Case Study: Weintek cMT X Series & EasyAccess 2.0 afloat

We talked to Rob Howdle of Ortomarine Narrowboats about how he’s using Weintek’s cMT X Series HMI to display multiple inputs from different protocols.

Tell me about yourself – where are you located, what’s your background? .

We’re based just outside Kidderminster.  My background was in anything to do with industrial automation, pharma, oil and gas. I travelled constantly round the world and airport to airport was the norm.

I ended up in the narrowboat industry by chance.  My brother was made redundant from his job with a narrowboat company, and he came to work with me.  He was then approached to ask if we would build a narrowboat.  We did the first one as a one-off, but realised that there was a market for engineer-approached boats, so we carried on.   We thought it would be a gentler pace of life and a calmer arena to work in, but our order book is full to summer 2024 already. Covid changed everything when people couldn’t go abroad and started looking for ways to holiday safely in the UK.

How did you come to be using Weintek in your boats?

The Oil and Gas industries have a vendor list limiting what makes we can use on projects – they’re mostly Rockwell or Siemens – and we are restricted to that.  Then I took on a project which took 6 months, on a farm in Northern Ireland that produces and packages steamed veg. I had much more freedom to choose equipment for the project, and that’s when I really started to understand how good the Weintek HMIs are. I introduced half a dozen Weinteks into their systems, used the EasyBuilder language translations and graphic capabilities to make it really user friendly for a diverse workforce comprised of many nationalities. Just selecting the flag for the right language made it easy for them.

“As a supply company you’ve nailed it, it’s faultless.”

Because we build based on engineering not traditionalists, there’s a market for modern and contemporary interface in the leisure industry – an extension of Nest and Hive in the home, if you like. There are lots of systems available off the shelf with a bar graph or graphic for showing system information – but we wanted to centralise that system. So we’re now working on seeing how we can use Weintek HMIs to better advantage.

We’re used to industrial protocols, but now we’re working with other companies, like Victron who are a globally recognised off-grid provider for things like solar panels and inverters to fit into narrowboats with induction hobs etc.  Vectron are very open and transparent about how they work and market, all developed and available online.  There are a lot of IoT protocols within the product range (Node Red and MQTT etc) and the Marine industry uses a version of the CAN automotive system, but each company has its own.

Ortomarine Ltd sample narrowboat HMI network (c) Ortomarine Ltd
Sample narrowboat HMI network
(c) Ortomarine Ltd

I love Weintek because I know that they recognise the industrial products and protocols, and work with cloud-based architecture. Weintek supports CAN as a native protocol, so can display propulsion, solar yield, energy use, battery charging status etc , to make it look much slicker.

NMEA 2000 is another global standard protocol in the marine industry, which you have to buy a licence to use, elements of it are used in cars, industrial apps, and the same sort of registers – for example engine speed or exhaust temperature – are in narrowboats.  Weintek supports that, so we can bring all different protocols into one screen. Plus they regularly introduce new ways of interacting with other systems which means we can look at offering other options for our clients.

The EasyAccess software is free and downloadable, without ongoing licencing fees. Once I got the addressing format right and understand how Weintek interprets the other protocols, it’s great. And even though it’s free software, they’re really good at addressing bugs when we report them. 

Now we always use Weintek if the customer doesn’t have a preferred supplier.

“Weintek supports CAN as a native protocol, so can display propulsion, solar yield, energy use, battery charging status etc , to make it look much slicker.”

What do you do when you’re not at work?

At the moment – not a lot! Love travel, and play a lot of tennis.  Since lockdown and changes in the leisure industry, we haven’t had time to do anything. We try to find diversions just for an hour or two to avoid the groundhog day effect.  

I’ve missed my grandchildren while we were in lockdown. Now I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal and being able to go away.  

How long have you been a customer of Lamonde?

At least 10 years.  The order processing is amazing – really fast, we’ve ordered in the afternoon and had the HMI the next day.  We don’t get invoice issues or discrepancies. As a supply company you’ve nailed it, it’s faultless. [Editor’s note: Thanks Rob!]

What’s next for you?

We are really into sustainable marine propulsion and we love the eco approach of for example hydrogen fuel cells and rainwater collection systems.  As an industry we’re moving away from diesel propulsion, but as a company we don’t build anything without an electric option as well. We base all our narrowboat builds on our engineering background not a boating one, so the challenge is in making it better within the parameters of battery usage.