleague Relf used to run a laminating school at Portchester.
“I’ll be retiring in a couple of years so it’s great to be able to pass on my knowledge before I go,” said Grant. “The model that we use for training has come primarily from implementing suggestions from our apprentices themselves, which has increased the interest and kept the training relevant.”
The first trainees were shipwrights and former apprentices Ed Poole-McKenzie, Sam Young and Sam McFarlane.
“We’re getting the hang of it now, learning alongside the skilled laminators and gathering their experience and knowledge,” said Young.
Added Poole-McKenzie: “It’s been quite a steep learning curve but we’re now able to do everything that the experienced laminators do.”
The need for more laminators was highlighted by small boats production manager Paul Berry, who took the request to apprentice and adult training manager Wendy Fry at the naval base’s Skills Development Centre. The laminating NVQ option has also been added to the advanced apprenticeship in marine engineering in addition to fabrication, welding, mechanical and electrical qualifications. The NVQs involve classroom training as well as practical experience on a spare boat hull. There are three modules, covering the key aspects of the process.
“Once the apprentices have reached the necessary level of competence, they move out onto the shop floor to work alongside the more experienced team members, which is the best way to learn,” said Berry.