Electronic platform makes boating simpler

EVC – Electronic Vessel Control – is Volvo Penta’s new electronic platform. EVC is an integral system that enables a boat’s engine, control systems and instruments, as well as other functions on board, to communicate and exchange information. The system is highly flexible and expandable, and can be upgraded with new software. EVC is based on the latest CAN-bus technology, which is widely used in the automotive industry today.
Modern leisure craft feature extensive electronic systems on board. Engines are electronically controlled to a greater or lesser degree, control systems on the larger boats are electronic, instrumentation is becoming more advanced, and an increasing number of boats are equipped with electronic navigation equipment. Electrical installations become complicated if conventional technology is used, since each instrument requires its own cable. On a larger leisure craft, this means drawing hundreds of meters of cable, which is tiresome for the boat builder and potentially unreliable for the boat owner. It also complicates the process of upgrading or installing new equipment.

It follows that a far better solution is to gather all the functions into a single system.

One system for all engines
This was Volvo Penta’s incentive to begin development of EVC as a control system for its electronically controlled engines.

“Our primary need as an engine supplier was to find a common system for all our engines, most of which are electronically controlled. Each engine control system is adapted to a specific engine, so they are not identical. We needed a common system that could manage all of our electronically controlled engines, including current and future models,” explains Martin Vansvik, project manager at Volvo Penta.
The project began in 1998 with a prestudy, which showed that considerable advantages could be achieved by integrating all of a boat’s electronic functions – not only those controlling the engine – in a single system. Among other steps, Volvo Penta developed a concept boat to enable the new technology to be tested.

“The automotive industry experienced a similar need, and we closely examined the systems developed in that sector. One of our aims was to make driving a boat as simple as possible – something like driving a modern car. The integrated systems that were being developed at that time looked highly promising, and we decided to develop a similar system adapted to boats,” relates Martin.

CAN bus system
Today, computerized networks designed to control all of a vehicle’s functions, known as “CAN-bus” systems, are standard within the automotive industry. The networks comprise several processors that receive data from the connected units, process it and forward it to the right address. If you depress the accelerator in your car, this action is registered by a processor, which sends a command to the engine control system to increase the supply of fuel to the engine.

With EVC, Volvo Penta has developed a CAN-bus system adapted specifically to the requirements of a modern boat.

“All of the components in the EVC system have been developed to meet our own exacting requirements. We develop and test the system to ensure that it can withstand moisture, vibrations, cold, electrical fields and many other adverse factors over a long period. All connections are waterproof, the cables are sturdy and the processors are robust and reliable. The EVC system fulfills the most stringent classification requirements for commercial use, and the system has also undergone extensive testing in a number of boats in commercial use,” says Martin.

Better information and greater reliability
EVC is now being launched in combination with Volvo Penta’s electronically controlled diesel and gasoline engines. Two versions of the system are available – one with electronic engine control, suitable for luxury-class boats, and one with traditional mechanical controls for smaller boats. Volvo Penta is also launching a series of new instruments and displays developed for EVC.

“EVC has a number of advantages. First and foremost, installation is simpler and more reliable, giving the boat-owner higher quality and better operating reliability,” says Martin. “It’s also very simple to install additional instruments, since no new cables need be inserted. The information supplied to the instruments and displays is always exceedingly reliable. All messages and warnings are in the form of text messages, which clearly inform the driver what is going on. The trim function, for boats with Aquamatic, has been improved and now enables the tilt angle to be limited, as well as automatically synchronizing engine speed in twin-engined boats.”

EVC also provides several functions that further increase safety on board and protect the engine and the transmission in the event of incorrect use or an inappropriate command. On boats with flying bridges, control of the consoles is simpler with EVC and there is less risk of someone activating a console by mistake.
Improved service
The EVC system is supported by a new service tool, VODIA, which replaces all previous diagnostic tools. VODIA is a small handheld computer which the mechanic can connect to the EVC system to perform various diagnoses and extract engine data, including various statistics. The data is presented both textually and graphically. The result is more rapid and efficient servicing. The process is also simplified for the service workshops, since service personnel need only use a single diagnostic tool for all types of old or new electronically controlled engines.

Exciting future
“The fact that the EVC functions are software-based, like the functions in an ordinary PC, means the system can be upgraded. What we are launching now is a platform to grow with. At present we are using only a fraction of the system’s capacity, and it would be entirely feasible in due course to integrate navigation equipment, autopilot and much more. With EVC, we have laid a foundation on which we will be able to build for a long time to come,” concludes Martin Vansvik.