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Too little wind at sea and yachts will be becalmed. Too much and the waters will resemble the Southern Ocean. But wind can also keep the lights on, the laptop charged and the fridge working. Marlec Engineering – the oldest renewable energy company in the UK and one of the biggest customers of Rapid Electronics – is helping to do this for boat owners around the world.
Marlec's low voltage wind turbines are designed for use in all kinds of vessels, from leisure cruisers and sailing yachts to barges and narrow boats. Rather than using on-board engines as a power source, Marlec's products save on running costs and fuel consumption. Even the gentlest of breezes will keep batteries topped up and give boat owners an independent, clean source of energy. But Marlec's customers are not all at sea.
“Maritime is our biggest market, but we also supply the likes of static and mobile caravan owners, educational institutions, meteorological and geological surveys and developing countries – anywhere, in fact, where off-grid electricity is required”, says Teresa Auciello, Marlec Engineering's Sales Director.
Rapid has become one of Marlec's key suppliers. “I have worked at Marlec for 30 years, and first became aware of Rapid Electronics when a catalogue was mailed to us in the early 1990s”, Auciello told us recently. “We realised Rapid had components we needed and we have been ordering from them ever since.”
“We buy a huge range of products from Rapid, mainly components for our wind turbines and control gear,” Auciello continues. “We tend to buy for both general production runs and bespoke work for clients that are shipped around the world. A significant percentage of our production items come from Rapid. They help us to keep control of our manufacturing costs, which is an absolute top priority for a global manufacturer.”
The Marlec Windcharger
Solutions for land and sea
Marlec's roots are in the tiny, landlocked county of Rutland. In 1979 John Fawkes, a retired engineer, created a wind-powered generator to power electric fencing on farmland. That product, the Rutland Windcharger, set the template for the company's future products. The turbines produced by Marlec today are essentially very similar to that of the original Rutland Windcharger, albeit tweaked with 21st-century technology.
Designed to cope with the most extreme conditions, Marlec's products are not only popular with amateur sailors. The Rutland 504 Windcharger and SunWare solar panels, for example, were used in The Row to the Pole challenge a few years ago, when a five-man British team became the first to row a vessel to the magnetic North Pole – an expedition which highlighted the effects of climate change.
After the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökul volcano in Iceland in 2010, which left an ash cloud that disrupted European airspace for several days, the company's custom kits (turbines, solar panels, controllers and battery packs) were used by researchers to charge seismic monitoring equipment. “Our turbines and solar panels have also helped supply electricity to medical clinics in Africa – something of which we are incredibly proud,” said Auciello.
Now based in Northamptonshire, Marlec has diversified its product range to include solar panels, batteries, voltage regulators and controllers, some of which the company manufacture and some it distributes, but it is for its wind turbines that Marlec is most well known. The Windcharger range includes solutions for land and sea, from the Rutland 504, the lightest of all Marlec's turbines, to the FM1803 Furlmatic Windcharger, which features a 1.8m diameter turbine producing 410 watts of power at wind speeds of 21 knots. An MPC1 controller protects batteries against overcharge.
"We are able to get components from Rapid that we simply couldn't find anywhere else"
Customer support does not just end at the despatch desk. Marlec customers have access to a Skype service so they can contact the company wherever and whenever they want in case of emergencies – even if that happens to be in the middle of the ocean. “It is all part of our commitment to make ourselves as accessible to customers on the most useful platforms,” says Auciello. Marlec's Logistics Manager Martin Seager works very closely with Elise Atkinson, Rapid's account manager for Central and Southern England, to ensure they have the components they need in the short and medium term.
“We might call for datasheets from Elise to enable our technical support teams to scrutinize if a part would be useful in a particular application. We have very exacting standards for our products. But we know we can rely on Rapid to supply the quality and range of components we need,” says Seager. “Marlec are a pleasure to work with,” says Atkinson. “My team and I pride ourselves on fulfilling Marlec's product demands at the right price, keeping them informed at all times and delivering on time for the manufacturing team to proceed and finish their client orders.”
Auciello, who was interviewed by BBC News in the run-up to the EU Referendum, is keen to highlight why Rapid is so important to her company. “Rapid's prices are good but for us it is more about availability – from the very start we were able to get components from Rapid that we simply couldn't source anywhere else,” says Auciello. “I am pleased to say that has continued to be the case! In manufacturing it is incredibly important to have a reliable supply chain and Rapid help with this immeasurably.”