Touch screen technology onboard: interview with Francesco Bini

Boccadarno: in June, the harbor will host the first boats
1 July 2013

With a high school-leaving certificate as a Specialized Industrial Technician in electronics and a training course attended during the school time, Francesco Bini was in his early twenties when he begun to work for the General Impianti Nautici (GIN), the enterprise founded by his father Giuseppe, concentrating his work on alarm systems monitoring and on-board lighting systems with integrated technologies. Nowadays, after 15 years of work supported by a continuous training on the job, he is the project creator of the most updated touch screen panels for monitoring activities, activation and use of on-bard equipment characterised by a functional design and comforts. A well-advanced technology which rises from the ranks in the complex and fascinating luxury motor yacht design, and thanks to which the GIN is looking forward at her development, in Italy as well as abroad, and at the continuous development of the pleasure boating and yachting sector.

Mr. Bini, the Navicelli News readers are expert in this sector but, referring to our new and young readers that deal with this sector for their first time, I would like you to explain simply and clearly the main topics; what is a touch-screen operating panel?

A touch-screen operating panel is a device which can be compared to the modern smartphones and tablets, well-known especially by the young generation and that are becoming part of our daily life more and more. Specifically referred to the vessels and yachts, this is a monitor that was specially programmed to allow the users to interact with the various on-board functions and to monitor any kind of feedback considered as useful to control the various equipment necessary for navigation.

What is its technology?

These are devices born to work mainly with programmable logic devices used in office automation and so they are very strong and responsive. Nowadays there are companies that aim in a very interesting way to the shipbuilding market, therefore the operating panels that they produce already correspond to all the characteristics required to work to the best in the marine environment, complete with all the certifications necessary to the registers.

What are the characteristics that this device is supposed to have to perform its functions in the most efficient way?

Primarily, you have to consider the hardware and software characteristics that allow you to interact with as many devices as possible that are installed on board, considering that the various supplying enterprises use communication protocols that usually are different from ours. The possibility of collecting the many data positioned in the different areas of the ship and visualizing all of them in only one monitor means that the customer can count on a high-level control product for his own yacht.

What are the style and design parts to be considered to install this devices in the “habitat” of a yacht?

Aesthetically speaking, the first part standing out is the monitor’s framework that, depending on the size and the area where it is installed, can make the difference. Secondly, the graphic design composing the web-pages where the user surfs the net is really important. In fact, it has to be necessarily elegant and also related to the surrounding environment.

The most important thing is to enclose all the necessary things in a simple and intuitive way, but also to make the site homogeneous on the whole.

What does GIN offer with its plant design projects to a ship owner who expects the most from this?

We offer the maximum transparency and collaboration starting from opening counselling and the necessary for each device we are working on, following each single step in its development until the delivery and performance tests. Furthermore, we are always available for the necessary assistance, both on the telephone both in person.

To this day, many historical customers ask for our presence on board, not only in Italy, exactly because during the shipbuilding works they were satisfied by our work and we have built a pleasant and faithful business relationship with each one of them for many years.

Is your work a staff-work or rather a highly specialized technical work?

Both answers are right, it depends on the single step of the process. During the programming phase, in the production workshop, my colleagues and I share the jobs according to the skills and competences of each one of us, however we always interact to make the job to develop in a well-organised way. During the performance test inside the production workshop and the final tests on board, we all work and cooperate together.

We know that you have developed home automation project applied to the on-board environments; what is the most recent of them?

We introduced the project during the 2012 METS in Amsterdam, we integrated a number of onboard devices with the lighting of the environments including the scenarios, managed either by the operation panel either by mobile devices, i.e. the smartphones and the tablets mentioned before.

For us, to be able to offer to the customer the possibility of controlling his own yacht also using his own favourite mobile device (that he already has) was a very important technical leap and also full of satisfaction.

Did you avail yourself of research laboratories? Or you recurred to independent consultants to install these devices?

We combined together our experience with the one of an enterprise with whom we have cooperated for many years and who works in the installation of remote controls both in Italy and abroad; we hope to expand our structures and actualize our projects and ideas with this enterprise.

Furthermore, we are planning a collaboration with the ISTI Institute of the National Research Centre (CNR) of Pisa to be able to replicate in their laboratories the reference point where to introduce a range of integrated technologies, including the ones mentioned above, with the possibility of being visited and becoming then interesting topics in studies and training courses for everyone interested in.

How important are the costs of these operations in the estimate of a yacht?

We are in 2013 by now. This means that the old methods to build electric lighting systems have resisted un to now and they are still very hard to step aside. Our will is to replace them with home automation systems and to make them to become standard goods (and not luxury goods any more), considering that the expensive costs of the materials are balanced by the fact they are very quick and easy to be installed on board.

May these touch screen technologies be used inside private houses as well?

Home automation system is a rather adjustable technology, therefore, according to the specific requirements, it is always possible to adapt it to every situation. Unfortunately, since it is not so common yet (in spite of the fact that this is the next aim to achieve), the main problem is represented by the high production costs.

Obviously, these costs are higher if you consider the case of small private houses.

Let us talk about quality certifications; what are your points of strength?

We have received the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Certification by the DNV certifying body since 2007 and every year we have controls by inspectors which confirm the stability of our enterprise and the validity of our organisation and our work. Although the crisis has put us to the test in the last years, we have been able to prepare the quality indicators to watch out for and that have guided us through the various bureaucratic and operational aspects to make the goals (set up by the enterprise every season) to be achieved. The confirmation is directly given by our customers that, through questionnaires, give us their feedbacks about their satisfaction concerning the offered services and the implementation of our projects.

What are the characteristics required to make this kind of profession to become a successful career?

First of all, as in any other profession, you need passion and perseverance. This is a working environment characterized by the collaboration with other enterprises of different kinds, and this gets you to be involved  into a staff where “being only an electrician” is not enough. Furthermore, it is also very frequent to face situations that are not only technical and so being flexible and adapting oneself to circumstances inevitably becomes a necessity. Opening your mind in this field may make the difference and it may be the right behaviour to receive many satisfactions.

Some years ago, you decided to work full-time in the family-run business enterprise founded by your father; Now, after 15 years of activity, would you make the same choice?

Absolutely and obviously yes. When I had the possibility to work for his enterprise, the experience and the basis built by my father had already made the GIN to be a concrete entity, widely well-known in the whole sector and positively considered by all the people who had something to do with it.

After the early years of my fieldwork, where I was assisted by the “veterans” of the group, I had the opportunity to create, step by step, my own identity within the enterprise, to play my roles and to give a significant contribution to the evolution of those aspects that have made the GIN to become as it is known nowadays.

You see, to keep up with times, in our sector it is necessary to invest continually in the development of new technologies to be applied 360 degrees in yachts and ships. This continuous development is what makes us to be distinguished and what makes me to look back ensuring myself that I have made the right choice.

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