MAKING CONNECTIONS: Nikhom Vongnikone, left, production manager, William Aberdein, sitting, technician, and Howard Turner, site manager, test the fiber in a connector being assembled at Ametek SCP’s Westerly manufacturing facility.
Today’s submarines are billion-dollar boats that can dive to more than 1,500 feet beneath the sea and stay submerged for months at a time.
That should give some idea of the technological demands at Ametek SCP Inc., a Westerly company that makes undersea connectors, including some that are used in submarine fleets around the world. The lives of sailors and workers on oil rigs, national defense and a whole lot more are riding on the company’s work.
At Ametek, manufacturing doesn’t mean stamping out one part after another assembly-line style. Instead, each item is custom-designed, and there are inspections every step of the way. It could take up to eight months to fill an order.
“Everything we make is for a sub-sea environment,” said Paula Christina, sales director. “These parts support submarines and deep-well oil platforms. Everything must be able to withstand exposure to salt water, various temperatures and enormous pressure.”
Founded in 1993, Ametek is a division of Ametek Inc., a global manufacturer of electronic and electromechanical devices with annual sales of $3.6 billion and more than 120 manufacturing locations around the world. Ametek frequently works with other defense contractors, including Raytheon in Massachusetts, Lockheed Martin in Maryland and Electric Boat, the submarine builder with operations in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Ametek acquired the local company in 2007. Today Ametek employs 63 people – 28 of them in manufacturing jobs – and the business is thriving. The company not only supports the United States submarine fleet, but those in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Brazil, France and Spain as well.
In recent years the company has emerged as one of Rhode Island’s top exporters. Its export numbers topped $7.2 million in 2011, $8.7 million in 2012, and $8.2 million in 2013. Those figures are expected to grow, as forecasters predict the world submarine fleet will continue to expand, with perhaps 50 more boats to be built over the next 15 years. Ametek expects to receive more naval work from its established customers. In addition, the company has leveraged past experience working on the U.K.’s Astute Class submarine program to bring in more navy work from Spain, and win new assignments from South Korea. Indonesia is seen as a prospective new client as well.
A top Ametek product is hull penetrators for submarines, which allow wires, pipes and tubes to extend from the outside of a boat to the inside, something especially important with today’s communication technologies.