Engines 19 February 2019
Electronics on board aren’t limited to what you see on the display on the dashboard, but also and above all the integrated electronics of everything in the engine room: explains what is happening in this world Carlo Belloni by Volvo Penta
by Niccolò Volpati
It is a statement that has become so obvious that it is hardly necessary to repeat it: electronics are increasingly important on board. And they are no longer restricted to the dashboard, moving on to the engine room. It was predictable. Electronics help simplify life on board, but they are mainly useful to control engines and devices. Look back, purely mechanical engines feel prehistorical, as do the semi-electronic ones from the beginning of the 1990s.
Largely because of CAN Bus systems and communications protocols, engines have been intercommunicating with the rest of the boat and everything that is inside it for some time now. Volvo Penta is one of the first producers to have supported this trend. «Electronics play a part from getting into gear, to acceleration and including mooring», Carlo Belloni explains.
IPS engines have had electronic steering gear since 2005, the stern drives use electro-hydraulics and, starting from a year ago, the same technology is also applied to the Swedish firm’s on-board motors.
The aim is to make sailing ever easier, both to bring new owners into the nautical world, and also because owners are likely not be professional sailors spending twelve months a year on board, and instead are only on board a few weeks at the most. So Easy Boating, in terms of steering, monitoring and driving. And integration.
That is why Volvo Penta made an agreement three years ago with Garmin that led to the creation of the Glass Cockpit, a display showing all the information from the engine. And those data aren’t there on their own, but interface with all the others. That has made it possible to develop functions with Dynamic Position, which means the boat can be fixed at a GPS position.
Once this function has been activated, it is the engines and the manoeuvring propellers which work to hold a position. That is very useful. You just have to think of when you are waiting to refuel near the bunkering quay, perhaps during summer, in a busy harbour. Thanks to electronics and how they are integrated with the engines, you just have to touch the Glass Cockpit display to maintain a given position. Better than a hand brake.
Electronics nowadays can also adjust flaps, the trim, interceptors, the angle of turn of the steering and even manage the batteries and distribute the power requirement load.
The integration of electronics and propulsion has reached a level that was unimaginable a few years ago. Thanks to electronics, the trim adjuster reacts to what the throttles or steering gear do. That makes boats easier to steer, but the motor also gets performance benefits from it. When the trim is perfect, fuel consumption is reduced and the performance improves in terms of speed and acceleration.
And what awaits us in the future? According to Carlo Belloni, the next step will be further integration between engine and generators. It is a requirement for hybrid propulsion. It used to be that an alternator was all one needed, but nowadays, with hybrid motors, a closer connection between generators and propulsion units is called for. Software already exists that can give feedback on an outing, providing the owner and skipper information on how the boat is performing. When less fuel has been used, when more, when emissions have been greater and when less.
And if we let our imagination run wild, Carlo Belloni says:«Perhaps in the future the communication networks won’t need the CAN Bus any longer. In the same way as we now have the smart house, it is likely that boats will follow the same path. So it will no longer be necessary to connect equipment, tools and propulsion units with long and heavy cables for them to communicate with one another».
(Mistress electronics on board? The vision of Volvo Penta – Barchemagazine.com – Dicembre 2018)