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Old 29-07-2017, 08:05   #1
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Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

I have had to re-engine my catamaran with 2 brand new Volvo D1-30 engines, after the originals (2030's) failed. The new engines came with a 'Black Box' that manages the instrumentation, and start and stop, in lieu of the 'low-tech' relays fitted to my old engines.

After the installation, the starboard engine failed to start because the black box was dead on arrival. Volvo replaced this promptly, and all was well for maybe 100 hrs, before the port engine black box failed. I was in the Galapogos at the time so there was no dealer support available. Then whilst on passage to the Gambier Islands (3000 miles) the starboard engine failed again after 127 hrs. I managed to bypass the black boxes and start the engines, and also to activate the alternators, but the instrumentation does not work, and climbing into the engine rooms to start and stop whilst on passage is no fun!

Volvo has sent two new black boxes under warranty, but the Volvo dealer in Tahiti cheerfully told me that he expected to see me again after a few months, because these boxes are notoriously unreliable. Subsequent conversations with other cruisers suggests that these boxes cannot be trusted, and one cruiser had been through 6 boxes in 2 years!

I'd happily go back to a simple mechanical system, but this would invalidate the warranty apparently.

Is anyone out there familiar with this problem, or in discussion with Volvo on a suitable solution? 3 failures in 227 running hours is unacceptable, regardless how how responsive Volvo is with their replacements.

Sv Makara (Lavezzi 40)
Huahine, French Polynesia
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Old 29-07-2017, 16:23   #2
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

I have some "indirect" experience with these units. A friend went through 3 of them on his boat before we found the root cause.

The first one went because of the root cause (I'll get to that momentarily). The next 2 went because the "Volvo Authorized and Trained" mechanic swapped two of the 3 connectors. Unfortunately, the connectors can be swapped and if so fry the unit. SO ... be very careful to reconnect properly.

In my friends case the root cause proved to a splice in the cable running from the helm to the engine. It is common to splice these cables as the connector is often too big to pass through stanchions, etc. In his case the splice was not properly waterproofed and corrosion allowed a momentary short which let the smoke out of the unit, thus killing it.

Don't know if that is your issue, but perhaps worth a careful inspection.
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Old 30-07-2017, 01:31   #3
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Thanks for your reply, jamhass. The connectors and looms were all supplied by Volvo, and went through the bulkheads without stress or modification or splicing. And the units failed from one day to the next - One day all would be well, and the next they simply wouldn't boot up.

I continuity-checked the pins on the looms as I thought maybe the connectors had failed, but these proved ok, and simply swapping out the units solved the problem, until the next failure....
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Old 23-04-2018, 11:37   #4
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Hi, I have a 2007 D2-75. Bought the boat used and just starting my 4th year with her. She's had a number of idiosyncratic things that I now ascribe to the MDI - but it's now gone beyond idiosyncrasies.

The first was that after shutting off the control panel, about 95% of the time it would magically come back on and start counting hours. The only way to prevent it was to turn off the engine battery. Small, annoying issue that is responsible for several hundred "phantom" hours on the engine.

The second is mild "overheating." I thought this was real for a long time. Pickled the exchanger in place. Nope. Removed it and small bits of impeller. Nope. Put a heat gun on the block. Perfectly stable, despite the gauge creeping up.

Then at the end of last season, the engine would not start. Panel was dead. After much diagnosis and misdiagnosis (by the Volvo tech with the $1000 tool to test the MDI), we discovered it was in fact the MDI. The next one would start the engine, but would not stop it -- it was defective. The next one worked a few weeks. Now on the third one (actually 5th - it was replaced, I now find out, before I bought the boat) and within a week it's developed an annoyance that I suspect will lead to failure. Engine starts fine, stops fine, but then none of the buttons on the panel work. Turn off the engine battery, turn on and the panel works - start, run, stop, no panel.

The yard has been interfacing with Volvo, but I'm going to try myself. Anyone had an luck in that regard? A helpful contact?

