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Tested: Raymarine aSeries MFD

The frozen Raymarine aSeries MFD had almost finished a two-day low temperature test, but that was only the beginning of its suffering. Next it had to run another two days in a high-temperature cabinet with 85 percent relative humidity, followed by 19 more days of torture as part of Raymarine’s ERT (Early Reliability Test) Qualification Process.
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The frozen Raymarine aSeries MFD had almost finished a two-day low temperature test, but that was only the beginning of its suffering. Next it had to run another two days in a high-temperature cabinet with 85 percent relative humidity, followed by 19 more days of torture as part of Raymarine’s ERT (Early Reliability Test) Qualification Process.

The venue for this cruelty-to-electronics extravaganza was Raymarine’s R&D center in Fareham, England. Some of the testing was difficult to see in action, like the intense, Red Sea-level sun, humidity and spray simulated within the Q-Sun Xe-3 Xenon Chamber. (Although I did think of how little the RD418HD radome on Gizmo’s mast has faded since I began testing it in 2009.) Similarly, they couldn’t safely show us what happens in the Near Lightning Strike (NLS) closet. I doubt Raymarine can prevent all forms of lightning damage, but I am glad they are seeking out all fixable weaknesses. Meanwhile, 550 pounds of salt tablets stacked along a hallway suggested how the salty fog chamber reaches Icelandic levels.

The shock and vibration testing was especially dramatic. At the time of our visit a new a12 MFD on the shaker table was undergoing a protracted sine sweep with the computer graphing the vibration of both the table and the display. Frequencies that cause harmonic reactions stand out so either the MFD mount can be modified or the device tested further with the more difficult vibes. Chris Landry, of Soundings Trade Only, videoed this test and another with a nasty machine that whacks screens and other parts with precisely measured blows.

Chris’s video also shows the water jet and spray booth, which is the last stop for devices that have been frozen, baked, vibrated, etc. Apparently, testing to IP (ingress prevention) standards should be done with “aged” equipment. And besides, according to Raymarine’s director of engineering, Gordon Pope, they test beyond IPX6 and 7 standards, because the ultimate goal is to avoid major warranty issues. He noted, for instance, how an aged MFD with failed gaskets might survive the IPX6 100-litres-per-minute jet at 100 kPa from 3 meters, because the pressure actually resealed the unit, but the same unit might fail the lesser IPX3 spray test.

In the photo at the top of this page, Pope is explaining one of Raymarine’s several EMI (electromagnetic interference) test chambers to some of the other visiting journalists. The sounder module on the table, which is powered up and receiving transducer data, is being targeted with EMI that might emanate from other gear on a boat, while the test engineers use that white camera to watch what happens on the screen of a networked MFD that is on the floor. 

The module will also spend time in a chamber that looks very similar, except that a receive-only antenna will measure any EMI the sonar throws off, so hopefully it passes whatever government standards it’s meant to meet.

As a side note, while I was touring the facility, I found myself thinking back to FLIR’s acquisition of Raymarine a couple of years ago and what may have been some of the drivers behind the decision. One conclusion I reached was that FLIR (and Garmin, which also made a bid) clearly saw value well beyond the brand name and distribution network. In fact, while the R&D facility in Fareham may be relatively new, Raymarine’s engineering and marine culture stretches back to its Autohelm days. The engineers there clearly know what they are doing and what works and doesn’t work out on the water.

I’ll close with a bigger thought. My visit to Raymarine impressed me a lot, but I also saw some excellent R&D science and cadence when I visited Garmin a few years ago. I once characterized Navico as “firing on all cylinders” (which still seems true), and would now say the same of Raymarine. I have also long admired Furuno with its powerhouse hardware developers in Japan and software team in France. We live in a good time for marine electronics, people!

For more of Ben Ellison’s insights into marine electronics, go to panbo.com

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