History of Michigan Wheel in the Public Sector

Founded in 1903, Michigan Wheel has a long history of excellence in marine propulsion. A large part of this history involved work for government entities. Michigan Wheel started selling small propellers to the Navy in the 1920s, and by WWII, Michigan Wheel was a critical supplier of the Navy. During this time, Michigan Wheel was creating specialized propellers for patrol boats and even had an entire department dedicated to producing Navy design propellers for underwater torpedoes.

Fast forward to modern day, our government agencies operate and maintain thousands of vessels.  While it is the large vessels, such as a Navy aircraft carrier that gets attention, they actually have many, many more small more mundane vessels, such as survey boats, buoy tenders, etc.

  • 20-25% of Michigan Wheel’s business is government related
  • Approximately 70% of the US Coast Guard’s small vessels have Michigan Wheel propellers

Types of Public Sector Clients 

Government customers could be:

  • USA agencies – Navy, Army, USCG, & USACE ( US Army Corp of Engineers)
  • Foreign countries – Navy, border patrol (Coast Guard), waterway maintenance (like our USACE)

We sell directly to various government agencies, through Federal procurement processes.

We also sell indirectly through:

  • Boat Builders – New Construction
  • Service Yards – Repair, modification, etc.
  • Inboard propeller distributors & repair facilities – They have direct contracts with a government agency.

We have a long history of supplying special designs to the Navy and USCG.

The propellers can be:

  • Standard Michigan series designs
  • Designs provided by the government
  • Custom Michigan specialized designs.

What Michigan Wheel Provides

At Michigan Wheel, we understand the complexities involved with determining the optimum propeller for a government need.  We can offer technical support to all levels of government operations involved in the specific propulsion project.  We can help or provide preliminary technical concept evaluations, detailed design, development of production CAD models and drawings, creation of final inspection documents and procedures.

We have extensive experience dealing with government contracts, both as a prime contractor and sub-contractor.  We have an excellent working knowledge of the unique technical specifications called out by many government contracts, as well as understanding the various DARS & FARS often specified.

Government propulsion performance objectives can be much more complex than some commercial applications.  Particularly where they are part of a combat oriented vessel, there is often unique shock-impact loading requirements.  For some submersible type of applications, acoustic signature (or desired lack of) characteristics may be of primary importance.

Some examples:

  • For some applications, durability and life cycle costs are of primary importance.  We would look to design the propeller with durability in mind, possibly at the expense of some hydrodynamic performance.
  • Other applications might have several performance objectives, vessel speed, acoustic signature, cavitation performance, etc.  We understand the propulsor design spiral and can provided technical support from the initial concept design phase all the way through production and final inspection procedures.

Propeller tolerances can range from:

  • Standard commercial tolerances
  • High tolerances used by the commercial propeller industry
  • Special tolerances imposed by the customer.  For example, the Navy has its own unique set of tolerances.

Michigan Wheel has extensive knowledge of these various tolerance requirements. We have several engineers that have been through the formal Navy propeller certification course. This certification course provided the technical training necessary to formally inspect certain classes of Navy propellers. 

We have several pieces of inspection equipment that provides state of the art inspection results.  We are actively using 3D laser scanning systems to quantify propeller blade geometry during final inspection procedures.

Bollinger Shipyards Case Study 

Bollinger Shipyards has a long history of building new vessels for the US Coast Guard. Michigan Wheel currently has a contract with Bollinger Shipyards to make propellers and wake adapted rudders for the 154’ “Sentinel Class” Fast Response Cutter (FRC). Propulsion plays a key role in the performance requirements of these vessels. There was a challenging performance specification for the new vessels where a required maximum speed was defined at a specific vessel displacement.  Through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis and model testing, Michigan Wheel determined that our propeller design would exceed the minimum performance requirements and that held true during the real world testing of the initial vessel using Michigan’s customer design.

Michigan Wheel’s wake adapted rudders also became a very important part of this project. Not only do they help with speed, but their use also results in reduced vibration and noise. Vibration can cause increased operations and maintenance costs over years. Due to wake adapted rudders, the USCG can operate the vessels at the desired speeds during a typical operation but use less engine power.  This means they are able to operate more hours before major service requirements and burn less fuel. Michigan Wheel has been working directly with the Coast Guard engineering team since 2011 to implement our wake adapted technologies.

Another way that Michigan Wheel is involved with Bollinger Shipyards is through maintenance and repair projects. 20-30 years ago, Bollinger Shipyards had a contract building USCG 87' “MARINE PROTECTOR CLASS” PATROL BOATS (CPB). The propellers for these boats get repaired regionally through a service facility. If the propeller repair costs exceeds a certain percentage of a new propeller cost then the existing propeller with be replaced with a new propeller. The service facilities come to Michigan Wheel for new propeller pricing, which are then incorporated into the maintenance and operations budgets for the next five years. This results in a more accurate operation and maintenance budget forecast for the USCG, which is extremely beneficial when allocated funds are tight.