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Old 08-16-2015, 12:57 AM   #1
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Mathers MicroCommander controls (MMC)

The recent thread "Off to the Abacos," relates a control failure while backing the forum member's boat, a Nordhavn, into a slip. Reportedly, his shifter was in neutral when it spontaneously shifted into reverse, and increased the engine RPMs. The skipper heard the revs increase, and acted fast to stop the engine. No injuries, so it could have been much worse. But, this story has seriously ratcheted-up my skepticism about MMCs. Many builders install them, and I would expect top-shelf original equipment from PAE, builders of Nordhavn.

Shipbuilders like electronic shifters and throttles because they are cheap to install - no cables, no pulleys and sheaves, no plumbing (as with hydraulic or pneumatic controls). Just run some wires, then "plug and play." MMCs came installed by the builder on a commercial boat I used to run. From the beginning, I didn't care for them, and I liked 'em even less when a 12-volt glitch left me without engine control moments after dropping the dock lines. Again, no harm done, but it could have been worse.

On another TF thread last week I was defending electronic engine controls, a position I'm not so strong on at the moment. Strictly speaking, I guess EEC does not include fly-by-wire throttles, since the latter are ordinarily not part of the engine manufacturer's configuration. But I note that ZF, the big marine gear manufacturer, now seems to own Mather (the first "M" in MMC). The technology has become ubiquitous.

I wonder how many users have had trouble with MMCs or other brands of electronic throttles and shifters?
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Old 08-16-2015, 05:31 AM   #2
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I have related my story of how I was told to replace the control unit on my "get home engine" for $900 because a 3" diameter plastic belt was worn and needed replacing. My unit, purchased in 2000, was considered obsolete and they would not supply parts for it. Fortunately, I was able to locate someone who had a few from the old days.

My manual controls on the main engine keep working after 30 years. Copper tubing and hydraulic fluid can be purchased anywhere.
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Old 08-16-2015, 07:22 AM   #3
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The ZF Mather electronic controls have had a rather inglorious history. The Mainship forum is full of problem references. Several owners have replaced them with cable systems. The problems seem to fall into three categories:


1. Supply voltage- Mainship issued a service bulletin recommending replacing a relay that supplied voltage to the unit. Not strictly a Mathers problem, but the unit is very sensitive to low supply voltage.


2. Adjustment- If the unit is mechanically out of adjustment it will sense that the throttle or gear cables are binding and stop working.


3. Electronic glitches- Unexplained behavior. The OP's shift and engine revving is probably one of these.


So frankly I think the ZF Mathers unit is a piece of crap. Use cables or Kobelt controls instead.


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Old 08-16-2015, 07:49 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post
Use cables or Kobelt controls instead.
Which Kobelt controls? Don't they make electrical, mechanical and hydraulic controls?
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Old 08-16-2015, 11:06 AM   #5
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Quote:
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Which Kobelt controls? Don't they make electrical, mechanical and hydraulic controls?
Kobelt make electronic, pneumatic and mechanical controls and they are as good as it gets.
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Old 08-16-2015, 11:56 AM   #6
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I am very happy to have cable controls, conventional diesels, no joy stick, and no pods. In all the equipment we run, in the late model ones it's the electronic controls that cause the problems. I mean other than the understandable hydraulic leaks. but very few of those are on engines or transmissions.
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Old 08-16-2015, 12:01 PM   #7
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What experience have people had with Glendinning controls? I had their electronic controls on my grand banks and they were great. But my Mathers stuff has been fine so far too......
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Old 08-16-2015, 01:05 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blissboat View Post
Reportedly, his shifter was in neutral when it spontaneously shifted into reverse, and increased the engine RPMs.
My experience with MMC controls has been somewhat stressful do to the "incredibly sensitive" nature of the control levers. I can almost actuate them by breathing on them which is why I'm somewhat dubious of the above statement. Several times in the past 4 months while entering the slip (bow first) I accidentally hit reverse when trying to switch to neutral from forward. Since I was bow in, no damage was done when the rpm increased and the boat lurched backward. I had the controls checked and decreased the reaction time to engage the transmission but the "sensitivity" remains. One must be very careful when using MMC controls. I would like to know if Glendinning, Kobelt, etc. have the same slow reaction times and sensitivity that MMC has. I'm seriously considering a change to mechanical I trust them more.
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Old 08-16-2015, 02:29 PM   #9
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FWIW, I've been using Mathers controls on many boats for decades, and knock on wood, I've never had a failure.

