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Furuno/Signet get it right…

Following on from my previous post on the growing monopoly power in the marine electronics industry and its impact on consumer choice I though I would illustrate my arguments using the excellent new releases from the Furuno/Signet empire.

Firstly, make no mistake the Furuno/Signet empire is going to make a very significant impact on the marine industry, and I think in the short to medium term at least this will be a good thing judging by the quality of their strategic thinking and their product launches so far.

Last year MaxSea launched the brilliant TimeZero software that I reviewed extensively in my 7 part series on Optimal Routing. Now (February 2011) Nobeltec has released its Trident software. Two product launches from two different companies that have loyal and extensive customer bases. You may recall that the Nobeltec customer base was irate and despondent when Nobeltec was sold off by Jeppesen in 2009 to Signet – they thought that was the end – but it was not so. The Furuno-Signet team are smart! Instead of alienating thousands of customers they have wowed them all with two brilliant bits of software….and by doing this by re-using fundamental components much like the big car manufacturers do. This technique means that products can be made with greater standardisation and therefore reliability, be enhanced more easily, and produce greater return on investment thereby attracting increased future investment.

Structure_1So it looks like the design of a modern chart plotting software systems should look something like this:

At the time of the release of the Nobeltec Trident software in February there were dozens of press releases being repeated all over the blogosphere and marine industry mags that went on and on about this feature and that feature.

Take this quote from Nobeltec PR ”…Trident will be the most dynamic, cutting-edge PC-based navigation software available. Built on the innovative TimeZero chart engine, Trident offers a completely new, sophisticated user interface designed to be extremely intuitive and easy to use. The chart engine redraws charts seamlessly allowing users to easily zoom, pan, change chart display modes, and perform other chart handling functions without limited range presets. Users can choose to pan and zoom the chart to any angle at any range scale instantly. There is no limited "3D mode" because Nobeltec TimeZero Trident operates in a true 3D environment at all times….” etc etc…

I am sure you can all remember the press releases for MaxSea TZ from 2008/9….Doesn’t this sound exactly the same? There is a reason for that.

Structure_Nobeltec

Structure_MaxSea

All the features listed are the exactly the same because they all come from the same library of software functions that the excellent developers at Signet (MaxSea) are responsible for – presumably under the watchful eye of Brice Pryzo.

Only the user interface is different. This should pacify the loyal customer bases of Nobeltec and MaxSea while allowing innovation from the competing development teams at MaxSea and Nobeltec. The user interface can diverge and have different novel ideas added while maintaining a high degree of reliability and maintainability through the use of the same fundamental software libraries. In fact when you install MaxSea TZ on a PC – and I guess the same is true of Nobeltec Trident – you also install a heck of a lot of Microsoft database software and other Microsoft support libraries too – many Gb’s in fact! so make sure you have plenty of disc space. This is the way to make critical software more reliable and yet to allow for developers to innovate with the user interface. This is a great strategy.

Yes I do know that MaxSea has other software on the market at the same time (Navigator; Racing PRO; X7; Commander; Explorer; Professional) and so does Nobeltec (Nobeltec VNS and Nobeltec v12). Well there is plenty of room for all these products and one will suit a particular sailor more than another.

For me it has to be software based on the TimeZero technology however. Having used it extensively last year on sail yacht; power boat; and a 55ft steel coaster sailing from Liverpool to Lowestoft, I do think it is far more friendly, and the ability to instantly switch between vector and raster charts is fantastic.

I am convinced that this is the technology strategy that will win the day ….. it is so reminiscent of Windows v CPM from the 1980’s PC industry – no contest.

Now what I would like to see is Fugawi joining forces – and bringing its X-Traverse and Avia Instrument Interface into the game…now that really would be a basis for some fantastic products!

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Glass bridge or Glass House?

