I was helping a customer the other day who requested a heat exchanger tube stack for an M753K. This is a 10 year old generator, but I was still shocked that he needed a heat exchanger. In our experience, the only thing that can cause a heat exchanger tube stack failure on a 5-20 kw generator is very poor maintenance. When I looked up the part number for the tube stack I noticed that we had sold 3 in the last 12 months.
There are, conservatively 300-400 of these generators in operation in the Caribbean, so that works out to less than a 0.75% failure rate. Most of our competitors would be envious of such a low failure rate, but we still feel that is too high. The only reason that these tube stacks are failing is because of poor maintenance practices, or using the wrong coolant.
We wish to emphasize that the only proper coolant is Distilled Water, or a 50/50 premix ethylene glycol mix. If operators wish to use 100% ethylene glycol, they need to dilute it with 50% Distilled Water. Most of the water we get in the Caribbean comes from Reverse Osmosis, and that often leaves too high a mineral (including salt) content. Even with proper coolant, sludge, scale and corrosion build up over a period of time. So we recommend that our customers drain, flush and refill their cooling system every year as part of their annual maintenance.
If customers wish to extend the coolant change interval, we recommend purchasing a pack of coolant test strips (part number 20-00005) and testing coolant every 6 months past the 1 year anniversary of the last coolant change.
In addition to the tube stack failing, poor coolant quality can cause water pump failure, and the core plugs (water jackets) to corrode from the inside out. Made of a thinner, less corrosion resistant material, the core plugs can often be the “canary in the coal mine”. If they start to leak, the operator knows he has a problem. A bigger problem is that some of these core plugs can be very hard to get to in order to change them.
In summary, it is a very good investment to change your coolant every year – your local dealer can take care of this for you. It can save a lot of money down the road.
Dealer participants attending the Caribbean Service Training, hosted by Parts & Power and Northern Lights Inc from 14-16 July 2015 in Tortola BVI, were all positive in their reviews and comments. There were 6 ratings of “Excellent” (5 out of 5) and 6 “Good” (4 out of 5). There were the inevitable complaints about Service Trainer and Technical Director, Dan Durbin’s notoriously bad drawings. But he always managed to get his point across. The participants were unanimous in the fact that the quality of the instruction was very good to excellent.
In addition to his decades of field service experience, Dan has been doing Service Training since the 1960’s for such organizations as the Army Engineer School, several Colleges and a variety of Diesel Engine/Generator manufacturers. He still does training for Northern Lights at customer training events in FL. Northern Lights SE Regional Service Manager, James Newball who has been with the company of over 6 years, said he even learned a few new things at the Training. James attended the training to support Dan’s efforts, and to explain Service issues that the factory is seeing around the world. It was also James first visit to the Caribbean to meet the Dealer network and hear, first-hand, the challenges faced by NL Dealers and Customers in the Caribbean.
All the participants learned about changes to the CaribbeanNorthernLights.com website. It recently received a major face lift thanks to the efforts of Jennifer Dowling and Scott Putnicki at NL factory headquarters in Seattle, WA. Information for customers and dealers is available on the website, as well as links to NL Parts & Operators Manuals, the Dealer Secured website, “Ask a Tech” inquiry link and Service Tips. A Parts Special was revealed that is only available to customers who visit the CNL.com website.
Northern Lights Dealer Service Training is challenging because of the various backgrounds of the dealers participating. Some are Mechanics looking for more information on DC and AC electric. Others are Electricians looking for more information on Diesel Engines. Dan is very good at getting the theory and hands on training across though.
Diesel engines are a continually changing product these days due to the changes required to maintain emissions compliance by the EPA, IMO and various other regulatory organizations. Although AC and DC electricity is constrained by the laws of physics, there are new products being introduced every year to meet customers increasingly sophisticated power demands, which make generators more complicated. “One of the best features of Northern Lights Generators,” commented Parts & Power MD Tom Gerker, “is that their DC logic has remained largely unchanged for over 40 years.” It worked well in the 1970’s and works well today. Despite that, NL is always striving to improve their systems, so the product continues to evolve.
That is the reason that Northern Lights and Parts & Power puts on regular Regional Training for their Caribbean Dealers.
Northern Lights Inc and Parts & Power want to extend their gratitude to the 12 participants who made the sacrifice in time and expense to attend the training, and become more knowledgeable about the product. Their Dealerships will receive a “golden wrench” next to their Dealer name on the NL Dealer Directory and on the CaribbeanNorthernLights.com website. We also want to extend thanks to the hard working staff at Parts & Power for making the event such a great success.
