ABB’s Azipod a must for booming cruise industry, Arctic ice

2014-09-01 - ABB’s Azipod propulsion units are essential for large cruise ships and a new generation of ice-going liquid natural gas carriers. ABB offers not just technology and service, but training, too.
ABB's Azipod propulsion system inside the factory in Finland's Vuosaari Harbor

Four million cruise passengers descend on the Port of Miami annually from a lineup of giant ships, making the sunny Florida metropolis off Biscayne Bay one of the planet’s busiest ports.

Thousands of miles away in the Arctic Ocean, one of the harshest environments for maritime travel with temperatures cold enough to freeze mercury, the region's icy seas are increasingly the focus for companies pursuing energy deposits.

Worlds apart, Miami and the Arctic are closely linked by critical ABB technology: The Azipod, the powerful electrical propulsion system that allows cruise captains to navigate tight spaces in bustling harbors without tugboat assistance while enabling safe, efficient transport of shipborne liquified natural gas - even through meters-thick ice common on the Northern Sea Route.

“This is a perfect match for huge cruise vessels which can no longer operate without units like Azipod - or for icebreaking vessels that aren’t capable of transporting cargoes on the Northern route without the enormous power and handling capabilities offered by Azipod,” said Sakari Sorsimo, manager of Azipod propulsion system sales at ABB Marine in Helsinki. "It's become a logistical issue for a lot of the big ports."

Cruise orders, ice-going orders

Since ABB helped develop the Azipod in the 1980s, the automation and power company has delivered more than 250 Azipod units to 115 vessels, helping save ship owners up to 20 percent on fuel. By rotating the unit 360 degrees, ship captains and their crews can maneuver more efficiently, reducing harbor time and making the voyage more comfortable for millions of passengers.

Just now, Azipod propulsion systems are going into Royal Caribbean International’s first two Quantum-class vessels, the Quantum of the Seas, to be delivered this year, and the Anthem of the Seas, due in April 2015.

An artist's illustration of Finland's new Azipod-outfitted LNG icebreaker, to be delivered 2016. It's a continuating of ABB and Finland's long icebreaking partnership
For ice-going duties in the Arctic, ABB will supply Azipod propulsion systems for LNG carriers aiming to follow in the wake of an Azipod-equipped cargo ship that in 2010 completed the eastern portion of the Northern Sea Route separating Europe from Asia without icebreaker escort, saving time, fuel and money.

And the Finnish Transport Agency is awaiting the world’s first LNG-powered icebreaker in 2016, equipped with three Azipod propulsion units. It's a continuation of a long relationship dating to 1939, when ABB first delivered electric propulsion technology aboard the Finnish icebreaker Sisu.

Made in Finland, deployed around the world

Production of the Azipod units is truly a joint venture of ABB factories in Finland.

At ABB’s Azipod factory in Vuosaari Harbor near Helsinki, it takes about two months for technicians to assemble the enormous steel-armored propulsion units – they weigh up to 380 tons for ice-going applications - before delivering them to the shipyard.

And across town in ABB’s landmark motors, generators and drives factory, the powerful synchronous motors at the Azipod’s core take shape over six months.

A stator for an Azipod propulsion system motor, being completed inside ABB's Helsinki motor factory
For instance, copper material for the stators is insulated, sometimes by hand. Meticulous testing is conducted, and components are certified by Lloyds Registry, to assure quality and dependability of gear that customers will rely on for the next 40 years. As a system integrator, ABB relies on reliable products made largely in its own factories.

"ABB has strong control of the single components that go into the system," said Harri Makinen, sales and marketing manager at ABB in the Helsinki machine factory. “Customers know when they buy from ABB, they can trace components back here.”

‘Why didn’t I get this course 10 years ago?’

Fifteen kilometers away, on the Aalto University campus near Helsinki, the Aboa Mare Maritime Education Center - founded by Russian Tsar Alexander I some two centuries ago – hosts ABB’s Azipod simulator training.

Much like flight simulators for airline professionals, captains and senior officers from around the globe come here to learn nuances of steering an Azipod-powered ship on a true-to-life bridge capable of replicating ports from busy Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Southampton in the U.K.

Aboa Mare Maritime Education Center's ship simulator near Helsinki, where ABB offers captains and crew Azipod training
One officer with 16 years on cruise vessels and oil tankers operating from the Persian Gulf to Asia’s Strait of Malacca said piloting a ship with an Azipod and one with conventional propulsion is “the difference between driving a car and flying an airplane.”

Risto Gylden, naval architect and senior Azipod specialist heading ABB’s simulator training, aims to ensure even experienced sailors utilize the Azipods’ unique capabilities to their potential, making port calls faster, more efficient and saving time and fuel.

“We train Azipod vessel captains to be smooth and efficient,” Gylden said. “One comment we get is, ‘Why didn’t I get this course already 10 years ago.’ “