When you look at the recent product launches of companies such as Navico, Flir, Garmin, Furuno and Signet SA Group, its fun to try and pick out their strategic intentions. Keep in mind that Flir own Raymarine, and Furuno Electric Company is a significant shareholder of Signet S.A. who in turn own MaxSea, Nobeltec, and Mapmedia. Navico own the B&G, Eagle, Northstar, Lowrance, and Simrad brands! Jeppesen is a subsidiary of Boeing Commercial Aviation Services and sold Nobeltec to Signet a couple of years ago and appears now to concentrate on its C-Map chart development

We appear to be edging ever closer towards a complete glass bridge system – even on sailing boats. This concept not only means that instruments can be portrayed in a myriad of forms; combined with each other in a myriad of ways; but they can be displayed on any device that will accept the NMEA2000 protocol and run the appropriate software – so that means flat panel displays; handheld devices like iPads; smartphone like iPhone or Android based phones – and who knows what next – all sharing data in real time!

The glass bridge concept also allows the integration of disparate systems such as navigation instruments and data; fishfinding data; other instrumentation such as engine data; multimedia entertainment; and onboard cameras and even internet browsing/email and so on.

One essential prerequisite for the concept to work is fast data networking, and so the marine industry has, as you know, started to implement the Ethernet standard for networking and leave the old NMEA0183 behind. Well, as you probably also know, the certain marine suppliers have been up to their old tricks and have decided to implement non standard versions of NMEA2000 – sigh.

Lets pretend for a moment that NMEA2000 is implemented well. Then being able to share data between devices like iPhones and Chart Plotters and engine monitors should be as easy as plugging in a cable and installing the appropriate device driver – as you would on your laptop with a USB device – and we all know that that always works too!

GlassBridge_Strategy

 

So what we have here is a wonderful concept – but, the suppliers are all determined to provide their own fully integrated portfolios of hardware, cabling/connectors, interfaces, and software so that there is as little chance of interoperability as possible.

 

I don’t hold out much hope that the marine industry will ever agree on, and maintain standards – why should they? That would only reduce their market share and increase competition.

This was exactly the position in the PC market place in the 80’s,  before Microsoft really started to wield monopoly power and, as an unintended consequence of their actions, brought some degree of standardisation to the PC industry – I said “some” Smile

I thought I would try and represent the supply chain and the real companies behind the product developments that we are seeing:

As you can see and IMHO, there are relatively few companies that really control the trends and the innovation in the marine electronics market place. The multiplicity of brands will continue simply to give the poor boater the feeling that there is real choice.

The recent announcement that Nobeltec’s Trident software is based on TimeZero technology – the same technology that is the foundation of MaxSea software – shows how their holding company can squeeze as much competitive advantage as they  can from their innovation. Who can blame them for that.

Let’s just hope that we don’t end up with a Microsoft of the marine business – the promise would be components that all fit and work harmoniously together – the reality may be quite different…CTRL-ALT-DEL Smile

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Cordless Canoe Challenge..

imageIf you are in the UK you may well have been stopped from getting on with the odd jobs list on your boat by the horrible weather. Well here is something you may like to consider … why not enter the Water Craft Cordless Canoe Challenge which will see competitors racing canoes powered only by old power tools!

Inspired by a suggestion from Donna Hatchett, the Beale Park Marketing Manager and with the support of Makita, the leading manufacturer of power tools and the Electric Boat Association …“The plan is to encourage amateur and professional hobbyist boat builders to gather together all those discarded old cordless tools and with a bit of ingenuity, if not persuasion, invent a craft that is capable of completing the course in record time,” says Kevin Brannigan, Marketing Manager at Makita UK.

Competitors must take a canoe, which you are welcome to build yourself, and propel it solely through the use of power tools! Provided they remain under 5m inimage length, crafts can be modified in any way you like. Suggestions include using a drill to drive a prop shaft or a Thai-style long-tail rig. Or how about Jigsaws that waggle diving flippers seal-style, or an angle grinder with fan attachment?