Northern Lights and Caribbean Distributor, Parts & Power Ltd of Tortola, will be hosting Service Training for Caribbean Dealers from 14-16 July in Road Town. 12 Caribbean dealers from 10 countries will participate in the training.
The training will be put on by Parts & Power Director of Technical Services, Dan Durbin, and Northern Lights SE Regional Service Manager, James Newball. Dan has over 40 years’ experience in Diesel Electric Service training, having taught for such companies and Cummins Engine Co, Ford Lehman and Northern Lights. Dan served as Northern Lights International Service Manager and Service trainer prior to joining Parts & Power in 1993. He continues to put on factory sponsored Service and Product training in Florida 3-4 times per year.
The focus of the training will be on current Northern Lights generator production, identification and serial number understanding; Northern Lights and CaribbeanNorthernLights.com website navigation; Engine troubleshooting & repair; DC theory, troubleshooting & repair; AC theory, troubleshooting & repair; Stand maintenance practices; Warranty training and processing; Marine exhaust systems; and a discussion of common and recent Service Issues.
The purpose of the training is to make sure that all Caribbean Northern Lights dealer technicians have the most up to date training so they can better service Northern Light customers in the Caribbean. To that end, all dealers participating in the training will receive the prestigious “Golden Wrench” next to their name in the Northern Lights Dealer Directory. This indicates that dealer has undergone the most recent training procedures offered by Northern Lights.
Summer time is the off season for many in the Caribbean, whether you are a cruiser sitting out Hurricane Season or a Charter vessel taking a well-deserved break. Before you put the boat up on the hard, or leave it at the dock for the summer, do your diesel engines a favor. Before you leave your hard working Northern Lights generator for the summer, be sure to change the oil. The oil is the life blood of your engine. It holds all the dirt, acids, soot and by products of combustion in suspension. That contaminated oil sits on all the surfaces serviced by your oil and expedite corrosion if left for prolonged periods. In addition, oil oxides when left exposed to the air, reducing its effectiveness at lubricating your engine and holding contaminants.
So do your engine a favor and change the oil before you put it in storage. While you’re at it, why not do your Annual Maintenance?
Annual Maintenance? What is Annual Maintenance?
If you look at your Operator’s Manual, you will notice a section that says “Every 12 Months”. Everything in there is due every year. Generally this includes: Oil Change, Valve Adjustment, Air Filter replacement, Fuel filter replacement and Injector Testing. Check your manual to see if there is anything else included, but the above are fairly common with most diesel engines and Northern Lights generators.
We discussed the oil change. Even if you don’t have the 200 or 250 hours dictated by the oil change interval, remember that oil oxidizes even if not being used. So changing oil makes sense, but why check the valves? Besides making sure that your engine is “breathing” properly in terms or air in and exhaust gases out, it also can pick up signs or engine wear. If the valve clearances are narrow, that can mean that the valve in question is wearing the valve seat. This may be a sign that your engine is getting ready for a top end overhaul. If caught early, this is fairly routine. If caught too late, the repair could be far more costly. You could be looking at a new cylinder head, or a “dropped valve” which can be catastrophic.
You might think that, because your engine is clean, you don’t need to change your air filter. Many Northern Lights generators have foam air filters which, not only filter the air, but aid in noise dampening. These filters deteriorate with heat and over time. If not changed, they will start to turn into powder and fall apart. The foam will not hurt the engine but we have seen cases where large pieces of the air filter were sucked into the intake valves. In such a case, the engine loses compression (because the intake valve will not close completely) and will not start or run. This is not only difficult to troubleshoot, but requires the removal of the cylinder head. So the $20 spent on a new air filter is a very good and wise investment.
Not everyone checks injectors every year. If you are not putting a lot of hours on the generator, it starts quickly and is running clean, you might be able to skip this. But the service interval on injectors can be as low as every 700 hours (or once per year). In addition, an injector nozzle that is “squirting” rather than “spraying” can melt a piston in a very short period of time. So if you have a shop that can test the injectors, the process can offer great peace of mind.
Take the time to review your Operator’s Manual or discuss its maintenance with your local dealer. Your generator was an expensive investment. If given reasonable maintenance and operated properly, your Northern Lights generator should give 20,000 hours of operation or more. But we’ve seen improperly maintained units struggle to provide half that life. Doing your Annual Maintenance is a good way of assuring that your generator will give you the reliable life expectancy Northern Lights customers have come to expect from their product.
