Partners by Design: Gibbs & Cox
Local relationships, backed by 80 years of experience, help this independent engineering and design firm make waves in the competitive Gulf Coast design and build markets.
Founded in 1929, Gibbs & Cox naval architects have designed warships and auxiliaries in the U.S. since 1933. In fact, fully 70 percent of the ships built during WWII were built to Gibbs & Cox design. Now fast approaching 7,000 ships in their impressive portfolio, the venerable firm also has no intention of sitting on its laurels in the fast moving world of shipbuilding and naval architecture. And, when Gibb & Cox opened its New Orleans office in February of this year, local shipbuilders sat up and took notice. Ten months later, Gibbs & Cox has solidified an already deep foothold on the Gulf Coast, leveraging experience, a national presence and service rooted in local relationships.
Specializing in naval architecture, marine engineering, management support, and engineering consulting, the firm is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia with offices in New York City, Washington D.C., Hampton, VA, and Philadelphia, PA. Gibbs & Cox professionals also work internationally, with a particularly strong presence in Australia. Mark Masor, Gulf Coast Operations Manager for Gibbs & Cox in New Orleans, told MarineNews in September, “To this office and region, we’ve brought our ISO-certified work standards and best practices of the Gibbs & Cox group – all based on almost 80 years of experience. Leveraging our existing backlog of work, we were also able to hire some key staff locally.” Indeed, the newest Gibbs & Cox location got off to a fast start in a relatively short period of time.
- Full Speed Ahead
In August, Gibbs & Cox announced the award of a contract to support BAE Systems, Southeast Shipyards Alabama, by providing functional engineering and detailed production support during the design and construction of a hopper dredge. The contract calls for Gibbs & Cox to provide functional engineering, detail design, production and test and trial support to BAE Ship Repair. The dredge will be built in the BAE facilities in Mobile, Alabama. Gibbs & Cox will perform the work in its recently established Gulf Coast Operations, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, coordinating with its other offices as needed.
Gibbs & Cox Chief Executive Rick Biben also took time to point out the significance of their newest contract. “We are extremely proud to have been selected to support BAE on this dredge project,” said Biben. “This is a key opportunity for our Gulf Coast Operations to develop the design of a complex commercial vessel for a major shipbuilder in the Gulf. We are fortunate that in the last six months we have been selected by a number of our partners at the shipyards to assist them on commercial projects. This project is both a fulfillment of a corporate objective to enhance our capabilities in the Gulf, as well as a continuation of our growing relationship with BAE.”
- Navigating New Orleans
Eric Midboe, Vice President and Group Manager for the Gibbs & Cox Programs Management Group, explained the rationale in opening the New Orleans office. “First of all, we have strong relationships with many of the companies in this gulf coast region. So, we started with good familiarity of the market itself. We did want to establish a facility down there so we could have that close and trusted relationship. We believe that’s very important. Taking advantage of existing relationships, we were able to enhance that with on-site visibility and presence and we’ve successfully entered a very competitive and established market. By bringing Mark (Masor) in, we had someone who had the professional experience, the understanding of how we do business, as well as the local knowledge of the gulf region shipyards and capabilities.
So far, the combination looks to be a winning recipe. Gulf Coast veteran and now Gibbs & Cox New Orleans Manager Mark Masor adds, “The direct repeat interaction for our clients within the New Orleans market, is very important. We’re not just looking for more business; we want to be the trusted partner in a working relationship. As a completely independent shop, apart from corporate ties and/or shipyard ownership, we can truly offer total customer focus.”
Midboe sums up the Gibbs & Cox philosophy by saying, “This isn’t something new for us. We always – in all places – look for long term relationships with our customers. Part of that is building that trust and confidence. The government services is slightly different in how you build those relationships, but that said, we do have quite a history in working with industry teams, shipyards – internationally and domestically – and our goal is to maintain our customers confidence and continue to do high quality work for these people.”
- Tailoring the Work to the Customer’s Needs
The pressing need for shipyards – especially domestic U.S. and midsized yards – to be as lean and competitive as possible is not a new concept. Bringing in more subcontractors to perform technical tasks and work on larger more complex projects certainly is. As such, the interaction between the naval architect and the shipyard has changed. That reality is not lost Mark Masor, who explains, “Shipyards are seeing a broad base of work, sometimes on a short term basis. So, the need to augment in-house staff with outside technical help will always be there. It makes a whole lot of sense for them in terms of being lean and competitive. There is a real cost benefit to using frontend design and engineering tools, 3D CAD product models. And this extends to not only new construction or one-off jobs, but new construction, as well.”
There is perhaps no better example of the firm’s capabilities than their considerable role in the U.S. Navy’s groundbreaking LCS program. “We are fortunate to have the breadth of capability that allows us to carry a design through requirements analysis, detail design and on to construction and then on to lifecycle support, depending on the needs of the client, said Eric Midboe. He added, “On the LCS program, we are the design agents on that program, we did all the HM&E work, all the engineering analysis, all the CAD design. We also have people in the shipyard who provide that liaison and interface for production. We’re quite comfortable in that role. So, when we are in the Gulf Coast market, we can off that full breadth of service. In other words, we’re flexible.”
- Military and Commercial Design Requirements: Bridging the Gap
Gibbs & Cox clearly has deep roots in the military design and build markets, but also performs its fair share of commercial work. The experience in one sector helps in dong work in the other, especially given the recent trend to marry military and government vessels to commercial regulatory standards. The military work which helped Gibbs & Cox build and maintain its technical expertise is, in the end, directly applicable to the commercial sectors. Masor adds, “We can build and maintain capability in most industry CAD platforms and we have over six years of ShipConstructor design integration and construction support. We’ve developed and implemented a comprehensive set of processes for modeling, drawing and extraction, design control and configuration management.”
With the LCS project already on its resume, Gibbs & Cox arguably may have no rival when it comes to understanding both sides of the equation and perhaps no one explains why better than Midboe, who says, “The LCS was a real transition for the U.S. Navy and for industry. We were the lead design firm involved with the project so we were the ones who took on the lion’s share associated with bringing the new rules into the design process for LCS. We had a very good working relationship with ABS for years on the commercial side and we were on a number of their standing committees. We leveraged those relationships and our experience in the commercial market, working very closely with ABS to implement rules that were a combination of commercial and government Milspec rules. We had to work that into an aligned process; one which met the requirements of ABS as well as the needs for the Navy. That process, conducted alongside a very aggressive production schedule, was not without its hard spots. In the end, it was very successful. We relied on our experience on both sides of the ledger to make sure that the LCS program worked as well as it did. And, we carry that into the future.”
- At Home on Magazine Street
If the New Orleans office puts a personal face on an already nationally known name, the new location, now in place for almost one year, means so much more to the Gibbs & Cox big picture. Eric Midboe sums up the first year by saying, “We got a warm welcome when we opened the office, and we’ve visited most of the shipyards in the area. They’ve been interested in listening to what we have to offer and we’ve been given the opportunity to bid on work and partner with them. The dredge contract is an indication that we are starting to see success. As a company, we bring a broad, national corporate structure that we can apply to solving the problems on wide menu of issues.”
The New Orleans/Gulf Coast design and build market, for government and commercial requirements alike, is a crowded one. In February, Gibbs & Cox served notice that there was room for one more at the table. Delivering on that bet with personal service, backed by 80 years of experience, they look to be here to stay. That said, and as “partners by design,” Gibbs & Cox and the U.S. Gulf Coast have always been a good fit. – MN.