Chicken and Eggs Page 2

Electronics — August 2003
By Ben Ellison

Chicken and Eggs
Part 2: “I just wish all these engine and electronics guys would sit down and talk to each other.”

 More of this Feature
• Part 1: NMEA 2000
• Part 2: NMEA 2000
• Electronics Q&A
• Red LED Lightwedge
• JRC JMA-5100
• Suunto M9
• Pocket Stars

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The i6000’s high price is due largely to the three sets of actuators needed to run the outboards’ mechanical controls. The cost will come down significantly when manufacturers introduce models with built-in electronic controls, especially if they talk in NMEA 2000. And none of the three boatbuilders I spoke with are using either Teleflex’s engine-monitoring or navigation electronics yet, partially because an interface box is required (again, until the engines speak 2000), and because Teleflex’s grayscale screens don’t cut the mustard on these essentially open boats.

In other words, the i6000 control is currently succeeding almost entirely on its unique ability to fly the triples by wire; the NMEA 2000 possibilities at both ends of the system are so far mostly unrealized. Imagine when multiple manufacturers compete with plug-and-play engines, autopilots, plotters, etc.—when, say, sophisticated GPS-aware fuel management just happens without a lot of fuss. These builders, who cater to particularly experienced and hard-driving boaters, are aware of these possibilities and will be first in line to check out new NMEA 2000 gear. And that’s how Teleflex’s i6000 egg might eventually fill the nest.

Another Teleflex success is happening in Wisconsin at Cruisers Yachts, where several large express models now come standard with Magic Bus packages (see photo on following page). One reason cited by head engineer Bill Funk is the neat way Teleflex “kits” its gear, so installers simply mount already-compatible boxes and run cables, leaving the old-school wire stripping and fiddly interfacing behind—along with the associated unreliability. But mostly Funk expresses lots of faith that NMEA 2000 will succeed. He talks of the day when installing a new 2000 standard-compatable GPS will be like Windows (now that it really works)—it will chirp, “You have new hardware,” and that’s it. He conjures up the scenario of an engine sending diagnostic data ashore, where a tech says, “Well, sir, your number five injector is fouled, and I see that you’re about an hour from Joe’s Marina; we’ll meet you there and take care of it.” Funk is installing Magic Bus systems in Cruisers so his customers can easily tap into the future goodness of NMEA 2000.

In fact all these builders, practical as they must be, are anxious to move into a well-integrated future. “I just wish all these engine and electronics guys would sit down and talk to each other,” says Intrepid vice president Mark Beaver. “An open system architecture is an absolute must,” echoes Funk.

Actually there is another way, and it’s being executed by the big kahuna, Brunswick Industries, owner of numerous boatbuilders, Mercury Marine, and now Northstar Electronics. Brunswick has expressed strong interest in providing the electronic ease discussed here, but early products like Mercury Smart Craft and Sea Ray Navigator suggest that the company may do it all on its own. That’ll work, too, if customers get what they want. Besides, NMEA 2000 bridge devices are possible add-ons to both of those systems. Moreover Brunswick’s initiatives may encourage other companies to gather around NMEA 2000 for competitive strength.

NMEA itself is certainly feeling good about its standard, reporting brisk sales of manuals and lively recent gatherings of interested companies. And the work of elevating 2000 from national to international status is also going well. Perhaps most important, certain little birdies are telling me that a number of important new NMEA 2000 products will hatch at the fall boat shows. Then perhaps the pioneering efforts of Teleflex and its early adopters will really pay off.

Next page > Electronics Q&A > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This article originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.