Land and Sea are no match for Miller Marine

By August 13, 2021Articles

Since 1989 Miller Marine Inc. has been on and below deck at California’s famed San Diego waterfront. Ed Senter left his job to start his own company. He asked coworkers to come with him and no one did. He opened Miller Marine as its first and only employee. Today, Miller Marine employs  100 plus men and women on the waterfront, and in their nearby 20,000sq.ft. manufacturing facility. Miller Marine is predominantly known for structural retrofit and repair on US Navy vessels, but their capabilities are far vaster. Pipe, sheet metal, milling, water jet, electrical, and UIT (Ultrasonic Impact Treatment) are just a few services available at Miller Marine. With over 150 welding certificates, this NAVSEA, ABS, ASME & AWS Standard Certified, ISO 9001-2015 compliant company can tackle anything the maritime and land-loving sectors can throw at it.

Left – Using the MAXIEM 1530 Waterjet Brandon cuts 9” thick square tubing 8’ long as part of a shipside rack system. Center & Right – Most of the parts coming off the MAXIEM 1530 waterjet can’t be photographed, but here Brandon shows off a piece of artwork and a production run of parts for the home and garden show.

Steve Humphries is Miller Marine’s Production Manager. He works closely with both Vice President Seth Siraton and Contracts Estimating Manager Carlos Slaten. Most of the day-by day operations go through Steve, but the nature and complexity of their work demands a 100% team effort. Steve, like many of Miller Marine’s workers got his start on “fire watch,” a no-frills entry-level job, similar to working as a welder’s assistant. He spent 20 years welding on ships before taking a decade long stint in the aerospace game. For the last six years he’s headed up the production team and is hands on with everything they do. “Nothing we do is easy work,” explains Steve. “It’s dangerous on the ships, dangerous in the yards, and it’s hard. We do a lot of structural; I mean a lot of structural work on these ships. Structural is anything from removing and replacing doors, cutting bulkheads out, and fabricating foundations.” A foundation is anything something sits on. The Navy doesn’t just put an electrical cabinet on the deck of the ship. It is bolted to the foundation, and the foundation is welded to the ship. Ship repairs have more guidelines, parameters and overviews to follow than the original builder’s spec. Miller Marine has a job right now with 366 pages of specs the government mandates they follow. “We don’t make a 1000 of a single part,” details Steve. “We custom make everything. Even if the ships are identical on paper, they never are when it comes to doing the retrofits. Drawings are different from ship to ship and never the same. A lot of times we roll out to do measurements and the drawings are nowhere near being a match because the boat has undergone multiple changes in the last 40 years.” Miller Marine retrofits are part of the Navy’s AIT program to modernize older ships. When that happens, they might build an entirely new foundation and all the items that go along with it. “What we do has higher standards than OEM,” adds Victor Rivera, Business Development at Miller Marine. “We have more tests, need more certs, do more QC and adhere to more governmental oversight than the people who originally built the ship.”

Left – Miller Marine’s Haas HAAS VF9-40. It is a 4 axis machine with an added 5 axis table. Because of its size it can hold up to 4000lbs and has a 30HP spindle. Right – The Accurl b40320 press brake can handle a 13’ sheet of metal. On vent jobs it allows Miller Marine to make three 90 degree bends and only have one welded seam.

Big ships require big machine tools, and Miller Marine is well equipped for jobs on land and sea. “Since most of what we do is structural welding and retrofit on massive ships, we need large support equipment that match the scale of what we do,” tells Victor. “Not every job we have, requires the constant use of these massive CNC machines but is well suited for customers requiring a larger work envelope. Our mill is a Haas VF9-40. It is a 4- axis machine and we also have the 5th axis table. It has a 30hp spindle and a large work envelope of X- 84”; Y- 40” and 30” in Z. It can hold a 4000lbs chunk of metal which comes in handy for some of the parts we machine.” Their Accurl B40320 press brake is formidable in size and can handle a 13’ sheet of metal. With 359.9 tons of maximum force, it bends aluminum or steel like origami. Probably the most versatile machine in their arsenal is the Maxiem 1530 Waterjet by OMAX. With a 10’ X 5’2” X-Y work envelope and 12 inches of Z, this beast of a machine can cut steel, aluminum, foam, rubber, plastic etc. up to 10” thick.

Left – Structural items like doors and bulkheads await their repairs and retrofits. Right – A welder makes repairs to a slatted aluminum floor system.

Brandon ‘Fish’ Hartung is Miller Marine’s waterjet operator. His skills and creativity were well known in the area and Steve had ‘Fish’ on the sonar for the last few years. “We are glad Brandon came on board with us in April,” touts Steve. “He is a wizard at making the Maxiem perform.” Time spent programming and cutting on the waterjet is time saved later in production. Something as simple as a beveled edge on mating pieces of steel mean the welders can just weld and they don’t have to spend hours grinding down a corner. “We have a rotational cutting head on the Maxiem 1530,” details Brandon. “Together with the OMAX InteliMAX software we are pretty limitless in what we can do with this machine. Everyone knows you can cut things with the waterjet, but it also has a delicate touch when needed. For example, while you were talking to Victor, Carlos, and Steve; I scanned the CNC West logo and brought it into the software. I created the plate from 1/8th aluminum and embossed the logo into a rounded rectangle. The waterjet can do detail work that doesn’t even pierce the thickness of the metal, leaving raised type of your logo.” Yesterday Brandon was cutting 9” thick square tubing 8’ long and today he was making a decorative art piece. “It is amazing that a huge machine is capable of such a variety of work,” adds Brandon. “It is one of the largest waterjets in the area and customers are amazed with what we can make on it. Victor has been doing a great job generating outside sales from local breweries, smaller fabricating companies, aerospace clients and other customized jobs that we have never done before. Between inhouse projects and new customers, we are utilizing the machine to its capabilities. I love it.”

Welding is the true art form at Miller Marine. From structural and pipe welding to upside down on a rocking ship, every weld must meet the highest industry standards.

Miller Marine is in a period of growth and in need of qualified people. Typically, they like to promote from within, but they are looking outside right now for programmers and machinists who can handle the 5 axis work on the Haas. “With 80% of our workforce out in the field we are always looking for quality welders,” tells Steve. “We have such a hard time finding people who fit the Miller Marine way, that we started our own inhouse training program for any of our employees to learn to weld. We start them out on stick welding and see how well they progress. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we pay one of our highly skilled supervisors to teach the class. Some days, it is all the people that perform fire watch duties who want to advance up the chain and other times it’s one person who needs to dial in their TIG work and needs a little hands-on instruction. The waterfront is big here in San Diego, but it is a small community. It is important that our people are the best in the business, and they prove it every day on land and sea.”