Monday, November 23, 2009

The angry wrathful technology gods at work (Click pic for a better view)

This is a case of the angry gods at work. This box is connected to sealed rubber covered switch pads on the dash, and is programmed to turn on chartplotters, stereos, pumps, and all of the other things on the boat. The boat is four years old now, and the box has failed, taking the operation of 16 pieces of equipment with it.

The box was made by Carling, who sold, or transfered it to another company. They promptly redesigned it, and discontinued production of the original box. There are no spare parts, no programmers for it, no wiring diagrams, no nothing period. The only option here is to remove the digital pads from the console, cover the holes with a overlay panel, and install 16 switches. Actually there is another box that controlled another 8 switches, so you might as well do all 24 switches at the same time. The boat builder feels bad about it, but can't do anything about it. It would have been cheaper to build the boat with 24 switches in the first place. Sometimes simple is best in a highly corrosive salt water environment.

Why does my new boat have obsolete equipmnt?

Avarice, poor decisions, and or acts of the angry wrathful technology gods are why I often see obsolete equipment on a new boat. How does this happen? I will pose a scenario that will explain how it happens, but it is still inexcusable that it happens at all in most cases.

Greed, or greed coupled with ignorance creates the biggest source of obsolete equipment, and here is how it can happen. The Chartomatic chartplotter company designs its new version 7 Chartomatic system (It won’t have any of the problems of the earlier Chartomatic version 6), and they start to manufacture them. Some one in Chartomatic’s management team notes the obvious that there are still 2000 Chartomatic version 6 units still in the warehouse, and they direct sales to discount these units, and sell them off quickly. Eager salesmen visit the boat builders, and tell them, "Have I got a deal for you, Chartomatic version 6 units are now half price for a limited time only". Limited time is only for as long as they have the units in stock. The boat builder says, "This is a good deal and we will buy 300 systems". Chartomatic ships the now obsolete systems, the builder installs the now obsolete systems, and sends the boats to the dealers who sell the boats with now obsolete systems.

Now I could say that the Chartomatic salesman did not bother to tell the boat builder that the systems are now obsolete, thus taking the blame off the boat builders, but I believe that the boat builders see an opportunity to get some additional margin out of a business that operates on razor thin margins. I have seen dealer invoices for the installed obsolete equipment that reflect the original full MSRP price, and not the discounted price the builder paid. Even worse, the buyer is usually not told the equipment on his new boat is no longer being made.

This happens with not only the Chartomatic systems, but often with other equipment of the vessel such as TV’s, microwave ovens, stereo equipment, and other related gear. I have recently been on brand new boats that had TV’s that don’t have digital tuners in them. You would have been hard pressed to go to a big box electronics store two years ago, and find a TV that didn’t have a digital tuner, and so the TV’s being installed were bought earlier, and were already obsolete when they were purchased at "Such a deal for you Mr Boatbuilder".

The boat buyer is hurt in several ways here. Not only is the equipment no longer being made, but he or she has been robbed of the time available to have the equipment repaired if it fails. All manufacturers will stop repairing the old gear at some point due non available parts, or to push customers into newer equipment. The replacement of a simple TV in a boat can be an expensive, and tedious task. You have to find a TV with the same exterior dimensions (The original TV is no longer being made), remove the old set, which is often difficult (When reason fails, force prevails). The mounts on the back of the TV’s are never in the same place, power has to be un-harnessed and new power pulled back in, and the story goes on.

Now all of this being said, in a few years of ownership, all of these problem will eventually present themselves anyway, but boat builders should not try to speed this problem up at the owners expense.

The wrathful technology gods do often play a role in this problem. Boat builders can buy the latest gear available, and six months later the manufacturer is out of business due to any number of conditions. This is certainly statistically more likely if the equipment is on the "Bleeding edge of technology". In the posting above, there is a photo of equipment that is on a four year old boat that can’t be repaired, is no longer made, and the work around fix will cost as much as the original equipment. The gods have spoketh.

Things in progress include proprietary equipment and systems, why good people made poor boat buying decisions,  the huge connector divorces the tiny pull hole, and my tech support kudos.

The old marine radio photo was taken by Wikimedia user Korrigan.