Panbo

Distributed Power over N2K, and goodbye E-Plex?

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Apr 30, 2010
Lowrance_HDS10_with_DSS.JPG

This HDS-10 is showing off Lowrance's new relationship with Digital Switching System's distributed power system.  While the interface is NMEA 2000, I think DSS uses its PowerGate 2000 gateway for this purpose, instead of using N2K for its internal network.  But that may not matter, as I understand that DSS uses standard N2K PGNs whenever possible.  In fact, I've seen Krill Systems software working with its gateway and switches just fine.  But that was just a demo, and I suspect that it will be a long time before we see easy, full-featured integration between DP and other boat systems, except by partnership or design... 

For instance, I understand that the BEP CZone system discussed earlier this week uses proprietary N2K messages, so the relationship with Simrad may be quite exclusive.  OctoPlex also uses N2K for its internal networking, but to my knowledge the only "third party" software that interfaces fully with it is N2KView, developed by sister company Maretron.  (Whose own DP products, presumably aimed at smaller vessels than OctoPlex, remain unannounced, though there are lots of reasons to think they're in development.)  And while MasterVolt's new MasterBus N2K gateway (below) enables some interesting features, they don't include the "wow" vessel control screens promised with the NSE/CZone partnership.  My point is that distributed power is tricky stuff, with significant liabilities, and doing much with it on mixed manufacturer N2K networks may be challenging.  But that issue is probably trivial compared to what can happen if the distributed power system itself goes bad, or its manufacturer goes belly up...

MasterVolt_MasterBus_NMEA2000_gateway.JPGLast week ED&D, developers of E-Plex, apparently notified its various boatbuilder clients (like Princess and Coastal Craft) and value added resellers (like Bass and Precision Race Services) that E-Plex production would cease in 30 days.  Most of my phone calls have gone unanswered, but I did talk with a glum-sounding ED&D manager who acknowledged the notification, though adding that there was "more to the story."  I'm still waiting for that, and I'll bet that the folks who own E-Plex systems are particularly anxious to know what's going on.  What about spare parts and warranties, for instance?
   ED&D, whose site still looks very much alive, is actually a tiny company that's been through a rapid succession of ownership.  About the time it developed a marine system, it was acquired by Airpax, which was itself acquired by Sensata two years later.  A year later, in mid 2008, ED&D was sold to the Sorenson Group, which is also known as Wes-Garde.  I don't know if Wes-Garde is giving up on ED&D altogether, but it does seem obvious that it takes deep pockets to build a distributed power brand.  There's a lot to developing the technology, and winning the trust of boatbuilders is a long, slow process.  And what if your system causes problems, as may have happened with E-Plex on certain Sea Rays?  Did law suits precipitate ED&D's surprising announcement?
   I saw an extensive E-Plex system on the stunning Mala Conducta last summer, and I've heard that the owners are happy with it, despite some teething pangs.  But they might be quite upset to learn that they now have an obsolete product controlling most everything on their boat.  Below are just two of gosh-knows how many E-Plex modules on the vessel.  I guess I'd be stock piling all the spare modules I could!  And if this system has to get replaced, not even the network cable is reusable because E-Plex was the only two-wire one on the market.  It's not a good situation, though I'd like to think that all the other distributed power companies mentioned here do indeed have the resources and commitment needed.

E-Plex_lighting_modules_onboard_Mala_Conducta_cPanbo.JPG



Comments

Very disappointing to hear about E-plex. Ever since their introduction the appear to be one of the more flexible systems (still do). But the information on their website, while it does look nice, has not been changed/updated in years. Which leads me to think not much has evolved in their product line. A sure sign of not enough $$ for development, needed for a technology like this in its early days.

Posted by: robert at April 30, 2010 12:55 PM | Reply

I'm very bummed to hear about e-plex. I'm currently having a vintage bus restored and modernized and wanted to use their system. They seemed to have the most evolved yet simple system out there... now I have to do a bunch of research to figure out the best multiplexing system that might survive the econimic slump. Please let me know if you have any up to date info about the alternatives. SavantAV looks to be very elegant for AV control, etc, but I see little about how they have things setup to integrate with engine, generator, tank monitors and other systems.

Posted by: Ben at April 30, 2010 2:20 PM | Reply

It's interesting that not one of the distributed power manufacturers chose Ethernet for networking. Most systems seem to use NMEA 2000, or at least CanBUS, except for E-Plex (proprietary) and Capi2 (RS232, apparently). I thought Ethernet was good for everything ;-)

Posted by: Ben at May 3, 2010 7:05 AM | Reply

Ben, you probably meant to say RS-485 as the underlying tech for Capi2? RS-232 = 1 sender, 1 listener. RS-422 = 1 sender, multiple listeners. RS-485 = multiple senders, multiple listeners. Okay I admit RS-232 brings home the fact that's it a pretty down-to-earth tech a little more...

