My exclusive tour of the expanded Mercury Marine Product Development and Engineering (PD&E) facility revealed not just the technology Mercury has in place on its Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, campus, but also the company’s vision of the future of marine propulsion. In April, contractors were finishing a $16 million, 19,000-square-foot addition to the PD&E facility that was devoted mostly to outboard motor products when it originally opened in 1999. Much of the expansion accommodates the relocation of MerCruiser sterndrive and inboard engineering from Stillwater, Oklahoma, including new dynamometer cells for testing “horizontal” engines. Mercury is also prepared to put more emphasis on diesel engines sourced from Volkswagen and VM Motori, which are now Environmental Protection Agency Tier 3 certified for sale in the United States. Mercury has hired more than 100 engineers in the past year as it staffs up the facility.
The broadest change in scope was articulated by David Foulkes, vice president of product development.
“Mercury is making the transition from being a marine engine manufacturer to ... [being] a marine systems supplier,” Foulkes said. “With the advent of digital controls, joystick controls and other integrated components, the engine has become one part of a complex system.”
During my visit, workers completed the installation of three helm simulators designed to test the interface of Mercury electronic systems with those of other suppliers.
“Right now we are working with companies like Navico and Raymarine,” said Foulkes, “but as the auto manufacturers are discovering, future nav systems may come from Apple or Microsoft, and we may just be plugging a phone into the helm before we leave the dock."
It’s not all about electronics. Plenty of oil still courses through Mercury’s veins. The facility will consume 300,000 gallons of fuel this year. In total, 17 engine dyno test cells now exist for the development of outboard, sterndrive and diesel engine technologies. New test facilities include three 500 hp sterndrive-specific dyno cells and two climate-controlled, 16,000-gallon durability cells, each designed to handle three outboards, sterndrives or pods up to 1,000 combined horsepower.
Mercury used to conduct all of its testing with city water. The new building incorporates a closed system that Mercury says has reduced its annual water consumption by 25 million gallons. I expect to see the level of Lake Winnebago rising this summer.