|Volume 4,||Number 1||March/April 1996|
Technological assistance from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and NASA contractor Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, California, is paying off for North American Marine Jet, Inc., of Benton, Arkansas. At September's Fish Expo in Seattle, the Arkansas firm received downpayments to produce commercially its first two marine jet engines, which incorporate NASA- and NASA contractor-derived impeller blade technologies. The company also has signed an agreement with a major distributor in the northwestern United States to handle its NASA-enhanced products.
Currently, manufacturers in Europe and New Zealand dominate the marine jet-propulsion engine market. However, NASA technology may help U.S. firms compete successfully.
Marshall's involvement with North American Marine Jet began last year when the firm's president, Leonard Hill, attended a NASA symposium and learned what the center had to offer in terms of propulsion systems. Marshall's experience in propulsion systems began with the development the Saturn series of rockets that launched humans to the Moon, continued as the center that developed and managed the Space Shuttle's propulsion elements, and is now leading the development of propulsion systems for the next generation of NASA's space vehicles. Hill feels this expertise will benefit his firm in the global marketplace.
Hill and his design staff from North American Marine Jet met with Robert Garcia of the Computational Fluid Dynamics Branch of Marshall's Structures and Dynamics Laboratory. Garcia used the Branch's analytical systems to reveal that the Arkansas firm's proposed design for an improved impeller would not meet desired performance requirements. Garcia, Hill and the firm's design team discussed possible design modifications, which Garcia then analyzed. His figures correctly predicted that the new design would meet or exceed all of the Arkansas firm's requirements. Adopting the improved design, the firm then introduced its new product line.
Garcia's three-dimensional computer model of the impeller design enabled Paul Gill of Marshall's Materials and Processes Laboratory and NASA contractor engineers at Rocketdyne to use rapid prototyping systems to make a solid polycarbonate model. This allowed the engineers to optimize the improved impeller's production process.
Hill has said that ordinarily his firm would have had to produce a wooden "master" of the impeller blade, make an epoxy mold of the wooden blade, make wax impeller blades from the epoxy mold, machine an impeller hub, attach four sets of impeller blades to the hub, dip the wax model to form a ceramic mold, melt out the wax and, finally, pour metal into the ceramic mold. Gill's work allowed the mold to be made directly, avoiding many time-consuming and costly steps. Gill also has recommended a number of improvements to the Materials and Processes Laboratory's stereolithography apparatus, which speeded the fabrication of the model.
Technology transfer impeller development project with North American Marine Jet, Inc., of Benton, Arkansas.
For more information on NASA technology transfer opportunities for American industry, Phone: 1-800/USA-NASA. Please mention that you read about it in Innovation.