Since the very first performance boat floated it was fitted with instruments that in that day were were modified or adapted for a marine application. As powerboats evolved so did the gauges needed to monitor them. In the early years these gauges were all grafted from the industrial or automotive counterparts and were limited to monitoring just a few engine functions and virtually no specific boat functions, but today the world is how do the say it? “Our Oyster”. New gauges and instruments offered today are not only extensive but extremely accurate.
This accuracy and quality is what were going to focus on here, the accuracy in competition gauges still stems from the old adage of Built in America and that’s exactly what the AutoMeter brand of instruments is. Built in America and the absolute best value in marine gauges.
First lets touch on the fact that when anyone looks at a boat, the dash and the cockpit are the focal point. Today’s modern gauges are virtually the sex appeal of any modern dashboard. The numerous color options leave the gauges looking like they are popping off the dash with larger than life lenses and easy to read dials in vibrant and neon colors. At last form and function are clearly matched with the exciting “Race” inspired look these instruments provide.
AutoMeter was not only was behind the inception of “Monster Styles” gauges they have been the main supplier of parts and components to nearly all other gauge manufactures for years. In the early times they took a backseat as merely a supplier to the marine industry but as the success of the racing heritage blossomed the demand from the marine industry came to supply the same race accuracy to the powerboat market they have extended their dedicated marine instrumentation line.
Grown from the Garage
Autometer was founded in 1957 by Vern Westberg, as many have he began by manufacturing in his own home building electric tachometers. Back in the 1950′s tachometers were cable driven and not really that accurate, so out of need Vern set out to develop an electric powered tachometer. From humble beginnings in Westberg’s home with a single product, the company has grown to have a gauges available in just about any style or application you can imagine. The selection spans from marine instruments, custom street rods, and gauges for the racing elite in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series cars. With their extensive history in this market, we wanted to share a behind the scenes look deep into AutoMeter and how they produce gauges right here in the USA and why there is no better choice for your powerboat.
When the time comes for you to look at selecting gauges for your boat, there are a number of things to consider including: brand quality, reputation for reliability, price, style, size, color. AutoMeter not only builds electric but mechanical style gauges for the applications requiring such. Auto Meter broke down each style for us and explained the difference in how each one works and their capabilities. Everything starts in Auto Meter’s Sycamore, IL headquarters.
AutoMeter is housed in a beautifully restored building that is over 100 years old. The building retains many of its original features, such as the wooden columns and tin ceiling. Even though the building is a century old, That’s where all of the old ends and the technology moves to state of the art.
Joseph Mills of AutoMeter, says “We are very proud of our attention to detail and the level of quality we have.” Now this might be a broad statement you’ve heard before, you will see here how seriously they take attention to detail and quality. This level of detail and quality is everywhere through-out the entire company and at every level. This helps explain why they have been around so long and are destine to continue to be; a company just doesn’t survive this test of time if it didn’t produce a great product.
How Are Gauges Made?
AutoMeter produces almost everything in Sycamore, IL. This required bringing lots of cutting edge equipment into the facility so they have complete control over the manufacturing and assembly process from start to finish. Every single gauge is still completed by hand with minimal automation. Staying in tune with the latest in manufacturing technology they hand assemble nearly every gauge in house, the entire facility has been TS and ISO Certified, few others have this standard of quality.
Every part that is manufactured and compiled into a gauge at AutoMeter, goes through a Quality Engineers hands. “Every single piece, every single raw component that comes into the factory is examined very closely before it ever gets the opportunity to make it into the production line,” says Mills. To take this a step further, there are computers throughout the factory that keep all the required specs for every part so that at any given time,
somebody can check the specifications out.
The first step in making an AutoMeter gauge is building the components that go into the gauge. For the stepper motor electric gauges, they start by printing the actual circuit boards. Most other brands of “So-Called” gauge manufactures merely order in parts pre-assembled and this where the word “REAL” gauge manufacture comes into place. From here, components are placed with a computer into their respective slots. After every tiny component has been placed, the entire board goes through a machine the size of a school bus that bakes the soldier and cleans them.
The second step of manufacturing is where the boards are moved into a secondary machine. “This machine checks every single function of the board to ensure 100% compliance on every single board,” as the gauges are going down the production line from one station to the next, the processes in place ensure the next person is checking the previous persons work.
For the short sweep electric gauges with the air core meter movements, they start with the actual motor by winding copper around the magnetic core. Over the years, AutoMeter found that having the cores made off site wasn’t producing reliable movements, so they bought the equipment to bring everything in house. “We are the only TS and ISO certified facility in the entire United States that winds our own air core meter movements,”This is why so many other marine gauges have accuracy issue due to the lack of quality control that only AutoMeter can offer.
The next step is to produce the gauge faces. AutoMeter dials or faces are all screened in house, by hand. This allows a close eye to be on the face and catch any blemishes before the gauge is assembled. Once the screening has been completed, assembly of the actual gauge begins. AutoMeter operates in what’s known as ‘Cellular Manufacturing,’”. Many years ago, AutoMeter asked the employees how they could arrange things to improve work flow. One thing that was implemented was Cellular Manufacturing where people work in teams assembling different gauges. What this means is that as components are manufactured and assembled, they are done by people who specialize in that process. Each cell has the correct tools, screws, and experienced personnel to assemble the gauges correctly.
The King of Custom Gauges 28 trillion options?
So lets face it for some of us standard gauges just don’t quite the desired level of custom were putting into our boat. Lets say we’ve just added every single new piece of billet hardware or Carbon Fiber dash panel and we want something no one else has or at least we haven’t seen it. AutoMeter has embraced the custom side and can make just about any combination you could think of. Its claimed by one of their staff he figured out that with all the options of combinations available, there is over 28 trillion possible configurations. That doesn’t include any paint schemes that are brewing in a custom boat rigger/designers head.
The 28 trillion combinations include custom backgrounds, changing the font style and size along with different sized and shaped needles. The options for backgrounds include custom colors, brushed aluminum, or carbon fiber. The screening of the numbers can be changed but they can also add emblems or additional numbers as well. For instance, if you have a ’1972 Donzi they can screen on “72″ to all the gauges for a custom touch.
When it comes to custom gauges, these gauges are held to an even higher standard quality. The manufacturing process is the same as the off the shelf gauges, with a few modifications. When you select your face color and font combination, Auto Meter actually makes the face three times. This allows them to have three samples to choose from to find one that’s absolutely perfect.
AutoMeter is proud and the state over and again “We want to give the very best value to our product, even in a premium product line.” Even in the way the gauges are shipped their is added attention to quality. The gauges are not shipped in a standard cardboard box as off the shelf gauges. The Full Custom gauges come in a real cedar box, with your name engraved on a gold plaque.
Consistently the Winner
Today, AutoMeter offers four standard styles of marine gauges in their product line up not counting the custom gauge option. The versions are White face with White rim, Platinum Face with Platinum rim, Platinum face with Polished rim, and lastly Carbon fiber face with High luster rim. AutoMeter years of experience has shown them that by streamlining their manufacturing process and using the same internal components for all of their gauge styles, they could reduce costs making their product the best value and most reliable. This goes so far as that the gauges that are used in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race car use literally the exact same gauge internals going into your boat.
If owning the best quality and best looking gauges money can buy from a true American manufacture are what matters to you then AutoMeter is the gauge your boat deserves.