ABB brings direction to azimuthing rules

ABB is seeking to make sure that the channels are open between the companies driving shipping’s technological change and maritime regulators.

ABB’s place as a welcome guest at shipping’s regulatory top table was recently confirmed as one of 13 technology companies invited to participate in the high profile Global Industry Alliance, an International Maritime Organization (IMO) initiative to bring together industry leaders in support of energy efficient and low carbon maritime transport. 

Eero Lehtovaara, Head of Regulatory Affairs at ABB Marine & Ports, is also proving tireless in developing dialogue behind the scenes, seeing detailed discussions between regulators and marine equipment specialists the Classification Society technical committee level as mutually beneficial when it comes to future rule development.

“I think there is a common feeling among the major marine equipment manufacturers that we need to be more proactive in rule-making,” he says. “It’s imperative that we explore common concerns outside the competitive scenario. Knowledge exchange is good for us and for the regulators.”

The sentiment was recently acknowledged by the International Council on Combustion Engines (CIMAC) through the creation of its new WG21 working group, focusing on the potential to develop more comprehensive standards for azimuthing propulsion and how existing rules might be adapted or augmented for the propulsion solution.

“There has never been a forum to discuss solutions for crash stops or what the rules for azimuthing thrusters for ice-going ships in the marine and offshore sector should look like,” says Lehtovaara, who has been chosen to chair WG21. He notes that the proposal to establish the group emerged out of an ad hoc discussion involving leading suppliers of propulsion systems about regulatory matters at a Class Society technical meeting.

“The very fact that we were talking led on to learning that CIMAC was open to broadening its representative role,” he says. Identifying azimuthing propulsion as an area requiring work came out of consensus that “we’ve seen some weird solutions and some regulations that were not fully thought through”.

Lehtovaara believes that a collaborative approach involving the technology specialists behind azimuthing propulsion will lead to a greater understanding of its performance characteristics, which can only be beneficial for rule development. “Propulsion based on shaftlines and azimuthing are not directly comparable,” he says.

WG21’s terms of reference cover azimuthing and other non-shaftline propulsion systems and potentially other electromechanical marine equipment directly associated with vessel maneuverability, such as the steering gear. Its purpose is to improve understanding, contribute to harmonized class rules that ensure safety in all conditions, and be vigilant against proposals that prevent the optimal use of azimuthing propulsors.

With a first meeting in Frankfurt held in September 2017, the group has already attracted participation from most manufacturers, component suppliers and associated companies active in azimuthing propulsion. Three sub-groups have been formed to look separately at: steering/control; materials; and cooling and lubrication. Progress will be reported twice-yearly at meetings hosted by participating organizations.

“Clearly, as the parties who know most about the equipment, the way it performs and its limitations, we seek to play a significant part in discussions that aim to enhance safety,” Lehtovaara concludes.

“We are seeking to establish a regulatory framework that works towards a deeper understanding to adapt what is already in existence. We are already in dialogue with the Machinery Panel at IACS. Ultimately, work will lead to formal proposals to IACS that will be brought before IMO.”


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