From 5-11 December members from the Northern Lights family visited customers at the Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting (ACYM). The Charter Yacht Show was very successful with 105 yachts ranging in size from 60 ft to 295 ft. In addition there were another 40-50 yachts in Falmouth Harbour which were not in the Show.
Mike Prado, from Deerfield Beach, Chris Krok, from Seattle, and Tom Gerker from NL Distributor Parts & Power visited vessels on Falmouth Harbour Marina, the Yacht Club Marina, the Dockyard Marina and the Catamaran Marina. They found many of the yachts had Northern Lights products on them, both generators and Lugger propulsion engines. In most cases they received nothing but favorable reports from Engineers and Captains. A few vessels had questions or problems that Chris, Product Development Manager, and Tom were able to address. In many cases they found a recurring theme that they had discovered at previous Shows. Many of the NL customers simply needed advice on how to maintain their Northern Lights equipment, and where to go to get information.
They found that, in some cases, customers were overhauling their generators prematurely. Because they had owned competitor’s products in the past who recommended overhauls at 10, 15 or 20,000 hours, they felt that they had to do the same on their NL product. One customer, who had always done meticulous maintenance, overhauled his 155 kw generator at 20,000 hours. He found so little wear that he was tempted to re-use his main bearings. Chris and Tom recommended using oil analysis and valve adjustment measurements to monitor wear, as many Northern Lights generators run well past 30,000 hours with nothing but routine maintenance.
Northern Lights was the only engine or generator manufacturer who attended the show, and have done so for over 15 years, to meet their customers and get their feedback on the performance of their equipment. Having the Product Development manager at the show allowed him to hear the Voice of the Customer to make changes and improvements to the current product and get an idea of what customers were looking for in future products.
After 4 days of visiting customers, Northern Lights, along with local dealers Seagull Services and Marine Power Service, threw a Crew Party at Temo Sports. The crew were able to relax without brokers and owners present. 115 past, present and future NL customers were in attendance. Master of Ceremnonies, Chris, asked Trivia questions and gave out presents to the participants. It was a great crowd of engineers and other crew who mingled with their counterparts from other yachts. Wonderful fellowship was shared and a good time was had by all. The friendly staff at Temo Sports, as they have for many years, kept the drinks flowing and the crowd happy.
Tom & Barb Gerker visited Northern Lights Seattle factory on 7 & 8 July 2014. They met with Executive Vice President & General Manager, Larry Repman to discuss Northern Lights issues and products, and how they affect customers and dealers in the Caribbean. Larry brought the Gerkers up to date on the new IMO emissions regulations and how they are and will affect product up through 2021. He showed them the Glen Fitch Memorial Test Cel. Glen’s last NL trip was to the Antigua Charter Yacht meeting in December 2014. His talents and good humor is sorely missed by the entire Northern Lights family.
They discussed a growing number of Fleet Operators who are using Northern Lights generators exclusively and how to better serve those customers. Customers such as Voyage Yacht Charters, Marine Max and, increasingly, Tui Marine and the Moorings are loyal Northern Lights Customers.
Tom & Barb met with Bill Faldalen, who was recently promoted to Materials Manager and is now in charge of Purchasing, as well as inventory. Bill is working with UPS to try and get better shipping rates for dealers in the Caribbean. They also met with Scott Vansteenvort, who has now been promoted to Parts Manager.
They met with Scott Dyball, who is the new Customer Service Manager. Scott has taken over the position from John Baisch who recently retired. Scott comes from the Service Department, so has a deep background in troubleshooting and repairing Northern Lights generators. His experience with the product should prove to be a big help to Northern Lights dealers in the Caribbean.
Tom & Barb met with Paul Leask and Diane Paulson, from Northern Lights warranty and Service. They discussed service issues and warranty processing.
A highlight of their visit was meeting Jennifer Dowling, who is responsible for the CaribbeanNorthernLights.com website. They had discussions about how to improve the website and keep it relevant to Northern Lights dealers and customers. They also met with her boss, Scott Putnicki. They discussed upcoming shows in the Caribbean, including BVI and Antigua Charter Yacht Shows.
On Wednesday, 9 July, they met with Dick Gee. Dick was responsible for designing the principles and products for the Northern Lights generator and propulsion engine line. He retired a few years ago as Vice President of Engineering. He shared stories of how he started with Harold Johnson in the 1960’s in Alaska, and the founding days of the then Alaska Diesel Electric. Dick took Tom & Barb on a tour of the Boeing “double aisle” production facility in Everett, WA where they build the 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner.
The weather was perfect during their entire visit.