Truly, one of the early visionaries of smart battery charging, Michael Frost’s name hasn’t necessarily been one of the best known of the Seattle crowd, but his contribution to the industry has been quite extraordinary. Like many others, Michael started out designing and building powerful audio amplifiers for Phase Linear. Along with a couple of his Phase Linear co-workers, Michael directed his attention to building high-quality battery charging and inverter equipment. Their new company, Trace Engineering, soon became the standard for marine charging systems.
Later, Michael started his own consulting company, Frost Electronic Design. Well known among the Seattle engineering community, Michael quickly became a sought-after engineering troubleshooter and out-of-the-box designer. Clients included northwest companies ranging from spa manufacturers to a very large builder of airplanes in the Seattle area — and in the marine industry, Michael’s regulator designs included the popular Max Charge® and ARS® voltage regulators.
In his final project, Michael sought to design a regulator which brought the intelligence and flexibility of his earlier designs together with a sleeker, more streamlined software code and a circuit design that eliminated many of the heat related issues which were a challenge in earlier regulator designs. Wakespeed’s WS100 is the result of Michael’s efforts. Sadly, Michael passed away late in 2016 — but his simple, user-friendly design will continue to illustrate the elegance of his unique design capabilities.
For Al Thomason, smart regulator design isn’t just an engineering challenge, it’s an important part of his daily life. Another Northwest native, Al made it his goal to retire early from the tech sector and live the boating life full time.
But, with a dual degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science – and a career ranging from software development to senior product management with companies like IBM, Epson and Canon – Al was painfully aware that most of the products available off the shelf were unable to meet the needs of the batteries aboard his 1961 Ed Monk Sr. trawler, Viking Star, but he had the unique ability to create a better solution.
“It became apparent to me deficiencies in existing charging equipment made it impossible to properly implement battery manufacturers’ recommended charging profiles,” said Al, “and undesirable interaction between discreet charging sources just amplified charging issues.” Al set out to design a voltage regulator that addressed all of the charging challenges he felt were beyond the capability of products he found online and at the marine supply.
Among the challenges Al confronted was the inability to regulate based on any value other than voltage. He also found conventional voltage regulators’ inability to communicate with other charge sources to be a significant disadvantage when charging large battery banks. Using his own boat as his laboratory and test subject, Al began the arduous task of designing a completely new regulator technology – incorporating the ability to monitor current and voltage to determine battery condition – as well as designing a can bus based protocol which allows charge sources and monitoring equipment to work together to ensure optimal battery management.
After a development process that’s required a multi-year effort to combine breakthrough hardware design, thousands of hours of coding, and hundreds of hours’ worth of testing in the lab and on the water, Al’s charge control system is now available through Wakespeed. We are pleased to offer the Wakespeed WS500 advanced controller before the end of 2018, a game-changing product that, we believe, will change the way we all look at smart voltage regulation.
It’s been a series of twists and turns that brought Rick Jones to Wakespeed® Offshore – and what he originally thought would be a career in agricultural journalism has morphed into 30 years of working on and around boats.
While a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo on the central coast of California, Rick found work on one of the fishing boats at Port San Luis. Performing boat maintenance between classes and fishing off the central California coast on weekends, Rick found himself increasingly drawn to time on the water.
Transferring to Cal Poly, Pomona in southern California, Rick was recruited to write for the Harbor News, a neighborhood boating newspaper in Long Beach, California. A side job, waxing hulls and varnishing teak trim, brought about another accidental introduction, when the owner of a race boat he was working on asked him to replace a crew member who didn’t show up. That was the beginning of five year’s worth of campaigning throughout southern California and multiple races south to Mexico.
Rick continued to combine writing and editing, and boating on the side, eventually taking a job as a Senior Copywriter for West Marine Products. During the three annual catalog cycles he worked there, Rick focused much of his attention to the catalog’s electrical and electronic categories – where he had the opportunity to work with vendors to develop product copy for a wide range of marine electrical and electronic lines.
In 1999, Rick joined the staff at Ballard Commercial Industries, the manufacturer of Balmar high-output alternators and multi-stage voltage regulators. Over his 14 years at Balmar, Rick led the company’s sales and marketing department – with responsibility for developing catalogs, designing and purchasing advertising, directing Balmar’s presence at boat shows and industry seminars, and providing input for new product development.
Like with many small companies, Along with marketing demands, Rick was a key contact for vendors and customers, ensuring that their technical and customer service needs were met. As time went on, Rick’s capabilities as a troubleshooter made him sought after among installers and end users. Rick was promoted to Vice President of Market Development in 2007 and remained at Balmar until the company was sold in 2015.
Rick’s extensive knowledge of real-world charging issues and experience with high-output charging systems led him to establish Wakespeed in 2016. A subsequent visit with Michael Frost, and a lively conversation about what folks loved (and hated) about voltage regulators on the market led to a decision to design a new product. So, with legal pad in hand, Rick and Michael set on the task to design a all-new multi-stage regulator. Convinced that “feature creep” had made many of the products on the market too complicated and difficult to use, the two designed an extremely simple, user-friendly voltage regulator – which could be manufactured at a more reasonable cost.
The result was a design which integrated a newer, faster processor, which enabled much of the required functions to be handled with software – allowing the hardware design to eliminate parts which were historically responsible for developing excess heat at the circuit board.
Sadly, Michael passed away shortly after the completion of the WS100 voltage regulator. We are fortunate, though, to have Al Thomason step in to ensure that the WS100 continues to be solid choice for boaters, and to administrate its continued development for different voltages and platforms.