A reflowering of R&D

IBEX Innovation Awards competition draws a record 90 entries as manufacturers step up research outlays

Innovation continues to be the driving force behind the annual International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference, and this year’s IBEX Innovation Awards drew a record number of entries and an eye-popping array of new product.

The competition drew 90 entries spread across 12 product categories. Although the OEM Electronics category kept its spot as the most hotly contested category (25 entries), compelling new product trends emerged in marine stereo equipment, lighting products, and heating and air conditioning products.

Despite the increasingly crowded electronics field, judges found the OEM electronics category one of the easiest to judge this year, tapping standout product Simrad-Navico’s Halo-Pulse Compression Radar as the winner.

“Along with a record number of entries [this year], we saw a huge spike in the number of audio entries, HVAC entries, and towers and enclosures entries,” says Alan Wendt, president of Boating Writers International, which provides the judging panels. “Every year [brings] shifting trends.”

Most noticeable this year, Wendt says, was a David/Goliath trend: Companies that have a smaller market share were willing to take on industry behemoths. “Dometic holds 95 percent of the market share in the HVAC field, and yet there were three entries [from small companies] that challenged Dometic,” he says.

Electronics is always a crowded field and usually challenging to judge, yet this year it was one of the easiest because the Simrad radar was such a standout, he says. The judges also gave an honorable mention in the OEM electronics category to Medallion Instrumentation Systems’ Malibu Surf Band.

Innovation extended from the awards out to the exhibit floor with cutting-edge advancements showcased in 3D technology demonstrations and the expanded connectivity exhibits, including the “Connected Boat.” Engine innovation was spotlighted in new products from Honda, Mercury and Volvo Penta.

As the economy continues to improve, investment in research and development continues to increase, says IBEX director Anne Dunbar.

Wendt emphasized that at the major boat shows, where boats themselves are the main focus, product trends largely mirror retail sales. “The difference,” he says, is that at IBEX you are not mirroring retail sales, “you are seeing the future of boating to come.”

Innovative products weren’t just on display — some were in actual development during the show, where product developers have an opportunity to explain their concepts to builders, who present their challenges, questions and opportunities.

“A good example this year was the CirrusSense wireless pressure transducer from Tranducers Direct,” says Wendt. The product was intended to monitor HVAC units remotely, but at the show the inventor was asked whether he could design the device for fire suppression systems on board. “In two minutes the product had a new application, a new revenue stream and a buyer,” Wendt says.

Dunbar pointed out that one way boatbuilders are differentiating their brands is through lighting design. There were several new designs at last year’s show, but this year those numbers increased and spread from windshields to induction lighting. Wendt pinpointed the Sea Devil (Genuine Marine) underwater light with induction power — an innovative system that lights up the water without putting holes in the hull.

“This was [Sea Devil’s] first go-around, and I expect the product will be vastly improved in the year ahead,” Wendt says. “So often this is the case, as inventors take feedback, then return to the tool bench and greatly improve a product. We’ve seen that with SureShade, Ameritex and Attwood with their pressure-relief direct fill device.”

Some companies see the $400 Innovation Awards entry fee as a barrier, Wendt says, but smarter companies see it as a bargain. “The cost per impression is pennies, not to mention the time savings and travel cost for a salesperson to try … to get an appointment with every boatbuilder on what is becoming a global stage,” he says.

Next year IBEX returns to Florida, and the competition will heat up in a new format. Plans are in the works to have experts go head to head on stage. Rather than have the judges study the products from the booths, BWI is working on a format in which multiple contest entrants come to the panel at the same time and make their pitches.

Contestants will answer questions about what makes their product innovative, and then answer each other’s challenges on what’s truly innovative. Wendt says the judges believe that in the highly technical categories, the challenging format will reveal a more complex, thorough understanding of why the product advances the science.

“It’s our version of ‘Shark Tank’ — in friendly waters,” he says.

In addition to the Innovation Awards, three other honors were presented at IBEX. Brunswick chairman Dustan McCoy and Marine Concepts CEO Bob Long were inducted into the National Marine Manufacturers Association Hall of Fame. Ron Bailey of Turning Point Propellers was presented with the National Marine Representatives Association’s Mel Barr Award.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.


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