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A Historical Overview of Marine Data Systems

Kevin Wilson Unearths the story behind the global success of Marine Data Systems
Taken from the writeup in the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce Business magazine here. Published on Feb 4, 2013.

Tim Ingram has been making a living from electronics since he started repairing teachers’ television sets in between lessons at Cowes High School.

His love for the industry was wired in from an early age. His father Jack was a pioneer of advanced electronics, and a highlight  of his career was designing the complex system of gyroscopes, magnetometers and accelerometers that was used to guide Apollo 11 to a soft landing on the Moon in 1969.

So it was no surprise when Tim abandoned university to join his father’s company. At the age of just 22, he was a company director, responsible for more than 35 employees, all of them older than him. “It was a tough time,” he said. “The staff just thought it was a case of daddy’s boy being given a cosy job,”

As his father’s health deteriorated, Tim ended up at the helm of Marine Data Systems in 2004, and has turned it into a world leading designer and builder of marine navigation and control systems.

Tim Ingram Holding Queen’s Award for Enterprise International Trade

The icing on the cake came this year, when the company won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.

Around 98 per cent of its products are exported, and Tim is proud of the fact that equipment made on the Isle of Wight is relied upon by captains and crews of leisure, commercial and defence ships all over the world, for their safe passage.

The company was established in 1978 by his father, Jack Katon Ingram, who was a navigator in the RAF before building a successful career with some of the biggest names in the world, including Boeing and NASA. Meanwhile, Tim was building a business of his own…

“I started making electronic toys and gadgets at an early age,” he said. “Even when I was at primary school, I made time to repair other children’s toys!

“All I ever wanted was to work,” he said. “And I earned enough to buy myself a Raleigh racing bike at a young age, so I knew I was on the right lines. I opened my own electronics consultancy in Cowes at the age of 17.

“I just loved electronics and never wanted to do anything else. I can remember assembling circuit boards for dad in my bedroom at night then carrying them across the landing to my brother’s bedroom so he could test them.

“A few years later, I had got engaged and we were making plans to buy a house. Around that time, my dad said he really needed extra help with his businesses, and I took the chance to earn a salary, joining Katon Ingram as a director.

“My biggest job at that time was to design a system to analyse wave height direction, angle and speed for a new breakwater at the Wirral, for the National Maritime Institute.”

When Tim eventually took the helm at Marine Data Systems, his first move was to transfer the operation from New Milton, to premises off Forest Road, Newport where it has been based ever since.

The next challenge was a rationalisation programme that saw the product range reduced from 250 to 75, followed by a value management analysis to ensure best value and efficiency of production.

The focus was very much on what the company did best, but this was closely linked to a commitment by Tim to travel the world to build relationships with customers, and understand their requirements.

“I visited all our major clients over a three year period, and it helped us to put the emphasis on quality. Ships depend on our products for safe navigation, and they obviously have to be able to rely on us. More than that, our products have to be easily understood so that they can be used intuitively, My philosophy is that if the user needs to wade through a manual, there is something wrong with the product.

“It took some time, but through various work programmes, and recruiting the best engineers, I think we are getting where we want to be -the best.

“But we have ambitious plans to grow.” John Poyner, Business Development Director, picks up the story … “This year, we opened two distribution, sales and support offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, and we plan to open similar offices in Indonesia and China next year.

“We are an unwatered flower. The market for our products is huge, and we believe we have the expertise and the quality to reach more customers in more countries, and some of that may well be as suppliers of products that are relabelled under other brand names

“We can grow a lot more, and that’s what we intend to do. Our target is a threefold expansion within five years, and we are pushing ahead now with getting more type approvals, as well as establishing bases in countries where ships are still being built.”

Marine Data’s current client list includes armed forces in Greece, Spain, France and Australia, as well as commercial shipping companies, deep sea fishing fleets and the cruise line sector.

A Marine Data Printed Circuit Board

Recently secured military contracts include compass repeater systems for S80 submarines being built by Navantia for the Spanish Navy; emergency steering systems for Air Warfare Defence Destroyers being built for the Australian Navy by ASC (Australia); and compass repeater systems for vessels being built by BAE Systems for the Greek Navy.

Marine Data also recently won a contract with DCNS France (Now known as Naval Group) for the design and provision of special compass repeaters to be used on the Barracuda submarines being built for the French Navy. The same submarine design is also expected to be built for the Indian and Brazilian navies.

The company believes its sales success is down to a wide range of factors, which include pro-active use of a new CRM system to enable follow up quotes to ascertain status and potential; regular contact with key customers and distributors with product updates and corporate news; and keeping the Marine Data brand in front of potential customers.

Meanwhile, the work goes on.

Tim Said: “We have identified and secured more major projects – particularly in the military sector – through detailed market analysis, third-party data and a more pro-active approach to key contacts.

“We are also now re-launching our website to give it greater interactivity, combined with the ability for Marine Data to update pages and information directly”

The days are gone when Tim could spend his days and nights hunched over a circuit board, but still gets a buzz from electronics…

“I suppose I’m the captain of the ship now,” he said. “I have to accept that I can’t do everything, so I have hired the best talent available to take my concepts and make them happen.

“I’m always on the move, looking for ideas, talking to people. Quite often, I will join a ship for a voyage and talk to the crew at all levels about how we can improve the systems they are using.”

Overall, I like to think that if Marine Data made watches, they’d be ranked alongside Rolex.”

Tim freely admits that he wasn’t a favourite of his physics teacher. “I kept finding new ways of doing things, but I irritated him because what I was doing wasn’t on the curriculum.” he said “I remember making a renewable energy generator based on a Tate and Lyle syrup tin, which didn’t go down too well.”

As Marine Data continues to lead the world in navigation technology that works straight out of the box. It’s hard to imagine his physics teacher being irritated now.

Marine Data Systems in 30 seconds:

  • Established 1978, now in its 35th year
  • Won contract for bearing repeaters for next generation submarines for french navy
  • Developed it’s own environmental testing facility
  • Company products in use on P&O and Disney cruise ships
  • Manufacturing Systems approved to ISO9001:2008 (Now ISO9001:2015 March 2018)
  • Exports account for around 96 per cent of business


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