Making Noise About Being Quiet

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As news stories go, Mercury Marine opening a new Noise, Vibration, Harshness Technical Center at its headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wis., isn’t exactly a blockbuster. Since the story went live on speedonthewater.com three days ago, less than 500 people have read it. By traffic standards, it flopped. No big surprise there—hell, I’ll be shocked if most readers finish this paragraph.

Mercury Marine’s new Noise, Vibration, Harshness Technical Center is a $10 million investment in ensuring its engines products run as quietly and smoothly.

But that doesn’t mean the story about the marine engine company’s recently completed, 20,000-square-foot technical center isn’t important. Quite the opposite. Mercury Marine’s $10 million investment in ensuring its products run as quietly and smoothly is an investment in present and the future. And that makes it a big story.

Much as there those are those among us who love the earsplitting roar and rumble of a supercharged big-block engine, there are thousands more who, well, just don’t. Mercury Marine didn’t invest in NHV Technology Center on a hunch. The company does more than a little market research, and the people who study the results know—they’re not guessing—that the overwhelming majority of their current (and future, they hope) customers want engines that run more quietly and smoothly.

How many of you have tried to restart an outboard engine because it was idling so quietly? Guilty as charged, right here. But once I overcame my modest embarrassment I thought, Damn. That’s really cool.

How many of you miss violent clunk of shifting from neutral to forward or reverse in your boat? My first car, a beat-up red 1969 four-speed manual-transmission BMW 2002 shifted more easily—and that red rocket was a beast to shift—than most outboards did even 20 years ago.

For the record, NVH is “the engineering practice of studying noise, vibration and harshness characteristics.” In Mercury Marine’s decidedly informed and well-researched view,  “These are integral to the boating experience, ensuring the quietest and most peaceful engine for the consumer.”

Said Reid, “We are proud of this expansion and looking forward to giving our engineers a world-class facility where they can study every noise, movement and performance indicator on every engine we manufacture.”

In other words, most powerboat owners don’t want engine to interfere with the other joys of being on the water.

“Our new NVH Technical Center gives us the additional test capacity we need to continue to meet and exceed our product development goals and meet and exceed the desires of our customers,” said Tim Reid, Mercury Marine vice president of product development and engineering, in a press release from the company. “We are proud of this expansion and looking forward to giving our engineers a world-class facility where they can study every noise, movement and performance indicator on every engine we manufacture.”

Last time I toured Mercury Marine’s main campus, I visited its new sophisticated V-8 out engine line and its nearby propeller foundry. Neither was a quiet, soothing experience. Next time I go back to Fond du Lac, I want to check out the NVH Technical Center.

Because I’m sure the experience will inspire me to make all kinds of noise about being quiet.

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