Upping Their Game

Innovation Marine is stocked with former Mercury Marine employees. From left: Jeff Hopper, Rick LaMore, Dave Stiff, John Vanderstel and Brad Halpin.

From military engines to marine service, Innovation Marine continues to grow.

Tucked away in an industrial building by the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Innovation Marine Corp. can be hard to find for first-time visitors. A few small signs on the street point the way to the company, which is a stone’s throw from the Chris-Craft Boats plant.

A powerboat being worked on outside the building let visitors know they had arrived at Innovation Marine. Whether it’s servicing boats or building engines for government contracts, Innovation Marine takes a lowkey approach and lets its work speak for itself.

“We’re very proud of the work we do and we feel like it makes a difference,” said Scott Yow, director of administration for Innovation Marine.

Ron Potter shows some of the features on the Innovation-built engine to PRA’s Todd Taylor (left) and Gregg Mansfield (right.)

Founded in 1983 by Rick LaMore Sr. and Michael Drury, Innovation Marine is a far different company than the shop that started with two employees in a 3,000 square foot building. (LaMore Sr. bought out Drury’s half in the 1990s.) Today, the 28,000-square-foot headquarters is stocked with CNC machines producing parts and a state-of-the-art engine diagnostic facility.

Between the high-tech equipment, the company’s 30 employees do everything from warranty work for Mercury Marine and Volvo Penta to rebuilding drives. Innovation Marine’s diverse marine products and services has helped the Sarasota, Florida, company grow. 

“There are about two or three things we don’t do and that’s structural fiberglass work, we don’t do upholstery and we don’t do painting,” Yow said. “We paint engines and that kind of stuff. Outside of that, we do it all.”

Innovation Marine has become a second home for several former Mercury Marine employees. The transition from Wisconsin to Florida is a natural since Innovation Marine builds its own engines and does warranty work for Mercury.

Innovation Marine offers full service of performance boats.

Yow said they don’t actively recruit Mercury employees, even though their ranks are filled with them. Even the late company’s founder, LaMore Sr., worked at Mercury before breaking out on his own.

“I think it’s as simple as plugging a guy in,” Yow said. “I don’t think there is anything that (Mercury) does that we don’t really know how to do or vice versa. I think it’s just a matter if you get somebody who has been (at Mercury) a long time and in their program, they’re going to know 90 percent of what we do and vice versa. If somebody left here to go there, they’d be in the know pretty well.”

Innovation Marine did bring noted engine builder Ron Potter into the company in 2016. Potter closed his business to head up Innovation’s design, research and development. Potter is thankful he made the move as he works with the CAD team to turn concepts into a reality.

“We don’t want to make anything anybody else makes. We want to make stuff way better because that’s our business,” Potter said. “If we did what everybody else does, why would anybody come here?”

Potter is like a mad scientist as he shows an engine that is being built for the military. To an outsider, the engine on the stand looks like a typical motor found in an offshore boat. Drill deeper and the engine is far more advanced from build to technology.

Former Mercury Marine employee Brad Halpin of Huber Marine does it all when it comes to transmissions from assemblies to rebuilds.

“They’re really good long-block engines and all the accessories worked great, but it was really old technology,” said Potter of the engines 600 horsepower and above.

Potter set out to reimagine the engines for easier servicing, especially if there are problems out on the water. He wanted to develop an engine that even a boater with basic mechanical knowledge could troubleshoot. Potter calls it a modular engine system.

“We started with the front and we said our entire line of engines are closed cooled, so what we want to do is we want to build a plate system for the front of the engine that all of the engine accessories mount to,” Potter said. “In other words, the accessories don’t bolt to the engine. The accessories bolt to a plate system. And the plate system slides onto the motor.”

Potter points to the sea pump that slides out after removing three bolts. Once the problem is fixed, the pump slides back in place and locks into a cavity, assuring the bolts fit the first time. Same goes for the fuel pump and fuel filter mounting head. 

“We want to be different than everybody else in the business when it comes to our closed-cooling motors,” Potter said. “What I said to Rick (Jr.) was I do not want to hang a tank on an engine. Everybody has done that for 60 years. We’re not going to do that.”

The solution was a billet, closed-cooling reservoir that is a showpiece of the engine. The mechanic will appreciate the connection points for the hoses are etched into the part. Lines no longer crisscross to simplify repairs.

Innovation has three massive cooling towers which can handle a combined 3000 hp of continous operation from both dynomometors, and they are already looking to increase it to five.

Designers tried to shave weight where they could on the compact engine. Take the lifting eyes, where engineers punched large holes to save weight without affecting the integrity. They did the same on other parts throughout the engine. “Every little bit helps,” Potter said.

Since the engines are being built for the military, Innovation Marine wanted to show American pride in workmanship. A billet cover has the American flag etched on the side, while a linkage has USA written on it in Morse code.

“We started incorporating that because we’re a big military/defense contractor,” Potter said. “I wanted to really incorporate American pride in what we do.”

Ramping up the in-house CNC program allowed Innovation Marine to add basic touches such as flags to parts, but it also allowed the company to have greater control of its supply chain. Engine builders no longer wait on parts from outside vendors to finish a build.

It also gives Potter a chance to modify parts and test the changes. Any changes to engines built for the military must be approved by the government agency.  

Innovation Marine builds its engine wiring harnesses in-house for the engines that go to the military. Every harness takes about 40 hours to build and undergoes rigorous quality control.

“We build the harness soup to nuts,” Potter said. “Every connection is soldered, every connection is tested and every connection is heat-shrinked with an epoxy heat shrink.”

Even with a healthy and growing business, Innovation Marine continues to look for ways to diversify and expand. A couple of years ago the company acquired an old Sam’s Club turned convention center near their facility. They renovated the building for indoor storage and several of their customers store their boats at the facility.

The company is also forging into the diesel market especially as the Navy is trying to get gasoline off its ships. The military wants to go with diesel because of its availability overseas and doesn’t require separate tanks.

“We’ve started delving into the diesel world and that’s somewhere we’re keeping focused on going forward,” Yow said. “I think there is a vast market there. If explored the proper way, it has a real bright future.”

Innovation Marine will continue to be a family operation. Rick LaMore Sr.’s widow Joyce owns the company and both sons Rick Jr. and Ron work there.

“This is a family-run business that, I for one, am proud to work for,” Yow said. “There’s a lot to be said working for people who work just as hard as you do.”  

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