Friday, September 17, 2010

Keying really big bore

Here's nice job we did recently: Keying some 50" four blade bronze propellers with 5" bore. We broached 1-1/4" keyways in the props with our Mitts & Merrill keyseater. This big old beast started out life on a WWII aircraft carrier and will key just about anything we can get in the shop. We've done a lot of large couplings on it, too.

This is a job we did for another shop that wasn't able to handle it. We're seeing that more often--shops that have gotten away from custom hands-on maching in favor of CNC production type work.

We can do both. With a Milltronics CNC lathe, lots of manual machines, and a machinist who can operate them, we can do production work quickly, inexpensively and accurately, along with custom stuff that requires actually getting someone's hands dirty.

Can your prop shop boast that?

Propeller packing advice

We get quite a few props in for repair via UPS or FEDEX or USPS and I always hate opening a box filled with the dreaded styrofoam popcorn packing. It flies all over the place when you try to remove the prop, and a slight gust of wind sends the stuff everywhere. I usually end up on my hands and knees chasing the little rascals across the floor.

Here's what I do to contain the little buggers: Fold the box flaps up, and secure them to each other at each corner, making the box taller. Pull the prop out. The flaps contain the popcorn. Deposit box with popcorn intact in dumpster.
So keep those props coming, no matter how you pack them. I'll deal with it. But don't count on getting your popcorn back.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Vintage Volvo Penta attaching hardware

The old Volvo Penta Aquamatic drives (pre-1994) used a cone system to secure either a long hub or a short hub propeller. We get a lot of questions and confusion about what cone goes with what propeller series. Today I was talking to Rick Myrick of RNR Marine in Bradenton about a customer situation and provided the attached picture and the following explanation.
The long hub propeller uses the cone in the middle, which sits down in the propeller. An allen head bolt runs down through the cone into the prop shaft to secure the cone and keep the propeller in place.
The short hub propeller uses a longer cone--either the one on the right, or the combination of the cone in the middle and the spacer on the left, which makes an assembly that looks like the one on the right. The cone is secured by either the aforementioned bolt, or a tab washer that bends into the serrations in the cone (or spacer).
Of all the drives, the Volvo Penta seems to lose props most often. Main culprit seems to be the bolt coming loose. Using a little Loctite will keep the cone and prop in place.

Friday, September 3, 2010

If we can, we will

Here's a great customer service story that says a lot about our company.

Yesterday a good customer, owns a big dealership, called at about 11:3o a.m. and said he'd bent the 1-1/4" shaft on his inboard boat badly and needed it straightened quickly so he could do a trip this weekend. We said bring it on. Due to some delays it didn't show up here until 3:30 p.m.--normal quitting time for our head machinist, Nick. He agreed to stay late to get it done.

Problem was, the shaft was bent REALLY bad--I mean, the tapered end of the north/south shaft was pointing east/west. So only option was to build a new shaft. Which we did, and the customer was on his way back to the boat before 4:30 p.m.

This was a testament to our people, who are willing to do just about anything for the ultimate goal--keeping people boating. And our preparedness. We keep stuff in stock, and we had a shaft on the shelf with a machined end on it ready to go. All we had to do was cut it, key and fit the coupling.

This kind of thing can't happen every day. Somedays, we're just too slammed. But if we can, we always will, even if it takes a little extra effort.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is the Internet fad fading?

The headline is a joke. Looks to me like the Internet is here to stay.

But I'm wondering if the bloom is off the rose a bit when it comes to Internet buying. In a generally down business year our new outboard and stern drive prop sales are trending up--Mercury Quicksilver, Michigan Wheel, PowerTech and Volvo Penta, our primary brands.

In previous years we steadily lost new prop business, and it wasn't hard to see why. Just google boat propeller. There are dozens of companies selling propellers and the prices just keep going lower and lower.

But I can't tell you how many people have come to me asking for help making props they bought on the Internet work on their boats. In most cases, no way, Jose. Wrong prop, and the guy clear acrosss the country won't take it back.

Admiral/C&B started selling propellers with the help of Internet advertising long ago--we called it "mail order" back in the old days of 2001. But I always felt that propellers were too specialized to slap up a shopping cart and let the customer pick his prop. Too many props will come back. I've always reasoned that it's better to communicate with the customer to figure out what he really needs, by phone in the old days and by email today. Our "Internet" sales have steadily declined, victim of the big guys with shopping carts and slim profit margins.

So we've adjusted our "retail" prices to reflect the reality of the Internet world while steering clear of undercutting our dealers who really make an effort to sell new props. Our prices aren't cheapest, but you'll get 100% expert advise and 100% guaranteed satisfaction. Returns and exchanges are no problem because getting the right prop on every boat is our primary goal. Our customers are more local, but they're likely folks who would have bought online in the past.

