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Big ships and big ideas – innovation in the name of exceptional service

Serco has unparalleled experience in total integrated ship design and has played a role in every major US Navy ship programme in the past 40 years. In Pascagoula on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we support their DDG 51 Guided Missile Destroyer Program. 

Darryl Dittmann also has 40 years’ experience in the shipbuilding and engineering industry. Today, he leads one of our production support teams, tracking and documenting the progress of each DDG throughout production. Based on the waterfront alongside the shipyard crews, they play a critical role in making sure every ship is built to contract and specification. 

“Without our due diligence,” explains Darryl, “you’d risk all kinds of rework, rip-out and delays. If the shipyard doesn’t get it right first time, it can cost up to three times as much, and each ship is billions of dollars. We work very hard to make sure that the customer gets exactly what the customer wants.” 

This is highly complex work with a lot of moving parts: 

“There are five DDGs in production at any one time – each takes about four years from cut steel to delivery. They go through roughly 20 production phases and we have multiple teams on each one. On top of that, there are always 200-300 engineering change requests on the go, plus various other daily concerns between customer and shipyard that we help to resolve.” 

The Production team facilitates every customer inspection of every ship ‘as built’. Conducting these in person is rarely practical, requiring remote alternatives. For smaller ships, that might mean a video tour. For a DDG, the only option until recently was flicking through a pile of photographs almost as big as the ship itself. 

Darryl is as passionate about photography and problem-solving as he is about engineering. Drawing on his expert knowledge and experience, he developed a new tool, Compartment Viewer 360, to generate panoramic virtual tours of each ship using a 360° camera and specialist software. 

Every virtual tour is a monument to Darryl’s commitment to exceptional service: 

“Each ship is 515ft long by 66ft wide, with 11 different levels and around 450 individual spaces – from the engine rooms to the water closets – that we need to document. Right now, it’s just me and the camera, and we have to do it for every single ship. They are all made to the same specification, but there are always minor variations. Each one is unique, down in the details.” 

To say that Darryl’s solution has been well-received by the customer would be an understatement: 

“They were blown away. It’s a highly detailed, interactive virtual record that immerses them in the environment and improves the inspection experience many times over. They can travel around and look wherever they want – just like Google Street View. It’s simpler, easier and far more versatile – it’s already proving to be an asset for future design and modification work as well.” 

Darryl’s commitment to the customer is rivalled only by his commitment to his team. They were among the 1,000 new colleagues who joined us when Serco acquired Alion’s Naval Systems Business Unit in 2019. For Darryl, the seamless transition to Serco is a very welcome and promising step forward: 

“Better resources and infrastructure are helping tremendously, but beyond that there’s a tempo here I’ve never seen before – an energy and optimism that Serco shares with all of us. Senior leadership are clearly interested in what all levels have to say, and it’s great to see action taken in response to our feedback. The commitment to internal development and upward mobility is refreshing, and we can already see how Serco’s performance review process leads to recognition and progression where deserved. It’s very impressive.”