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Talkin’ boats with Andrew C. Teich CEO, FLIR Systems

You might find some of the most sophisticated marine electronics on a few small boats on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. That’s where Andrew C. Teich, CEO of FLIR Systems, the Wilsonville, Ore.-based manufacturer of thermal imaging devices and owner of Raymarine, does his boating.

Andrew C. Teich

He tests products on a 28-foot Cobalt bowrider, a 31-foot mahogany Hacker-Craft retro commuter and a 12-foot RIB. Teich, 53, who has worked for FLIR since 1984, took over last May after serving as president of commercial systems since 2010.

Teich and his wife, Laurie, and their three children — Taylor, 12, Carter, 13, and Alec, 17 — spend nine months in Portland, Ore., and summers on Lake Winnipesaukee, where Teich as a boy became enamored with boats. He loves to restore cars, too, and recently completed an upgrade of a 1960 Eldorado.

Teich grew up in Wayland, Mass., just north of Boston, and he worked in an auto body shop to help pay for college. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Arizona State University and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

Q: Law enforcement used a FLIR product to locate a fugitive in the Boston Marathon tragedy. You must be proud of that.

FLIR technology located the Boston Marathon bomber hiding in a shrink-wrapped boat.

A: It was huge for us. Not only am I a native of the area, we also have about 400 employees in that region with two factories and many people who were participating in the marathon, so to see that brought to a safe conclusion using our technology was great and particularly that our technology had the capability to see through the cover on that boat. It had one of the white shrink-wrapped covers on it, which is opaque visibly. It turns out that polyethylene material is transmissive to IR.

Q: What equipment specifically did the Massachusetts State Police use?

A: The Massachusetts State Police helicopter has one of our Star Safire III thermal imaging cameras on it, a fairly high-end, stabilized gimbal that we sell for military and paramilitary applications.

Q: What new products from FLIR might our readers be interested in?

A: In marine, the latest introduction is our new MD-Series, which is our low-cost, fixed thermal dome camera that we launched back at the 2013 Miami boat show. It has been doing very well. The new product looks better; it’s easier to install; has a rich feature set; is available in 320 and 240 resolutions; and has Ethernet connectivity. Its lower price point gives more boaters the opportunity to see the power of thermal imaging. Also, we’ve been working on a technology for the past three years to develop a new thermal imaging camera core that would be considerably less expensive. When that technology comes to fruition we’ll be able to pull harder on the price lever and pass along the savings to the boaters. The technology should be ready in 2014.

Q: What type and size boats is that product a good fit for?

A: There are two classes. For those interested in the lower price point, you would see it going on boats 25 feet and up. The other class would be non-planing boats, like trawlers, where the angle of the vessel doesn’t change significantly through its power curve. The other area we are seeing it being used is in boats with multiple thermal imaging devices. Those are very large vessels. They are being used for security as well as navigation.

Q: What’s the most popular FLIR product in the marine market?

A: It’s still the handheld thermal imaging camera, the First Mate, because it offers a lower price, at $2,000. Mounted cameras are not far behind the handheld in popularity. In fact, it’s almost 50/50. I think the reason for that is we have increasing numbers of boats and engine companies embracing the concept of having thermal imaging as part of the marine electronics suite. We saw this type of advancement years ago when GPS rolled onto boats, when radar and sonar rolled onto boats. Prices came down as awareness went up. We’re leading that trend at FLIR. The factors that are driving thermal imaging are, No. 1, it works. When people get it, they like it. I have never had a boater come back and say, “I bought one of your thermal imagers, and I’m unhappy with it.” The second is its ease of use. If you can watch TV, you can use thermal imaging — not true of other technologies. Even a simple GPS, radar or sonar unit presents the data in a way we don’t typically see in our everyday lives.

Q: What was thermal imaging technology like two decades ago?

A: I can go back further than that. In 1984, which was when I started, there were three major differences. First, the equipment was a lot larger. Back then, the contents of what I travel with in my briefcase today would have required four or five suitcases of equipment. Second, there were no focal plane detectors at that time. All of the cameras had a single infrared detector that was mechanically scanned. They were noisy, heavy and not very reliable. You had multiple mirrors spinning and flipping at high speeds to create a TV-compatible image.

The final difference, which is a big one, is that the detectors required cooling, which could only be accomplished with argon gas or liquid nitrogen. The latter was the type I was involved in, so you literally had to pour the nitrogen into the top of the camera into what was like a tiny Thermos bottle inside, and it would run for about two hours. And, of course, you couldn’t turn the camera upside down.

The pictures and resolution weren’t bad. The image resolution has probably improved by a factor of two. The sensitivity factor is about four times better, so you get a highly sensitive picture with little noise.

Q: Are most boaters aware of thermal imaging technology?

A: The awareness is increasing but still too low. Broad-scale thermal-imaging use depends on price and awareness. They kind of go hand in hand, and we’re investing in both.

Q: How do you spread the word?

A: Marketing. We spend considerably in this area. Plus exposure for the products through installations looms large. We have a mantra: “One camera in every harbor.” If we can do that, we’ll have a seeding point to communicate the benefits because we know the owners will have good experiences and talk about them. We need to continue to build exposure in other markets. It’s not uncommon for someone to become familiar with FLIR technology in the military or law enforcement or other field and then bring that interest to boating somehow. Here is an example: I was walking down the dock at a boat show wearing a FLIR hat, and a guy said, “Hey I know FLIR. I use one of your cameras in my contracting business.”