I've had the yard install a workaround for emergencies, but of course nothing that runs through the MDI works in that mode. I frankly find this ridiculous. I can tell Volvo has been dealing with this for a long time (lots of stuff on the internet going way back) and I don't understand why there isn't a workable solution.

Thanks in advance for the thoughts!
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Old 14-10-2018, 19:09   #5
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

I thought I'd resurrect this old thread in hopes it will help others. I have a very old version of the MDI, haven't commissioned the engine yet, and have watched as others have had unending problems. I was just thinking about buying the 5th version of the MDI (#22594274) on fleaBay for $300 (less than half price). It turns out that Volvo-Penta has finally (!!!) addressed the problem by issuing a Service Bulletin that offers free replacement for some MDIs - with a NEW, 6th version (#23231607). It turns out that the 5th version won't start the engine if the battery voltage sags. Other versions have different problems, with the first version including electrolytic capacitors which fail due to the engine heat. For the record, here is the history of part numbers:

21120710 > 21120871 > 21511215 > 21558939 > 22594274 > 23231607


This is a sorry tale...

Greg

MDI_BOX_RECALL.pdf
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Old 28-10-2018, 09:38   #6
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

We have been tied to the dock for over 3 weeks now because of ANOTHER MDI failure. We have owned the boat for 7 months and it had two new D1-30's installed under the recall a few weeks before we took possession of her. In those short 7 months we have gone through at least 6 MDI units. 5 of the 6 have been completely dead and the 6th was continually starting the motor.

In fact, the Service Manager of our local Volvo Penta authorized service provider came to our boat yesterday on his day off and personally installed a new MDI on our starboard motor. Fast forward to this morning, the wife and I were looking forward to a relaxing sail on a beautiful Fall day. When I went out to warm up the motors, I discover that the port MDI is now DEAD. This one has been replaced twice already. I truly hope that the latest generation MDI has fixed these issues once and for all.
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Old 28-10-2018, 11:40   #7
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Sorry to be sketchy on the details here
A friend of mine had the same issues
with the black box and got so tired of
climbing down into the engine bay to
jump start the engine with a screw driver
that he rigged up a pig tail momentary
switch to bypass the relay inside the black box.
Auto mechanics use a similar device to remotely
turn over the engine when under the hood.
I believe he found info on building the bypass
device on line.
Cheers
Neil
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Old 28-10-2018, 11:55   #8
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Quote:
Originally Posted by Time2Go View Post
Sorry to be sketchy on the details here
A friend of mine had the same issues
with the black box and got so tired of
climbing down into the engine bay to
jump start the engine with a screw driver
that he rigged up a pig tail momentary
switch to bypass the relay inside the black box.
Auto mechanics use a similar device to remotely
turn over the engine when under the hood.
I believe he found info on building the bypass
device on line.
Cheers
Neil
No worries. Many have fitted a simple push to start switch like the ones found on most of todays automobiles. Works wonderfully as an emergency back up. The problem is that depending upon the fault, the MDI will send no information such as overtemp, or other alarms to the control panel. I have also been told that fitting such a device voids the warranty on the engines. I am uncertain if that is indeed the case.
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Old 28-10-2018, 12:13   #9
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

@HighTemp: Have you been getting the latest, 6th gen MDI? (p/n 23231607)

@Time2Go: Looking into some of this I found that these engines have traditional controls/sensors, and the MDI is merely the interface between the conventional engine and the CANBUS controls (as opposed to a modern common-rail engine where a controller turns on/off each injector based on sensor readings). So the engine should be able to run without the MDI, but without instruments and alarms. Rigging a momentary-on switch between the battery and starter solenoid terminals on the MDI will accomplish this. I have not read about how to shut off the engine, however. Blocking the air intake should work but it would be nice to have a better solution. I'll take a look at the engine to see if there is a solenoid to use.