Posted by: Kees at May 3, 2010 12:39 PM | Reply

You're right, Kees; I got confused. Thanks! It turns out that Capi2 just uses RS232 to communicate between the system and a PC. Apparently the system network is proprietary and only needs a single signal wire (beside 12v plus & minus).

Posted by: Ben at May 3, 2010 4:05 PM | Reply

Wow, 1 wire Ethernet -- cool ;-)

Posted by: Kees at May 4, 2010 12:33 PM | Reply

I talked to Brett M. today. He's the Sales General Manager at ED&D who are the people who make the E-plex system. Here's what I found out:

E-plex is NOT going away. Instead ED&D's largest VAR is taking over distribution of the system. That company is Energy Solutions and is based in the UK (www.Energy-Solutions.co.uk). You can still order parts from the US through June 1st and then there will be a 4-8 week lag time while inventory is transferred to the UK before Energy Solutions will begin fulfilling orders.

I didn't have time to ask about future development (newly designed modules, etc.), but it sounded like the system is by no means "going away".

Posted by: Ben W at May 14, 2010 5:22 PM | Reply

I'm not sure if the deal is as definite as that, Ben W; what I hear is that Energy Solutions may buy ED&D, but may rebrand the technology as a new system. It's also not clear what's going to happen regarding existing warranties.

Meanwhile, on Friday I spoke with the guy who's heading up the NMEA 2000 committee writing distributed power messages. He says the project is making headway, and the day really is in sight when integration like the Lowrance HDS/DSS seen above is common, and even multiple brand distributed power components will be able to work together. If they use N2K for networking, that is (E-Plex doesn't).

Posted by: Ben at May 16, 2010 10:17 AM | Reply

Received this from BASS today to reassure me to proceed with an e-Plex install on my 46' sailboat refit:

PRESS RELEASE (May 26)

"BASS PRODUCTS, LLC is named the first Technical Application Center to support the E-Plex, UK product line. Energy Solutions Company representative Paul Holland announced today the pending purchase of Wes-Garde UK and E-Plex. This move assures the E-Plex product will continue to be supplied by two of its largest users, Energy Solutions Company, UK and BASS PRODUCTS, LLC."

Have to admit, I'm on the fence between using e-Plex with these risks and switching to a simpler Maretron N2K backbone with their sensors. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the comparison and relative risks.

Posted by: Michael at May 28, 2010 1:13 PM | Reply

Does anyone know if Octoplex is shipping product? Since I have N2KView Platinum I theoretically have the ability to control Octoplex breakers. That means all I'd need to buy to get started would be one of their 8-breaker N2K-linked distribution panels and a couple of breakers. If the price weren't insane I might consider doing so just for the experience...

Posted by: Adam at May 28, 2010 2:49 PM | Reply

I'm glad to hear the E-Plex has a new home, but it's too bad the transfer was so chaotic. I also wonder if Energy Solutions has agreed to assume all E-Plex warranty obligations, and if it has the resources to develop E-Plex over the long haul. Bass Products, by the way, was the company that installed E-Plex on the Lyman Morse cat Mala Conducta referenced above. I can't find anything about this deal on either company's site:

http://www.energy-solutions.co.uk
http://www.bassproducts.com

As for Octoplex, it's definitely shipping and is often installed with N2KView as an alternate interface. I'm not sure it lends itself well to small experimental systems, though. For instance, it's designed to use dual NMEA 2000 networks for redundancy. Maretron is pretty shy about discussing future products, but there's little doubt they're working on distributed power for mid-size vessels.

Posted by: Ben at May 28, 2010 8:40 PM | Reply

It should be noted that the Eplex system on the mala conducta was integrated with Offshore Systems fuel and water sensors NMEA 2000. Was an easy fit.

Posted by: Tom at June 22, 2010 8:10 AM | Reply

It was great to see all the concerned comments about the e-Plex sale on your site. The purchase of the E-Plex product line was concluded 3 weeks ago by a subsiduary company of Energy Solutions - E-Plex Ltd. The exercise was not the easiest, but we have now moved the inventory and are already shipping orders. A dedicated team is in place to support and develop the product and we are busy visiting the major users. i am writing this whilst travelling the Mid West. I will ensure that we post more details as they are available.

Posted by: Paul Holland at August 4, 2010 5:28 PM | Reply

As a further update to the information left by Paul Holland here are the contact details for E-Plex Ltd, which is the new company handling everything to do with the development and distribution of E-Plex products. The website is www.e-plex.co, this is still under construction but will soon be live with information & downloads on all hardware, software and applications. In the meantime any technical or sales enquiries can be sent to sales@e-plex.co or telephone +44 1634 778704. We are also happy to receive any comments on things which would be useful to have on the website, please let us know.

Posted by: Melanie Lay at August 18, 2010 8:46 AM | Reply

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