The Finnish vessel Seili may not have the prestigious reputation of some of her larger peers but she heralded one of the most exciting innovations in recent maritime history. After her conversion in December 1990 she was fitted with a propulsion system which went against conventional wisdom; the Azipod propulsion. This humble vessel owned by the Finnish Board of Navigation was the starting point for a new generation of azimuthing propulsion which, over the next 25 years, would power some of the world’s most complex vessels. Today, the majority of large new cruise ships and ice going vessels are fitted with Azipod propulsion units along with large numbers offshore and construction vessels. The rapid rise of the Azipod propulsion is a story of innovation and cooperation.
The development of the Azipod propulsion was a response to the need from the maritime industry. Icebreaker owners wanted manoeuvrability without compromising on power. Meanwhile, cruise ships companies wanted more space onboard for their customers rather than existing shaft line propulsion. They also wanted to visit harder-to-access ports without relying on expensive tugs. And, of course, everybody was looking for more fuel efficient technology. ABB worked closely with the shipyards and ship owners to find a solution.
Only 5 years after the successful trial on the Seili, the first order for a cruise ship was received. New models were developed over the years including the CRP Azipod, Azipod C, Azipod X. And the innovation continues today. In 2015 the Azipod D was launched and the Azipod propulsion continues to be at the heart of some of the most exciting projects in the maritime industry, such as the world’s most advanced port icebreaker, to be built by Vyborg shipyard, and the world’s first LNG powered cruise ship.
The benefits of the Azipod propulsion are as relevant today as they were a quarter of a century ago; high hydrodynamic efficiency, superior manoeuvrability, space savings, low noise and vibration, good maintainability and the various benefits in ship building process. Some shipowners have even recorded more than 20 % fuel savings compared to conventional systems, benefiting their bottom line whilst also reducing emissions.
Ship captains have also warmly received the Azipod propulsion. The millimetre precision and ease of use does away with the need for tugs and empowers them to take full control over the ship. Many are using ABB’s training at specialized operational centers, which feature real life simulators, to learn the optimal procedures when using Azipod propulsion.
Azipod propulsion units will soon rack up 12 million hours of operating time with a remarkable availability of 99.8%. And ABB is still working on those decimals. Azipod propulsion units today have a highly sophisticated condition monitoring which helps to optimise the service intervals and give an early indication of component wearing. This, together with other service products, gives the shipowner predictability for service needs and possibility to optimize the vessel life cycle costs.
For ABB, the evolution and innovation of the Azipod propulsion will continue like it did 25 years ago.