IBEX 365 News
2020 IBEX Innovation Award Interview with Dometic
Xtreme Power Assist
Power Assist Mechanical Steering converts a boat’s existing rack or rotary cable steering system into smooth, effortless power steering. This electric steering actuator attaches to the outboard and turns the engine load. Brings affordable, practical power steering to a range of boats with outboards from 90 – 200 HP.
What problem does this product solve?
The XPA solves hard-to-steer problems found among outboard boats. This system is an easy-to-add power-assist steering system that mates to the current cable steering. The XPA effectively lowers the steering effort on pontoons or any outboard powered boat in the 90-200 HP range.
The XPA is an addition to the Dometic family of vessel steering. Dometic provides steering to the most complex boat systems, including those with multiple engines and stations. These vessels can be controlled with a captain-friendly joystick steering. Dometic’s complete line of advanced steering solutions will provide power steering to any horsepower range. The XPA now brings this steering comfort to the 90-200 HP outboard range, providing an affordable, user-friendly system to this cost sensitive market.
How did you become aware of the problem?
Customer feedback. Captains want the low effort and precise response found in modern cars to be available in their boats.
What obstacles or complications did you encounter?
Early in 2020, the coronavirus began to make news although the impact was not well understood. March arrived with a rapid spread in the North Eastern United States. Dometic’s Limerick location is just outside of Philadelphia, PA. Neighboring states were hit very hard. New York and New Jersey became the epicenter of the virus spread. Because of our close proximity, the virus spread rapidly to the county where our factory is located. We began to institute precautions in our facility to protect our employees’ health. This included social distancing, mandatory mask programs, increased sanitation protocols, and limiting meeting group sizes. Despite our efforts, on March 15th we received news from the Governor of PA that all non-essential businesses must close their doors. The Limerick location was forced to close.
Immediately plans were made to allow work-from-home for employees whose work allowed this new reality. We allowed the staff to remove the office computers, monitors and other equipment. While implementing new work-from-home procedures, our reliance on Microsoft Teams and other I.T. programs became essential. The development of the XPA continued as our engineers worked from their garages, basements, and home offices.
We slowly returned to the office in May and we began testing with our first production intent prototypes. We had very successful testing in our laboratory which gave us confidence to test on our company boats. The performance of the system went as well as we had hoped, and we were confident it would provide the steering we required. Testing continued through the summer in the lab and on the water.
We created an aggressive plan to meet a launch date of IBEX 2020 in October. We met our goal of having a finished product ready and available for the IBEX Innovation Award program deadline. Winning the Innovation Award was the culmination of much hard work and effort and was a phenomenal reward for the team.
With the ongoing pandemic, new protocols are in place for employee safety. Mask wearing and social distancing is required. Temperature scanning for all employees and visitors prior to entering the plant is also required. All work stations, restrooms, offices and common areas are regularly cleaned. Electrostatic cleaning is also now regularly performed.
What was the product development process?
Dometic follows a structured product development process that involves all of our departments. We relied on our history and experience with steering, and in particular electric steering, to speed this process. We developed a new patented sensor technology to control an actuator to steer a vessel with inputs from a mechanical steering cable. This new idea produces power steering without adding any unusual load on the mechanical steering cable. This was a truly novel approach.
What customizations do you offer?
This XPA system will mate to any outboard engine in the 90-200HP range, and will work with all steering systems; standard, tilt, rack and pinion, or rotary. This product will also work perfectly with jack plates found on some outboard boats.
Are there other components required for the product to perform?
The simple and straightforward installation only requires the available splash well space and the on-board battery to work. The system is self-contained and does not require separate modules or pumps.
Were there noteworthy personnel involved in this product?
Mark Petro-Roy is the inventor of the XPA. Mark is a mechanical engineer who joined Dometic in 2017 after graduating from Drexel University. He began working with the Dometic steering and control products when he joined our team. Shortly after his hire, he began to investigate new methods to reduce the steering effort required to captain a boat. His hobbies include remote control airplanes and he used this knowledge as the starting point to use a linear actuator to control steering function with a mechanical cable input. He was able to work with our joint teams in Limerick and Vancouver to create the XPA system.
Was this product manufactured sustainably?
The Limerick manufacturing plant continuously undergoes sustainability updates, the most recent being a total update to manufacturing lighting. We changed to LED lighting to provide an environmentally friendly source of light and reduce the electric requirements. This new lighting makes the manufacturing floor bright, clear, and safe for our staff. We are currently investigating clean energy alternative suppliers for our energy needs.
Does this product lend itself to being green?
This self-contained product does not require external pumps or hydraulic fluid, the system is powered by the vessel’s battery. This eliminates the worry of leaks into our environment or adding fluid during service. The vessel battery powers the XPA, so no added device is required to power it.
What has the response been to your product?
The response has been overwhelming, boat builders are excited to bring electric steering to their entire line of boats. They now have a full line of electric steering offerings, including XPA, Optimus, and Optimus 360, which are all targeted and developed for all ranges of vessels. Boat builders are prepared to specify these systems in their new models. The aftermarket customers are anxious for the XPA as they can simply add this system to their current cable steering and realize the ease of power steering. Normally, this would not have been possible without a full refit of the entire steering system.
For more information about the 2020 IBEX Innovation Award winners, click here.