And we're still stocking a lot of props, in contrast to many dealers and distributors. That seems to be helping wholesale and retail sales. Had a guy come in earlier today to buy a prop for a 25 hp Yamaha that nobody in our big town had in stock. Should've called the prop shop first because I've got plenty.

Maybe consumers are ready to start worrying about something other than price. Our experience with new prop sales indicates that it may be starting to happen.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New boaters are good

We've seen this all year, but the last couple of days they seem to be coming out of the woodwork:

New boaters!

New boaters are good for anyone in the marine business. They're smitten with their first boating love and they're eager to have a good time. They're spending money and ready to be educated.

In the propeller business, that means lots of educating. The main thing we need to tell newbies is that there isn't some big giant magic book that tells what prop should be on each individual boat. Using charts and good ol' fashioned experience we can suggest a place to start, but in most cases there's already a prop on the boat. Knowing how that prop runs--especially max rpm at full throttle--we can determine whether the current prop is right, or if a change is necessary.

Propeller damage is another thing. Bottom line is that any damage will compromise performance, especially fuel economy. Best to handle minor damage before it gets too bad. And best to get a decent prop fixed at a certified propeller repair shop. Many boaters don't know that a repaired prop (especially from our shop :-) is as good or better than new.

So I'll try to be patient, as I teach Propeller 101 for the millionth time. But I need boaters to have good information about their boats--and some disposable income.

Friday, August 27, 2010

And another Yamaha thing . . .

We hear from lots of customers who buy the wrong props (from somewhere else) for their Yamaha 60-130 hp series outboards. They have a 17 pitch aluminum, or OEM stainless, then buy an aftermarket prop of the same pitch. Then they lose lots of rpms and performance.

The reason is that the OEM style props are semi-cleaver designs with very little cup. They are easy to turn, and typically have less rake and cup than an aftermarket prop. You can identify them by the straight trailing edge. The stainless OEM props are painted black. A "normal" aftermarket prop, with more rake and cup, will usually turn less rpms. It's most common with stainless propellers.

When replacing an OEM style prop, we'll make sure we sell the aluminum prop from Michigan Wheel or PowerTech (pretty much identical to OEM) or an OEM-style prop from PowerTech (the SCD style). That will provide performance like the customer is used to. If the customer insists on an aftermarket style (for price, or to use a replaceable hub kit, like the Flo-Torq), we'll drop a couple inches of pitch.

This is reason number 1000 to talk to a prop shop before you buy a prop. Internet buyers, beware!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yamaha propeller hub problems

Yamaha appears to be having some problems with its V6 motors prematurely and repeatedly "spinning" rubber hub propellers. It's been going on for years and now it seems to be coming to a head. Google "yamaha hub problem" and you'll see the litany of complaints.

Most modern propellers use a pressed-in rubber hub bushing to transmit horsepower to the water while protecting the drive train. The rubber bushing, with a metal splined piece in the middle (vulcanized to the rubber) that slides onto the propeller shaft, helps cushion the drive train from the strain of shifting and underwater collisions. Over time the bushing wears out and fails, or "spins." The boat revs up and won't go anywhere. Usually the boater can limp home at idle.

So rubber hubs have always been a bit of a pain for prop shops and boaters, but the recent surge in horsepower and engine heat has created a huge problem--rubber hubs have simply been melting and failing very prematurely. Mercury recognized this problem about 10 years ago and introduced the Flo-Torq II hub system, a delrin drop in bushing that shields the drive train but is relatively impervious to heat and horsepower. Other propeller manufacturers have followed suit with products like the PowerTech Cushion Lok, the Michigan Wheel XHS hub and the Solas Rubex, to name just a few. These hubs aren't perfect, but they hold up much better than rubber hubs.

Yamaha has stuck with the rubber hub system, but their new motors, especially the four strokes, generate tons of torque and, anecdotally, lots of heat. The motors even include a special scoop on the trim tab to feed cool water into the exhaust housing.

For many years we and all prop shops used aftermarket hubs from a company called HMS to replace failed hubs in propellers for these Yamaha motors. But in recent years, large shops like ours started seeing multiple repeated failures. We and others started talking to Yamaha, and they made available the OEM 61A hub used at the factory, which was never before made available as a service part. We found slight but apparently significant differences between the two hubs, because when we tried them we had very good success. Very few comebacks. So Yamaha agreed to make the hubs available to prop shops.

This was about a year ago. Since then, we have received about 50 hubs from Yamaha and could have used that many more. We have props lined up to be rehubbed. I know other shops are in the same situation. Yamaha cannot tell us when we'll get more hubs.

To Yamaha's credit, they have worked with prop shops on this issue like they've never worked with us before. And they're introducing a new hub design, the SDS, that should solve this problem going forward. But it won't retrofit in existing propellers, which means this issue won't go away anytime soon.