The weight of the boat, the power of the engine and a bit of other information and you have a custom-made propeller. That is what Progetto Elica, which was acquired by MZ Electronic a year ago, does
by Niccolò Volpati – photo by Andrea Muscatello
A boat’s propeller is like an ugly duckling. It is the final piece in the puzzle and the one that gets the blame, even when it’s other systems that have made the mistakes. Aren’t you going fast enough? Does the hull struggle to start planing? The problem lies with the propeller, rather than having greater displacement than planned for the hull’s water lines. So basically, the propeller is vital, but since it is the last thing when a yacht is being built, it is also expected to sort out problems that it hasn’t caused itself.
Making propellers is both a thankless task and at the same time a delicate one. But that is precisely why it is a good challenge. MZ Electronic are well aware of this and less than a year ago, they acquired Progetto Elica, a company that produces custom models for straight shaft engines. It was very much a locally sourced purchase, given that MZ is based in Monza and Progetto Elica at Concorezzo. «We are still doing the same work as before», says Carlo Bossi, who is in charge of production at Progetto Elica, «and with a few extra machines to increase our output capacity». MZ has invested to grow the facility, buying a new numerical control machine and also a 3D printer to make all of the models in house.
The range of products that MZ can offer has grown: windlasses, thrusters, battery chargers, inverters and now also propellers for straight-shaft engines.
The company can meet orders for yachts of up to forty metres since it produces propellers of up to a metre and a half in diameter. Its output is not limited to the propellers because it also manufactures all the components used in production: the flange, the motor flange that is, axles, rudders and propeller supports. All of that is customised, and all of it is made in Italy. The clients are the yards, which build new boats, and also those who do refitting, and some private owners want a perfect propeller, one that can generate the best performance.
«We are like tailors», says Carlo Bossi «because we design and produce made-to-measure propellers». They start from the hull design, and then from some essential information like the weight, power output, the gear ratio and the boat’s characteristics. And from all of this, they start to design the most appropriate propeller. You also have to know what the yard and the owner want. You have to understand how they intend to use the yacht, and what performance levels are expected. Once they have got that, the Progetto Elica technical department gets to work. They have always made units for straight-shaft transmission, but they have also specialised in surface propellers.
Nowadays there is a wider range of boats than there were a few years back. There are displacement hulls, planing hulls, semi-planing… but also trawlers, explorers, crossovers and even catamarans. The water lines of the hulls can vary widely, even though they always use a traditional straight-shaft engine. That is why the ability to produce a tailor-made propeller has become increasingly important.
But yards don’t want to increase the number of suppliers they work with. The more there are, the more difficult it becomes to manage them. «We wanted to expand our product range», explains Alessandro Fossati of MZ Electronic, «precisely so we could offer boatyards a range that had more accessories. That is why we decided to buy Progetto Elica and we made an investment to increase capacity».
As well as all kinds of windlass – horizontal, vertical and capstan – which carry the Italwinch brand, MZ also has inverters, battery chargers, battery isolators, thrusters, joysticks and hydraulic systems in its catalogue. A wider range also means we can get better rates from suppliers, and that is exactly what yards are looking for. They don’t want to sacrifice quality or customisation, and despite that, they are always looking to make savings.
And the toughest challenge these days is precisely the price of what we have to buy-in. The cost of raw materials has risen, all-round by 25 to 30%. Steel has gone up less, but bronze has got a lot more expensive. «A 100 kg propeller can easily cost from 500 to 700 euros extra, just in materials», explains Carlo Bossi «but we are trying to make sure this doesn’t impact clients. We have to plan a long time for suppliers as well. Fortunately, we have a long-standing relationship with the foundry and refinery. We have ensured that we have the metal that we need to meet all the requests that come from the yards».
(MZ Electronic, bespoke propellers – Barchemagazine.com – February 2022)