To make the whole Challenge more about invention than buying power, the cordless tools must use the batteries they were supplied with – we’ll provide recharging facilities between races – and their total equivalent new value should not be more than £400. Some readers will be regular viewers of Scrapheap Challenge on TV. Others may have visited Power Tool Drag Racing. I should stress right here that our Cordless Canoe Challenge will have few similarities with either. Our primary aim is to avoid the horrendous health and safety issues of a testosterone-fuelled phalanx of badly controlled craft rampaging between other boats on the lake. Ours will be a much more relaxed event, more like the electric equivalent of the umbrella skiff races at the Trad Boat Rally. Thus we propose a knockout tournament between pairs of boats drawn by lot. Their course will likely be an out-and-back dogleg around two buoys, with some hopefully exciting action around the turning mark right in front of the beer tent. This turning mark will necessitate entrants being able to slow their boat down and make a proper steering system essential…

This competition is sponsored by Makita and takes place on 10-12th June at this year’s Beale Park Boat show at Reading, UK.

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How to crimp!..

 

CrimpingI had an email from a reader asking me about one of the links over here on the right hand sidebar under “Useful Info” – and it reminded me to look at some of my links again!…

One of the links that I just loved is from an author who goes by the handle “mainecrusing”. He has numerous “HowTo” pages here. There are lots of photos for each job and I have certainly found them very helpful – check out the one on crimping tools for example.

…”In this photo I have lined up some of my wire crimper’s. The one on the far left IS NOT A CRIMPER! I only say this because I have witnessed people putting together marine terminations with a pair of PLIERS!!

The next crimper, the one with the yellow handles, is a cheap hardware store quality crimper and should only ever be used in an absolute emergency.

The middle crimper is a decent quality Klein crimper though it’s not really well suited for much other than crimping non-insulated terminals. The fourth crimper is a good quality crimper, made by Ancor Products, and designed specifically for crimping marine or aviation grade heat shrink terminations. The jaws of this crimper are precision machined, and wide enough in cross section, to produce an excellent crimp. This crimper is also of the ratcheting type and will not release until a proper crimp has been made. The final crimper shown is another ratcheting type crimper but this one, set up with the jaws shown, is designed for insulated terminals. ….”

Mainecrusing also has a YouTube video channel although that appears to be of less help since he seems averse to actually speaking. He is obviously quite a guy – this link shows him replacing a diesel engine on his yacht – single handed!

On a related note to the “howto” of crimping is the issue of keeping joints clean and free of corrosion – perhaps one of the hundreds of connections that you didn’t do or that some “professional” did when the installed your chart plotter or radar …grrrr!

This is a list of techniques and products that you might consider:

  • Tin the wire – if you can access it and have enough spare wire to play with
  • Coat the joint with Vaseline or petroleum jelly – after cleaning the corrosion off with emery paper
  • Spray the joint with Conformal Coating – again, after cleaning if possible

Or use one of the combination grease + conductive materials type pastes :-

 

Wiring supplierFinally there are many obvious places to go to get electrical supplies – and many of us – me included have bought stuff in car accessory shops to save money. This eBay supplier – Genuinedealz – seems to have a lot of good feedback from people- they ship free in the USA and UPS to the UK.

Genuinedealz actually stock real marine grade parts, tinned wire, lugs, tools and is also a great place to compare the electrical properties of wire and accessories before you jump in and buy something.

Happy Crimping !

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Active Captain Bargain for Cyber Monday 2010….

MaxSea Ad

Not to be outdone by the many online deals going on today, MaxSea and Furuno have teamed up with a great deal of their own, a rebate on purchases of MaxSea Time Zero Navigator software.

If you purchase MaxSea Time Zero Navigator between October 27, 2010 and March 15, 2011, they will provide a $100 rebate. You must fill out and return the rebate form. The rebate form can be downloaded here.

With this rebate, the effective price of getting the full software with all US NOAA charts (vector and raster, 3D data, satellite imagery) and ActiveCaptain offline overlay support is only $239.

There is no one who offers a lower price for this product and it’s now $100 less.

Order it at Active Captain

 

But – be careful – The MaxSea TZ Navigator (about $350) is not the same as MaxSea TZ Explorer (about $1,000)….and neither are the same as MazSea Navigator 12.6 !! ($400)

For non TimeZero software see this comparison chart – and for TimeZero software see here.

I have been using MazSea TZ Navigator with the routing and weather options all last season  and I planned on writing up my findings – but – well time has eluded me….er, having too much fun!

 

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