Also most ever boat I've run with them has had some form of mechanical back controls.
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Old 08-16-2015, 03:37 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djmarchand View Post

1. Supply voltage- Mainship issued a service bulletin recommending replacing a relay that supplied voltage to the unit. Not strictly a Mathers problem, but the unit is very sensitive to lotw supply voltage.




David
David any information on the service bulletin I could use to track it down. My unit is very sensitive to low voltage, which fortunately I have not had lately.
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Old 08-16-2015, 04:46 PM   #11
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That service bulletin was issued 6-7 years ago and was on Mainship's website for a while. Unfortunately with the demise of Mainship it is no longer available. Maybe someone on this forum or the Yahoo Mainship forum kept a copy.


So from memory:


The bulletin talked about a relay that was installed in the boat's electrical chase (a Mainship 34T in my case) that needed to be replaced. It gave the part number of a relay to replace it with.


But that relay and its replacement is boat builder specific so it may not help you much.


What I do know from reading the ZF manual is that ZF highly recommends installing a black box made by ZF that selects the higher of two supply voltages, usually from the start and house batteries, and supplies the higher to the control unit. This keeps the unit from shutting down when the engine starts and the voltage momentarily falls. My boat had the box which is just a couple of Schottky diodes. If the house battery was turned off, yes the ZF would trip out when you tried to start.


All of this is well known to the experts at ZF. The problem is that the average ZF dealer probably doesn't know anything about it. On another forum there was a guy identified who was the US expert on the ZF Mathers control system, but not a ZF dealer or employee I think.


If you are experiencing low voltage trips then first look for that black box and measure the voltages in and out to see if it is working right.


But on most boats, the house batteries will always be at a higher voltage than the starting battery while cranking. So a patch that might work forever is to bypass that box and run a separate 10 gauge wire from your house batteries to the ZF power input, but through a heavy relay that is controlled by the ignition circuit. That is no doubt what the Mainship relay was for, but the original must not have had big enough contacts to carry the load.


I did have a couple of spurious trips underway when I owned the boat. I suspect that engine vibration jiggled the relay's contacts and created a momentary voltage drop that caused the ZF to trip out. No drama, just the throttle pulled back to idle and the transmission shifted to neutral.


So, there you have my brain dump on the subject. Fortunately I sold the boat.


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Old 08-16-2015, 04:52 PM   #12
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Go cable and keep em lubed as well as adjusted/tightened correctly. Go hydraulic and keep lines/fittings in good condition with full reservoir.

Then play at ease for decades... and... sleep well.
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Old 08-16-2015, 05:43 PM   #13
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I only have first-hand experience with Kobelt electronic controls, but I thought this might be worth sharing in this discussion. Note that in this system there are no relays to fail, just a clean primary power source with a manual selector switch for secondary backup power. Would something like this work in an MMC installation that is experiencing power issues?

Excerpted from: KOBELT MIGHTY MARINER ENGINE CONTROLS INSTALLATION MANUAL

3.2 ELECTRIC POWER

Power Requirements
Power requirements for the Kobelt Electronic Control System are as
follows:
• 24 Vdc power supply - 10 amps maximum
• Battery charge Regulation - 10% from no load to full load with 10% maximum line variation.

Clean Power is Critical
A reliable and electrically clean power supply for this system is critical.
• “Main” power should not be taken from an engine starting battery source.
• Power should be taken from the ship’s house battery through a circuit breaker.
• If there is noise on the ship’s house battery system caused by electronics or inverters, it is recommended that a battery dedicated to the electronic engine controls be installed.
• Voltage regulation from the battery charger, inverter or converter should be 10% or better.