Q: Can you tell us what’s new with Raymarine?

Teich's 31-foot 2008 Hacker-Craft has a Raymarine e9 display that can be hidden with a flip-down wooden panel.

A: Starting with the [multifunction display] line, there are two major entries. The first is at the lowest end of the product range — the DragonFly, which is designed for the freshwater fishing community. It features our DownVision imaging capability. We also launched our a7X Series of MFDs, which are touch-only variants of our e-Series. They offer pinch-to-zoom capability, a sharp-looking industrial design, and they’re easy to use and feature our LightHouse user interface.

Our Evolution autopilot is new. It uses modern aerospace technology with a multi-axis gyro that gives real-time feedback of all of the motions — pitch, roll and yaw — and has compass input so it basically self-calibrates the autopilot, which has been a problem with autopilots. They are generally designed for one hull type, and if you put them on a different hull type, the boat doesn’t act the way you expect it to in terms of the way it corners and accelerates.

The last thing is we just launched the ninth version of our LightHouse user interface. There are major changes to it, so we are calling it LightHouse II. It really steps up the ease of use and functionality of our entire MFD family and is available as a free upgrade for our users. The charts are maintained by NOAA and updated regularly, so you’re going right to the core source for data.

Q: The integration of marine electronics has picked up speed. How are Raymarine and FLIR making sure that propulsion and piloting systems can talk to your products?

A: That’s critically important to us because we realize the control of propulsion and steering systems is important. We have two big advances toward this: the introduction of the Evolution autopilot, and the other area is on our engine control device, the ECI-100, which takes the data from the engine and allows it to be displayed on your MFD. It interprets the messages from Volvo and Yamaha and various other engines. It also taps into the drive-by-wire steering systems, such as Volvo Penta’s IPS.

Q: What are consumers looking for in their navigation systems?

A: They want to answer a few basic questions. Where am I? That is answered with GPS. What is out there? Answered by radar and thermal imaging. How deep is the water, and where are the fish? Sonar technology handles that. And could you help me get there? Engine controls and autopilot solve this. Answering those four key questions helps boaters avoid problems and enjoy boating more.

Q: Is there a point where conventional dials and switches and buttons are better than touch screens?

A: Yes, there are two. When you get a touch screen wet, they don’t perform well, so in an outdoor setting in adverse weather you can get into a bind with a touch screen that starts acting goofy. The other is when you’re in rough water — it’s pretty difficult to deal with a touch screen. Raymarine has HybridTouch, where you have both touch screen and knob control.

Q: What are FLIR’s long-term goals?

A: To much more deeply integrate the features of video into marine electronics because today that is a fairly nascent technology in boating. We believe there are more roles for thermal imaging than just looking in front of the boat, such as security, control and alarming. The goal is to outfit boats of the future with a network of cameras on board used for security, for recording of memories and activities on the boat, and for control.

Q: You know a lot about your products. What do you do to stay on top of things?

A: I’ve always been a technology and product-oriented person. I love the technology. I always evaluate ours and our competitors’ — that’s what I do in my free time. For example, if you were to look in my son’s 12-foot RIB you’d see three GPS units mounted across the dash. I use the RIB as a testing platform to compare our product with two of our biggest competitors. So it has a Raymarine DragonFly, a Navico unit and a Garmin unit on it. I also get feedback from my kids on the products — a 13-year-old comes back with different observations than a 53-year-old.

Q: How did you get into boating?

It's easy to see why Teich's pride and joy is his mahogany Hacker-Craft.

A: When I was about 12 or 13, at Lake Winnipesaukee there was a fellow working on a boat at the dock. I loved to work on engines, and I was bored, so I went over and struck up a conversation, and he let me help him out. He was doing some basic servicing of the boat, like changing the oil, plugs and so on. He took a liking to me, and at one point he said, “Are you interested in a boat motor?” I said, sure, where is it? He pointed out over the water. His grandson had lost it — it had fallen off the boat and was sitting on the bottom of the lake.It was a 7.5-hp Sears-built Ted Williams 2-stroke. I cleaned it up and got the corrosion out of it, put rings and bearings in it, and rebuilt the carburetor. That was my first boating experience.

Q: What are the boats you have owned?

A: The 7.5 engine was on a 12-foot Ted Williams Game Fisherman skiff. Then I had a 1970 16-foot MFG with a 40-hp Johnson twin on it when I was in high school. I ended up putting a car interior in it. That was the drill. I bought something broken and fixed it and rebuilt it.

I owned two Checkmates — 16-foot and 22-foot — in my daring go-fast years. Ever since then I have been a Cobalt guy. This summer I sold my 25-foot Cobalt and bought another Cobalt — an A-28. In the Cobalt, I had them deliver a blank dash, and I mounted the gauges and a new Raymarine a78. I have to say it is a beautiful installation.

Q: You have one other boat — your prized possession.

A: A31-foot Hacker-Craft, a mahogany boat. And, of course, it has a big Raymarine e9 display, plus a flip-down panel I customized for the dashboard. I can flip it up out of the way and make the boat look like 1929, or I can flip it down and it has the Raymarine display in it. I also converted the 1920 chrome spotlight. I pulled the guts out and put a thermal imager in it. It still looks vintage, though. The Hacker is a 2008; it is a 1929 sport hull with slanted transom and single Crusader 8.1 HO engine.

February 2014 issue