$3 Bolt Causes $2.2 million in Damages to US Submarine

By ThinkReliability Staff

A $3 bolt was left in the main reduction gear of the USS Georgia after a routine inspection.  The extensive damage caused by the bolt resulted in 3 months in the shipyard for the submarine, causing it to miss deployment.  The propulsion shaft was left to operate for two days after sounds indicated that there was something wrong.  This may have increased the damage to the main reduction gear – damage which cost $2.2 million.

How did the bolt end up in the main reduction gear? Why was the propulsion shaft operated for 2 days after damage was suspected?

We can look at the causes that led to this incident in a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis that clearly outlines cause-and-effect relationships that result in impacts to an organization’s goal.  The first step to building a Cause Map is to determine how the issue impacts the organization’s overall goals.  Here we can consider the US Navy as the organization.  The customer service goal (with the rest of the country as the “customers”) was impacted because the submarine was unavailable for deployment.  The production/schedule goal was impacted because the submarine was in the shipyard for  three months.  The damage to the main reduction gear is an impact to the property goal, and the repairs are an impact to the labor/time goal.  The total cost resulting from this issue was estimated to be $2.2 million.  Once the impacts to the goals have been determined, we can ask why questions to put together the cause-and-effect relationships that led to these impacts.

The bolt was left behind after a routine, annual inspection.  Because of the great potential for damage when foreign objects remain within equipment, detailed procedures are used for these inspections and include a log of all equipment brought into the area and a protective tent to keep objects from falling in.  Details of what went wrong that resulted in the bolt falling into the main reduction gear were not released, but the inspection was reported to have “inadequate prep and oversight” which likely contributed to the issue.

After the propulsion shaft was turned back on, noise indicated that there was a problem.  However, the shaft was operated for two days in a failed attempt at troubleshooting.  It’s likely that this increased the damage to the main reduction gear.  It is unknown what procedures were – or should have been – in place for troubleshooting, but the actions taken as a result of this incident suggest that proper procedures were not followed once the damage was suspected.

In this case, members of the crew who were found to not have performed their job – possibly by not following proper procedure – were punished in varying ways.  It is likely that the investigation went into great detail about whether procedures were adequate, what steps were not followed, and why, and the results also used to improve procedures for the next inspection.

To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.