Teleflex Marine Optimus 360, N2K & CANbus cool!

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Mar 21, 2012
Teleflex_Optimus_diagram.jpg

Aside from the StructureScan HD demo just discussed, I also got to try out the remarkable Teleflex Marine Optimus 360 system in Miami. Yes, it does bring joystick go-any-which-way control to twin outboards -- YouTube videos here -- but there are several impressive subtleties too. One is the underlying Electronic Power Steering (EPS) system that's diagrammed in blue above and can be had without the "360" throttle, shift, and joystick if desired...

The key components to Optimus EPS are "Smart" hydraulic steering cylinders and an electronic steering wheel hub that talks to the pump system via CANbus. The steering was not only smooth as silk but the Teleflex Marine engineers showed us how it can be set it up in all sorts of ways I've never seen before. Both the number of turns to hard over and the wheel's stiffness can be set precisely, and can be different for different speeds, for instance. The wheel can even be locked up in certain situations (like joystick use) thanks to electronic clutch plates in that hub. EPS would be nice on a single outboard boat, but of course what you really notice is how EPS lets 360 control twins independently...

Teleflex_Optimus_smart_cylinder_and_electric_wheel_hub_.jpg

It is strange to see two outboards turning and shifting on their own but, like I said, it worked quite well. With no training I could easily walk that boat sideways, adding twist and forward/back motion with considerable precision. I've also seen enough of these joystick systems -- like MerCruiser Axius Premier -- to be concerned about how busy they are and what long term effects that might have on gear boxes and such. Optimus 360 seemed particularly good in that respect, though no boat propulsion system goes sideways efficiently, and the engineers are proud about that...

Teleflex_Optimus_360_demo_MIBS2012_cPanbo.jpg

They were also proud about how cleanly the full Optimus 360 system had installed in a used boat. You can see the primary 360 module at lower left below along with the two hydraulic pumps and twin sets of shift and throttle actuators. Note that the only mechanical cables are the backups for the latter, and they would be very short if these components were installed aft as in the top diagram...

Teleflex_Optimus_360_main_install_cPanbo.jpg

I don't remember all the failsafe technology built into 360 but I remember thinking that it was ample, and let's not forget that Teleflex is a big company with lots of experience with critical engine control systems. On the other hand, I learned during this demo that Teleflex Marine was spun off to HIG Capital last year and according to the engineers that situation has unleashed their innovative juices.
   And speaking of innovation I couldn't help but notice how well NMEA 2000 works to help make a radically new technology like this possible. I'm not sure where the CANbus networks in Optimus 360 end and the N2K interface begins but since N2K is just a layer on top of CANbus it wasn't hard to do. Isn't that why Garmin has already introduced a GHP20 Steer by Wire autopilot that works with 360? Raymarine has also announced the SPX40 CANbus AP and I heard that Simrad and others are on the way.
   Optimus 360 seems reasonably priced, especially if you factor in the reduced price of mechanical engines, and prospective buyers will have a wide choice of compatible autopilots. All those APs will also share heading info, go-to points, etc. with other systems easily thanks to the N2K Standard. Isn't that a nice competitive situation for consumers?  I wish the folks that find so much wrong with NMEA 2000, as in the recent thread, would pay more attention to its CANbus roots, both in terms of the actual data protocol and how its managed.

Teleflex_Optimus_360_manual_shift_n_throttle_cPanbo.jpg

Comments

I've been hearing rumors for a year or two that this kind of steering would be available for outboards. Had always wondered how they would accomplish the feat.

Obviously there's a lot of hardware involved in making the system work. Gotta believe it's going to be extremely expensive especially for a retrofit.

Has anyone heard what the system price will be?

Posted by: Jeff at March 23, 2012 11:00 AM | Reply

I live in near Mercury's R&D test facility, I'm pretty sure Axius is coming to outboards in a short period of time as well. They have a big ugly hull with a plywood/2x4 helm built up, and I believe it's the Axius test rig.

Longevity of gearboxes is a valid concern, but I think with any cone clutch drive the worst wear is just a slightly faster wear of the cone clutches... and if you have money for Axius, you have money to have them lapped or replaced when they only last 15 years :)

Posted by: Anonymous at March 23, 2012 11:57 AM | Reply

Jeff, I got this from Teleflex:

"The Optimus EPS system has an MSRP of $6250 and includes the new electronic helm, two smart cylinders, two hydraulic steering pumps, pump control module, CANtrak Display, harness, oil, hoses, misc.

The Optimus 360 has an MSRP of $17,995 and includes all of the above, plus the electronic shift and throttle control, joystick control, two shift and throttle actuators, and additional harness and cables."

Of course installation is on top of that, but during the demo the Teleflex guys said that the total cost is much reduced if it means you can use a mechanical outboard instead of an electronic model.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Jeff at March 23, 2012 4:12 PM | Reply

Well the $17,995 was sort of in the ballpark of where I thought this system might be priced. I was thinking between $15,000 and $20,000.

But something just struck me and that's the word "mechanical." So if I'm reading this correctly this system wouldn't work with the newer electronic shift/throttle motors like the Yamaha's etc? If so that's strange as you would think they would want the system to work with current engine technology versus older. Am I understanding this correctly?

Posted by: Jeff at March 23, 2012 7:17 PM | Reply

Jeff, you can see the mechanical shift and throttle cables in the top diagram and lower photo. It's probably true that Optimus 360 would be simpler and maybe cheaper if it could run electronic shift and throttles (which are all CANbus related too, I think)... but that would require cooperation with each outboard manufacturer, and I'm not sure electronic outboards are more common than mechanical ones. Also, if that Axius outboard report is true, it's probably safe to say that Mercury won't be giving Teleflex Marine access to its SmartCraft controls any time soon ;-)

Posted by: Ben in reply to Jeff at March 23, 2012 7:40 PM | Reply

Just as autopilot manufactures figure out how to get rid of those pesky failure prone outboard rudder reference units, the knob steering companies bring them back again in force!!!

Posted by: Anonymous at March 24, 2012 9:34 PM | Reply

I think the Optimus rudder reference sensor is pretty innovative too. You can see it bolted onto the front of the "Smart Cylinder" and I'm pretty sure it involves no mechanical parts, let alone exposed ones, because it's just a linear electromagnetic sensor that measures the location of a magnet in the steering rod. It would be nice if a Teleflex Marine engineer confirmed this, but that's my recollection.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Anonymous at March 25, 2012 10:31 AM | Reply

Someone named Lee tried to call me about 360 but didn't leave a complete phone number. Please try again or email..

Posted by: Ben at March 26, 2012 11:47 AM | Reply

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