Greg
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Old 28-10-2018, 12:21   #10
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarinaPDX View Post
@HighTemp: Have you been getting the latest, 6th gen MDI? (p/n 23231607)


@Time2Go: Looking into some of this I found that these engines have traditional controls/sensors, and the MDI is merely the interface between the conventional engine and the CANBUS controls (as opposed to a modern common-rail engine where a controller turns on/off each injector based on sensor readings). So the engine should be able to run without the MDI, but without instruments and alarms. Rigging a momentary-on switch between the battery and starter solenoid terminals on the MDI will accomplish this. I have not read about how to shut off the engine, however. Blocking the air intake should work but it would be nice to have a better solution. I'll take a look at the engine to see if there is a solenoid to use.


Greg
The one installed yesterday was the latest version. The one that failed today is one generation earlier.

As for shutting off the engine, there is a fuel cut switch on the engine towards the front next to the injector rail.
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Old 28-10-2018, 12:40   #11
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

OK, I see the little "STOP" lever to the front of the injector pump. To the rear is a stop solenoid; it shouldn't be difficult to wire a stop switch into it if needed. With a little research it should also be possible to connect the sensors to conventional instruments and see what is happening. If I were going to distant places I would rig at least a manual start/stop switch, or have it ready to install. Replacing the instruments is a little OTT I suppose.

Let's hope v6 is the solution. With a new one on the port engine it should be good, if that is the case. Crossed fingers...

Greg
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Old 28-10-2018, 12:44   #12
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarinaPDX View Post
OK, I see the little "STOP" lever to the front of the injector pump. To the rear is a stop solenoid; it shouldn't be difficult to wire a stop switch into it if needed. With a little research it should also be possible to connect the sensors to conventional instruments and see what is happening. If I were going to distant places I would rig at least a manual start/stop switch, or have it ready to install. Replacing the instruments is a little OTT I suppose.

Let's hope v6 is the solution. With a new one on the port engine it should be good, if that is the case. Crossed fingers...

Greg
I happen to own a small, but very specialized engineering company that specializes in high reliability, high temperature electronics deigns used in down hole drilling operations. Automotive temps are no sweat for us. I am thinking of making my own MDI of sorts. At least one that can work up to 220ºC reliably. Going to be very expensive though. One off's are not cheap.
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Old 28-10-2018, 12:56   #13
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

Or you could do the obvious and move the box off the engine and out of the engine compartment, as V-P could have done a long time ago. Or simply contract to someone like you to design a heat- and voltage-tolerant MDI. They were so clueless that in v1 they used liquid electolytic capacitors (in a module that bolts to a hot engine?). An Arduino (Atmel) would probably have enough horsepower to make a functional MDI, or otherwise a Raspberry Pi. Let's just hope V-P finally got their act together and we can get on without worrying about this.

Greg
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Old 28-10-2018, 13:04   #14
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

I can confirm that it’s fairly easy to install a simple push button start that allows my d2-75 to run independent of the MDI. The stop lever works nicely in conjunction.

If you run the engine this way the panel does not register engine hours and there are no alarms, nor does the engine room fan operate, and this bypasses the glow plugs, so this practice is not without risks. That said, I find this solution perfect when my MDI decides to fail at a bad moment.

I’m on my second MDI at about 950 hours. The serial number is 22458451 P W 1738. So far this one is holding up.

My original MDI failed at 600 hours, by intermittent start failures and numerous random engine shut downs. You can unplug the stop selonoid to prevent these shut downs from happening, though this will trigger an alarm.

All in all these MDIs are horrible, and in my opinion dangerous.

I can’t believe Volvo hasn’t addressed this openly, with a well publicized recall and a better engineered solution for everyone with MDI equipped engines. Unreal.
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Old 28-10-2018, 13:15   #15
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Re: Volvo Penta MDI (Black Box) failures

I do have a "somewhat" sympathetic understanding of what VP is trying to do. They have to satisfy all of us who have their engines in our boats as well as to rectify the problem moving forward. It is not an inexpensive proposition and they are already up to the 5th or 6th generation MDI, so there has been multiple attempts to correct the issue.. VP is following a prudent course of action, but to date, it has fallen well short.
At least in my personal experience.

The switch thing is a fine back up, but a permanent solution needs to be found and implemented. Hopefully this latest generation of MDI's will be the last generation of MDI's.
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