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In 1940, although the U.S. had yet to join the Allies in World War II, the U.S. Navy was busy building up its fleet along the West coast and was searching to find a similar location where they could manufacture all of their propeller shafts for each and every vessel. “This was a significant need for them because up until then, all propeller shafts were being produced on the East coast and given the lack of efficiency in trucking and rail shipping back then, it would take quite a bit of time for the shafts to reach the ships they were to be installed in,” says Augustine.
The Navy decided to take the matter into their own hands and build a forge in Tukwila, Wash., which they then sold to a company called Iverson, who ran the business until 1963, when Earl Jorgensen took over and renamed the facility Jorgensen Forge. Although ownership had changed, the forge’s significance to the U.S. Navy remained the same, and the company took its in-depth partnership with the military branch and used it as a launching pad to expand into other industries.
Today, those industries include aerospace and energy, as well as a deepened presence across the defense sector. For Augustine, it just seemed like a natural progression for the company. “Jorgensen is first and foremost known for its quality, something that has really been the standard for us since our initial partnership with the U.S. Navy began back in 1940,” he says, adding, “Over the years we have taken this commitment and married it with an expertise in the manipulation and production of complex metals; a dynamic that allows us today to bring the very best products to a number of different markets.”
And typically those who are leading their industries are the same ones that require the very best components in their products. Let’s start with the U.S. Navy, whom Jorgensen has continued its 75-year relationship of manufacturing propeller shafts into today, doing so for the Seawolf-class submarines and the Virginia Class-A attack submarines, respectively produced by Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., and the Newport Naval Shipyard in Newport News, Va. “These subs are 58 feet in length and the tolerance for error in their components is less than one-thousandth of an inch, as they have to be absolutely silent when moving through the water,” he says, adding, “Additionally, we produce titanium periscope tubes for them, where the structural integrity of the pipe is critical given the constant stress it has upon it from the ocean’s rough waters.”
Not limited to pipe-based products, Jorgensen additionally provides the rings that go around the submarines’ launch tubes—the component that is ultimately responsible for the firing of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Jorgensen Forge also has a deep partnership with Austal, a manufacturer of the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral combat ships. “The new Littoral combat ships don’t utilize propeller shafts, but rather an inboard-outboard jet system,” Augustine says, adding, “And the jets need to have cones that allow the water to pass through the motor, and we manufacture those for them.”
Given the close relationship between defense and aerospace, it’s no surprise that Jorgensen has taken its reputation amongst the U.S. Navy and its supply chain, and used to it to form partnerships with some of aerospace’s leading players, including SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Alliant Techsystems (ATK). “Similar to the ones we manufacture for the naval submarines, we are NASA-approved manufacturers of rings that go on the top and bottom of the separation stages for Atlas and Delta rockets, and it’s in these kind of projects that we thrive because our customers know that we bring the same level of dedication and commitment to the project as they do.” Augustine says that although composites have largely taken center stage in the aerospace world, there still is a very real need for forged components in particular areas of aircraft and air systems, and their partnerships with these companies reflect that.
Jorgensen Forge has recently been growing its presence across the energy sector as well, playing a role in both the nuclear and oil and gas markets. “We make components to go inside of nuclear reactors and have quickly established ourselves as a premium manufacturer of drill collars—piping that enables a drill to pass through the earth and prevent it from collapsing—for many of the oil fields across North America. He adds that their success in energy has them pushing for an even bigger presence, with the expectation of eventually expanding into the United States’ wind, hydroelectric, and mining sectors as well.
For all the success that Jorgensen Forge continues to have, one begins to wonder, just what exactly goes on inside the manufacturing facilities within their headquarters in Tukwila that leads to such high-quality components?
“When people think of forges, the first thing that typically comes to mind is steel work, and while we certainly do that, the real value at Jorgensen Forge is through our ability to mix and create complex metals to the specific strength levels requested by our customers,” he says, adding, “Everything we produce is done in a highly scrutinized and extremely thorough manner because frankly, it’s both what our customers demand and what we expect out of ourselves anyways.”
For Augustine, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who also later graduated from the Naval War College, it’s just the way things are supposed to be. “In the military, discipline and duty are paramount, and there’s a very similar feel within our processes and overall commitment to the customer.”
And from a machinery perspective, the company has everything it needs to get the job done efficiently. “We have a series of presses that range from 660 tons to all the way up to 5,000 tons, and our forge operations can produce billets as small as six inches wide and ingots as big as four feet wide,” he says, continuing, “Through the combination of automated technology and our pressing and machining abilities, we can manipulate a bar into pretty much anything.”
Augustine says throughout each process, separate metallurgical and quality teams inspect the components every step of the way and upon completion of the final step in production, an additional inspection team will run a comprehensive test on the product to make sure that it is exactly what the customer asked for. “We care just as much about these components as our customers do, and I think the many pictures of submarines, rocket launches, and others around our factory reflect our pride in what means to manufacture a high quality product.”
As Jorgensen Forge continues to succeed in its high profile partnerships, the opportunity to potentially expand its activity internationally becomes more and more possible. Augustine says given the proficiency of shipbuilding in South Korea as well as Europe, he could eventually see Jorgensen’s propeller shafts among other components in high demand within such markets. But for now, the company is content with its burgeoning success here in North America, and looks to continue to serve as one of the U.S.’s top metallurgical manufacturers.