Front Street Shipyard has been awarded a more than a half-million dollars by the United States Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration to buy a new automated water cutting machine.

The award is part of the federal Small Shipyards Grants program and will be put toward purchase of a Flow Mach 700.

The 13-by-43-foot machine will be able to cut almost any material, including stainless steel and titanium. Using electronic data drawn by engineers, the flat-bed cutter will be able to mill very large parts such as wooden frames for recreational boat molds and carbon fiber panels for commercial ferry construction.

Ferry boats were what Front Street Shipyard had in mind when applying for the grant, President JB Turner said. The shipyard has been pursuing ferryboat contracts in partnership with a Norwegian company under the name Arcadia Alliance for several years.

And while those contracts haven't manifested yet, Turner said it's become clear that the new machine, which might be the largest of its kind in the state, will have numerous other applications, including non-maritime work.

"We may be cutting stuff for paper mills or any kind of industrial source," he said. "All kinds of things."

The cutting machine will cost more than $900,000, Turner said, adding that the shipyard is required to pay one-third of the cost as a condition of the grant.

It will be installed in Front Street Shipyard's 22,500-square-foot Building 6, which is currently under construction. As of July 20, workers had finished the first of two foundation slabs. Turner anticipates starting the second section Aug. 1. Steel for the building is expected to arrive the next day and will be erected while the foundation is completed. Turner said the plan is to have an unfinished building capable of housing boats by October.

Ultimately, Building 6 will accommodate large yacht refits and commercial vessel construction projects. The new facility is expected to create 40 new jobs at Front Street Shipyard. Today the business employs about 105 full-time workers and eight "casual workers," including dock boys and seasonal help.

Sen. Susan Collins, chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, made the grant award announcement.

"A new waterjet cutting machine will help diversify Front Street Shipyard's services to include a new production line, greatly enhancing its global competitiveness and making the shipyard the only U.S. company with these unique manufacturing capabilities," Collins said.

Front Street Shipyard is currently accepting job applications for upcoming technical and labor positions in its new facility. More information about Front Street Shipyard is available online at frontstreetshipyard.com.