Power Switch (Customer Supplied)
Two sources of power must be provided, a primary source and a secondary source. A three position switch capable of handling the system current must be installed next to the main station, usually the wheelhouse station, to allow the operator to select either the primary power, the secondary power or, in an emergency, the POWER OFF / SYSTEM RESET position.
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Old 08-16-2015, 06:52 PM   #14
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Hmmm. I knew there was a reason I bought an old boat. I've got my problems but I'd rather have ones I can understand in favor of the ones inside some black box.
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Old 08-17-2015, 09:24 AM   #15
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I just replaced my Kobelt pneumatic controls with Mathers MicroCommanders. I loved my old pneumatics, but they were 23 years old and maintenance was throwing good money after bad.

I had heard of similar issues happening in the past, but was under the impression these "bugs" had been resolved. The MMC controls are indeed sensitive to voltage irregularities. I'm curious if you have the highly recommended automatic dual power source selector installed? I forget exactly what it is called, but it connects to two independent battery sources and automatically selects the one with the highest voltage. Redundancy is always good. I attached a pic of mine.


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Old 08-17-2015, 09:41 AM   #16
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I have Morse electronic controls. 2 Station. Each station uses its own voltage source. No problems with these as yet. Any experience out there with these?
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Old 08-17-2015, 09:59 AM   #17
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I'm also wondering if there is a difference in failure rates between mechanically governed and the electric/common rail interfaces. Newer common rail engines literally have a "plug" connecting the control box to the engine. My old mechanically governed Cummins 6Cs have a short run of control cables connected to a worm gear on the control box.

I've seen mechanical cable controls break the cable and end up stuck in gear.

A dock neighbor had his Glendinning electric control setup fail in wide open throttle forward gear. This was on a sportfish with twin Detroit 12v92 while running I believe Dania Beach Inlet. Luckily they were on the way OUT and not the way IN, but climbing into the cramped engine room between two screaming Detroits to physically remove the control harnesses was not a good experience for them.

My old pneumatics failed due to an air leak on one of the actuators. This was right after taking delivery of the boat. Anything less than about 40psi and you lose controls. Thankfully pneumatics fail safe to idle speed neutral.

I guess the point is crap happens. For whatever reason it seems Mathers electric controls are more prone to crap happening, but maybe they have more installs?
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Old 08-17-2015, 09:59 AM   #18
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I have Micro Commanders on our 2005 mainship. I will say that I was skeptical of them when we bought the boat as they seem to be a potential source of failure in an area where a very reliable system (mechanical controls) already exists.

After owning the boat for 2.5 years I'm pretty happy with them.

The only issue I've had is the starboard side shut down 3 times while underway. The motor goes instantly to neutral and the throttle units beeps continuously. After reading this thread I suspect it is voltage related.

Fix is pretty easy, just shift the lever back to neutral and hold down the button that calls for the throttles. Put it back in gear and keep going. It's bothersome, but very infrequent.

On the positive side, I have come to like the sensitivity of the throttles and also the audible beep that they make when they shift into neutral. It really helps when docking to not have to glance at the throttles since they have a nice detent and the beep.
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Old 08-17-2015, 10:15 AM   #19
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On a vessel like a N60 there can be up to 5 shifting stations. This can most effectively be accomplished with electronic controls. Electronic shifters do require checks and maintenance, a read of the service manual can prove daunting if a newbie.

I have had issues with every kind of shifter made during the past century. When doing the internalizing after the fact it always came down to my own ignorance or lack of maintenance. Even had a tiller fall off creating an instantaneous gybe.

Sure, some builders create issues, but cheaper good deal vessels do carry an extra burden. Also, the plethora of remotes out there add to the electronic woes. Or controlling your shifters with an IPad

One thing I don't like is the way builders put the electronic controls out in the open subject to the elements or heat stroke. Sure they have a little cover over them, a perfect place for humidity and mold to gain a foothold.

Bottom line, read the book and do some PM- electronic controls have been around for a long time and are here to stay.
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Old 08-17-2015, 10:17 AM   #20
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Most of the issues with electronic controls these days seem to come from poor or improper installations.
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