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The best testing is real-world testing

About 10 percent of FLIR Maritime’s annual revenue is set aside for research and development, and a big chunk of that is spent testing products. Most manufacturers of engines and marine electronics operate their own on-water test centers, with one or more boats. I had the chance to get aboard two test boats in a span of two weeks: a 54-footer owned by Cummins and a 42-footer owned by FLIR Maritime, which includes Raymarine.

Cummins' test boat was rigged with its new joystick system for inboards at the press event.

FLIR Maritime values real-world testing, says Gordon Pope, Raymarine director of engineering. “Nothing can replace the experience of using the products so we can see how they actually operate,” he says. “We have our own test boats, one here in England and one in California, that we use every day. We install full systems on our boats that can be swapped out for other systems. It‘s a big investment, but it’s an important one that pays back.”

R&D needs to extend beyond calculations on computers. “While lab testing and analytical modeling are key elements of development, the job isn’t complete and the equipment will never reach its full potential until you put it through its paces on the water and subject it to various conditions, especially challenging conditions,” says Tyson Schey, technical project manager for Cummins Recreational and Light Commercial Marine.

I visited Cummins’ global headquarters for marine sales, marketing and engineering in Charleston, South Carolina, primarily to try its new Inboard Joystick. It’s an inboard-based helm control that works with a bow thruster or bow and stern thrusters.

The thrusters play a crucial role in the value of the product because they were specially designed for extended running time — as much as three times longer than conventional thrusters, according to Cummins. Introduced at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, the Cummins Inboard Joystick can be used with four Cummins diesels: the QSB6.7 (250-550 hp), QSC8.3 (500-600 hp), QSL9 (285-410 hp) and the QSM11 (300-715 hp). All of these engines meet EPA Tier III emissions standards.

Carver and Sea Ray say they want to make the joystick an option on some models. In fact, a 51-foot Sea Ray 510 Fly with the Cummins system was on display at the Miami show.

“Cummins Inboard Joystick was developed as a system, applied as a system and serviced as a system,“ says strategy and marketing leader Robert Mirman. “We are the only ones … who can say that. We think that is of great value to the customers. More broadly, we want to increase our non-engine options, and the joystick is a good example of that. We want to look at other complementary systems that we can add to our engines.”

I tested the joystick on Cummins’ test boat docked on the Stono River at Ross Marine. The boat is a former express cruiser — Cummins removed the superstructure, installed a flush deck and installed a center console. Nothing fancy construction-wise — just plywood, fiberglass and resin. Everything was done for the sake of practical testing. The boat’s nickname is Worst Case Scenario because engineers install the poorest sizes and types of equipment for testing, subjecting the boat to extreme conditions. For instance, a wooden box was placed over the bow thruster to turn up the heat.

The boat was powered with twin 715-hp QSM11 diesels with deep-ratio ZF transmissions. What makes Worst Case Scenario so valuable is the ability to modify it. About 28,000 pounds of configurable ballast tankage allows the displacement to vary from 38,000 to 66,000 pounds, says Cummins customer engineer Jack Funkhouser. Fore and aft sails increase windage to simulate the superstructure of a trawler or motoryacht. This flexible platform also carries three bow thrusters, one stern thruster and five battery banks for testing purposes.

Cummins engineers invited me to test the Inboard Joystick for as long as I wanted. I played around with the boat just outside the marina in a swift current for about 45 minutes. I’ve tested joysticks linked to pods, sterndrives and outboards. I have also used other inboard propulsion systems with joysticks and, of course, the Hinckley jetboats with their patented joysticks. The Cummins system commanded the boat with authority, moving Worst Case Scenario forward, in reverse and sideways.

The boat spins by rotating the knob on top of the joystick. The knob and the joystick work smoothly together when both are called into action simultaneously. The Stono River current was ripping with an outgoing tide — perfect for joystick testing. I was even able to walk the boat sideways, albeit slowly, with the current running into the hull side.

Engineers were eager for my feedback. I told them I noticed some resistance when I pushed the joystick toward the corners. They explained that this tension was intentional. Springs push the joystick out of the corners because that’s where the propulsion power is least effective. Apart from that peculiarity, I thought the system worked very well. I moved the boat into its slip against and with the current, and also sided up with the dock that capped the two rows of slips.

