Metlab Heat Treats Boat Propellers

When we think of Metlab of Pennsylvania, USA we think of a company which heat treats some of the largest gears in North America. However the President of the company, Mr. Mark Podob would like to point out that large gears are only a small part of their business.

“Hi Gord –Hope you are well. It’s interesting to me that most of the heat treatment community thinks of Metlab as the heat treater of choice for large gears, bearings and other parts, and there is no doubt that those items are quite interesting and challenging to process. But what seems to be a well kept secret is that we have a fairly robust small parts department, the result of our acquisition of the John V. Potero Company in 2001.

We moved the company from downtown Philadelphia, lock, stock and barrel into our 125,000 square foot facility.

With two Sunbeam Case Masters, a small salt pot, a compliment of tempering furnaces, induction and flame hardening capability, and a black oxide service, the company offers an array of heat treating processes. We have since added more integral oil quench furnaces and vacuum capability and expanded the customer base with three delivery vehicles.

We also focus on heat treating out of the ordinary, interesting parts for specialized applications, like the propellers for hydroplanes as you can read about here.”

Heat Treating Propeller Blades for Hydroplane Boats

A modern unlimited hydroplane is the worlds fastest racing boat, capable of speeds greater than 200 mph. These boats represent the product of over 100 years of evolution in race boat design and materials with the most powerful engines, most advanced construction techniques, and the best safety systems available in boat racing today. A typical unlimited hydroplane can weigh a minimum of 6,750 pounds.

All unlimited hydroplanes are a threepoint design, meaning they are designed only to touch the water at three points when racing – at the rear of the two front sponsons (the projections of the hull in front of the driver cockpit) and the propeller at the rear of the boat. Most of the unlimited class boats are powered by Chinook helicopter Lycoming T55 L7 turboprop engines, generating up to 3,000 HP.

Racing boats only touch the water at three points when racing: the rear of the two front sponsons (the projections of the hull in front of the driver cockpit) and the propeller at the rear of the boat.

Metlab, which is known for offering a wide variety of thermal processing solutions, had the opportunity to heat treat a series of propellers for a hydroplane racing team located in Cinnaminson, NJ.

The propellers must meet strict design criteria imposed by the Union Internationale Motonautique (or “UIM,” headquartered in Europe), not only for propellers but for the entire boat design. The propellers are typically 16″ in diameter and have three blades. Different pitch propellers are chosen for use based on course length, conditions, and starting position. It is not uncommon for a racing propeller to cost more than $15,000.

The propeller creates the distinctive rooster tail behind the boat, raising literally tons of water into the air for up to 300 feet behind the boat. They are made from several different materials, but the steel of choice is 17-4 PH stainless steel chosen for its mechanical properties and corrosion resistance. The propeller must support a significant portion of the boat’s weight while rotating up to 14,000 RPM.

Three propeller blades were heat treated for the customer to the H-900 condition (900°F/ hours at heat). They were age hardened in a vacuum furnace to ensure parts were free of scale. The high tensile strength (200 KSI) produced by the heat treatment keeps the blades from shearing apart; the excellent ductility associated with the heat-treated material allows the propellers to withstand the RPM and torque conditions without failing. And a hardness of HRC 40 protects the blades from impact with potential debris in the water. 17-4 PH stainless steel properly heat treated also benefits from increasing torsional fatigue strength, a common cause of propeller failure.

Metlab provides heat treating solutions for highly technical parts and components. Consult with a metallurgical specialist at Metlab about your specifications and heat treating requirements.

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