MOBILE, Alabama — Austal USA, a maker of aluminum vessels for the U.S. government, started construction Friday on a steel manufacturing line that positions the company to start steel production in April 2022.

Austal USA said the addition of steel capability ensures that it will remain a major contributor to the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

“As demand for the greater and larger Navy and Coast Guard fleets grows, Austal USA is investing to meet those changing requirements,” said Rusty Murdaugh, interim president.

“We’re investing in our people, we’re investing in our processes and we’re investing in our facilities and capabilities.”

At a groundbreaking ceremony, Austal, a maker of aluminum vessels, marked the start of construction on a steel manufacturing line that positions the company to begin producing steel ships in Mobile, Friday, March 26, 2021.

A groundbreaking ceremony at Austal’s Mobile facility on Friday marked the start of a new era for the company, which produces aluminum Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) vessels.

“This world-class steel manufacturing line is a treasure for the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard that will provide a much-needed boost to the defense industrial base and our nation’s defense,” U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl said.

EXPANSION MODE

Last September, Austal announced that it had acquired additional property near its Mobile manufacturing facility. The purchase included a 20,000 ton Panamax-class floating dry dock, 100,000 square feet of covered repair facilities, and 15 acres of waterfront property along the Mobile River and Gulf of Mexico.

“Alabama has been a proud partner to Austal’s growth in our state for many years,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “We have developed a solid relationship with Austal, and it is great to see the company add new capabilities to its Mobile operations.”

Austal said it has helped turn Mobile into the nation’s premier location for the construction of aluminum ships and aims to do the same for steel. During World War II, Mobile workers built steel Liberty ships that were critical to the war effort. In the coming years, Austal said it will look to build and deliver steel ships needed by the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy.

Austal, which employs 4,000 people at its Mobile shipyard, said it will bring its lean manufacturing processes and facility design to the steel shipbuilding market. It said these processes have helped deliver 24 ships to the Navy in the last nine years, a rate unrivaled by other shipbuilders.

“Each time we have invested in our facilities, our customers have seen a greater return on their investment,” Murdaugh said. “The steel ships that will come off this line will be the best, most efficient and most affordable steel ships in the Coast Guard and Navy fleets.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.