FLIR’s Raymariner

Raymariner, a 42-foot Hardy, is rigged with Raymarine and FLIR equipment for on-water testing.

A week after visting Cummins, I was in England and stepping aboard FLIR Maritime’s test boat, the Hardy 42 Raymariner with twin 470-hp MAN diesels. The semidisplacement trawler is built in England, and FLIR has used it for testing for several years. She can get up to about 27 knots, but her most economical speed is about 8 to 10 knots.

Six testing stations in the pilothouse each have a large flat panel where at least two multifunction displays and instrument screens are mounted. I asked product assurance engineer Drew Gorman how many GPS units were on board: 25. This is serious stuff. Raymariner also was fitted with six radar antennas, a few dozen MFDs from 5.7 to 19 inches, five autopilots, four AIS units, three fixed-mount VHF radios, and 20 through-hull transducers. The transducers are mounted athwartships in four rows.

The boat also has “moonpool” panels. These are hull bottom sections that can be removed while the boat is in the marina so through-hull transducers can be fitted without lifting the boat, says Raymarine product support manager Derek Gilbert. “This allows us to test multiple transducers at the same time and gives maximum flexibility,” he says.

Raymariner’s systems are isolated from the test systems to ensure that the skipper always has full control. For example, Raymariner’s helm was set up with an Evolution autopilot, and multiple parallel systems enables comparisons of test autopilots and software, as well as drive units.

FLIR Maritime provides Raymariner with a crew of nine testers who log at least 1,000 hours on the water annually during product trials off the south coast of England. “She’s a very good sea boat with good bow flare,“ says Gilbert. “She has a design displacement of 12 tons but has a lot of extra electrical gear, including generators, inverters and a massive bank of additional batteries to support all the test gear and the engineers’ laptops.”

All test equipment is mounted inside the pilothouse, except for antennas and FLIR thermal-imaging cameras. The flybridge helm station holds the electronics that the boat uses to operate. I sat in the companion seat on the flybridge as Gilbert piloted Raymariner off Cowes, a seaport on the Isle of Wight. I also chatted with Gorman, who joined us as we headed toward a wreck to try the Raymarine CP100 CHIRP sonar.

Gorman says an important component of his work is ensuring that the software is up to spec and meets standards and requirements. Raymariner runs as far as 60 miles offshore to test equipment, including sonar in deep water, Gorman adds.

There are six testing stations in Raymariner's pilothouse.

I noticed that the Evolution autopilot was used constantly, with Gilbert only taking the helm when he was maneuvering over wrecks. “It‘s so easy to use, so reliable and can hold a course far better than I ever can, even in the short, sharp swells,” he says. “I have to confess that I and the other skippers on board use the pilot extensively.”

Raymariner spends most of her days at sea, and the long hours can be tiring, so an accurate and reliable pilot is essential, says Gilbert. “Since the EVO was installed, we have become quite attached to him and as a trusted crewmate — he never even answers back.”

Raymarine also rounded up five private boats for the press event, which were docked at the Royal Southern Yacht Club in Hamble. I jumped on a 30-foot Cheetah power cat with twin 300-hp Suzukis and a Prestige 500 — a sport cruiser from Beneteau — with Volvo Penta IPS600s. On the Prestige, Raymarine installed its EV-2 drive-by-wire Evolution autopilot, some of the latest in technology and innovation from the company. The Prestige also had a FLIR T400 thermal-imaging camera, as well as a CP100 sonar module, four MFDs — three e125s and one e127 — and a high-definition color radar.

In addition to Raymariner, the company works with the owners of 60 private vessels — commercial and recreational — around the world who test Raymarine products. Test vessels include sailboats, convertibles, express cruisers, center consoles, RIBs, power cats and trawlers. The boats are picked intentionally in a range of locations and conditions, says Pope. For example, Singapore, with its heavy boat traffic, is ideal for AIS and radar testing, he says.

“It all comes down to on-the-water use,” says Gilbert, who has worked for Raymarine for 27 years. “We’ll take out Raymariner in conditions up to Force 7. We generally won’t go out in Force 8, but if we’re already out there, we’ll stay out.”

Now that’s real-world testing.

August 2014 issue