By Eric Peterson | Jun 22, 2015
Hydro propulsion systems
Owned by Birdon Australia
The Jacuzzi brothers of hot tub fame were geniuses with all kinds of jets, in everything from pumps to planes, and NAMJet's genesis has roots in technology they developed.
NAMJet founder Len Hill bought the rights to the thruster jets from Jacuzzi in 1985 and established North American Marine Jet in Benton, Arkansas. The company's TRAKTORJet series has set an innovative pace for marine propulsion for commercial and military boats in the 30 years since.
Marine engineering firm Birdon Australia bought North American Marine Jet and renamed it NAMJet in 2011. The company moved from Arkansas to Colorado to share space with subsidiary Birdon America in 2014, and employees now machine and weld the jets in-house in Denver. NAMJet supplies propulsion systems to its sister company for Bridge Erection Boats (BEBs) Birdon is making for the U.S. Army.
BEBs need some serious power and maneuverability, and NAMJet's high-thrust technology provides it. One Alaska fishing boat hit a speed 25.8 knots (about 30 miles per hour) hauling a load of six tons of fish with a TRAKTORJet -- no small feat.
"They're super, super powerful jets," says Hailey. "We're getting 35 knots on our Bridge Erection Boats."
The waterjets counterintuitively produce more thrust by slowing down from the industry-standard 3,000 revolutions per minute to 750 rpm. At that frequency of rotation, "It's more efficient in pushing that volume of water," says Ramsay. "It's high thrust at medium speed."
In March 2015, NAMJet landed a contract with the U.S. Marine Corps to provide propulsion systems for amphibious assault vehicles. "They'd get sand in their bearings every third time they'd go up a beach, says Hailey. "They'd require a $20,000 rebuild." NAMJet's design keeps the sand out of the bearing and solves this problem.
Markets besides military include propulsion for fishing, mining, ferry, and safety boats worldwide. The company forecast calls for a tripling of employees to 60 by 2017. Says Ramsay: "We've got a lot of potential."
Challenges: Finding skilled workers. "I have young guys who are doing $30 to $35 an hour," says Hailey. "Kids have an image of a dark dungeon kind of place." It's often the opposite -- and cutting-edge. "It's a whole different world."
Opportunities: "By moving manufacturing from Arkansas to Denver, the opportunities are huge," says Hailey, citing the potential to streamline the company's product and processes.
Birdon and NAMJet CEO Jamie Bruce says barges and ferries in Europe are a target for NAMJet's 360Jet, a 360-degree thruster. "There's a lot of opportunity and we do have a good solution," he says.
Needs: "We need more suppliers here in Denver that are more in tune with manufacturers' operational needs," says Hailey. "We need suppliers that will stock the items that we frequently purchase on their shelf and ready to deliver when we need them as a just-in-time manufacturer. . . . In traditional manufacturing cities, those industries are highly supported by their supply chains."