Sunday, 13 December 2015

Things That Work For Us # 7 - Northern Lights Genset

It's really hard to speak when you are on hands and knees, your face buried against the cabin sole, happily worshiping your genset  .... a  Northern Lights unit.

You think I'm going overboard here ?  Seriously, this is how grateful we feel !

Northern Lights M673L3 Installed On Crystal Blues
After way too many years of dealing with constant Onan genset failures, we got smart and sold the thing to someone else.  Sure it didn't run, and had done over 2700 hours. Then again we sold it for peanuts, which is more than it was worth, in our opinion.

To give you a short history, our first Onan generator was such a complete dud that the factory replaced it at 740 hours of service, no charge to us.

Unfortunately they replaced it with the same model, with the same old problems.  You can guess how much fun that was.

We had to replace the impeller every 100 hours to keep the thing reliable, replaced countless water pumps and drive couplings, and when the control board finally failed they wanted over Two Thousand US dollars for a new board. Get outa here.... !

Onan Coupling Failure - Not Happy
This was incentive enough to move us into the real world, and we purchased a compact Northern Lights M673L3 6kva 230vac generator very economically, direct from the distributor in Taiwan.  It was shipped into Langkawi Malaysia, and delivered duty and tax free, quite a saving for us.  We craned it aboard and completed the installation ourselves, and have not looked back since.

The three cylinder Japanese manufactured Shibaura diesel engine runs like a Swiss watch, smooth and silent, and now, at 1065 hours of service, I am pleased to say that not a single thing has failed since it was installed.  This is a seriously nice piece of engineering.  I actually enjoy working on it for services and oil changes ... everything is easy to access and it's done in a flash.

Onan Impeller Failure
We spend less than 1/4 of the hours maintaining the Northern Lights unit, compared to the old Onan MDK4 unit. By 1100 operating hours the last Onan had consumed five (5) impellers, two water pumps and one starter motor.

The Northern Lights at the same age has consumed just one (1) impeller, simply because I had the raw water supply valve closed when I started it.  Oops - that was my fault.


To be fair, Cummins purchased the Onan business worldwide shortly
after our initial Onan purchase, and I think they really purchased a bunch of problems.  The very many design issues that afflicted our Onan unit would probably not have existed under a Cummins design regime - certainly I don't think Cummins designers would have allowed a sea water pump with a 3/4" supply hose to be restricted to a 1/4" outlet on the heat exchanger.  The huge back pressure that tiny outlet created, apparently necessary to stop localised boiling in the heat exchanger, was the cause of the constant impeller failures.

In fact the superb support we received from the Cummins team, with our Onan problems, was influential in our decision to eventually re-power Crystal Blues with a Cummins engine - the 4BT-150.  Never the less, Genset control boards priced at over US$2,000.00 will not bring about repeat business.  In the past year I've worked on several other smaller capacity Onan units with mystery problems, on other boats, and sure enough one lucky owner also needed a control board.  He stumped up and laid down the cash - whereas my advice was to toss the whole unit and start fresh with Northern Lights.

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