Azipod® propulsion – supplying sustainable power, performance and comfort to cruise ships

Azipod® propulsion – supplying sustainable power, performance and comfort to cruise ships

Since the first installation on a cruise ship 25 years ago, Azipod® technology has saved approximately one million tons of fuel in the cruise segment alone.

The success of Azipod® propulsion in the cruise industry can be traced back to its simple, yet highly robust design. An electric motor housed in a pod is suspended under the ship’s hull, with the propeller connected directly to the motor shaft, allowing the unit to rotate 360 degrees, improving vessel maneuverability, as well as minimizing noise and vibration. Space saved by locating the motor outside the ship allows for more flexible design as it frees up space for cabins or other features.

With these built-in advantages, Azipod® propulsion has grown to become the de facto cruise industry standard, capturing a leading position in the segment.

Azipod® propulsion is a gearless steerable propulsion system where the electric drive motor is housed within a pod outside the ship hull.
Azipod® propulsion is a gearless steerable propulsion system where the electric drive motor is housed within a pod outside the ship hull.

Starting on a high note

The first Azipod® propulsion order for a cruise ship came in 1995 for Carnival Cruise Line’s new buildings, Elation and Paradise. Both vessels belonged to Carnival’s Fantasy class – a group of eight ships with similar designs. The first six vessels in this class had conventional shaftline propulsion, providing an ideal opportunity to compare them with the efficiency of the Azipod® system.

Sea trials showed the speed of Elation at full power was approximately 0.55 knots higher than the previous six Fantasy-class ships. This meant that Elation needed nine percent less of propulsion power to achieve this speed, translating to fuel savings of around 40 tons during one week of operation.

An order from Royal Caribbean International followed in 1997, for Azipod® units to be installed on its Voyager class vessels, the biggest cruise ships of their time. The series was continued with the Freedom class vessels, again the world’s largest, with a total of eight vessels delivered with Azipod® units. These milestone deliveries ushered in the era of Azipod® propulsion in the cruise industry, opening a new chapter that is still being written.

Premium performance

While the robustness and economy of Azipod® propulsion proved a good fit for cruise owners, its performance characteristics created perhaps the most converts on water. On the Elation, Carnival reported that Azipod® propulsion gave the ship unprecedented maneuverability, cutting its turning radius by half, while treating passengers to the smoothest ride of their lives.

The vibration-reducing properties of Azipod® propulsion made it a natural for cruise. Ted Arison, the founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, famously referred to his passengers’ aversion to heat and vibration: “Treat them like bananas. Keep them cool, and don’t bruise them!” Following in the wake of their first two vessels, Carnival Corporation went on to select Azipod® propulsion for more than 40 vessels for its various brands.

In an interview with The Motorship magazine from 1999, Harri Kulovaara, then Senior Vice President at Royal Caribbean International, had high praise for Azipod® propulsion: “On at least two occasions, one when I was in my bunk and another when I was in the dining room, I thought the vessel had stopped. I could detect no vibration or noise. On both occasions I went to a window to discover that the ship was doing 24 knots.”

Kulovaara went on to note that Azipod® propulsion excels in maneuvering at lower speeds, critical when operating in shallow or narrow channels, and in ports. Verifying this claim, ships equipped with Azipod® propulsion are allowed into ports when weather prohibited shaft line ships from entering. In addition, ships with Azipod® propulsion can stop in 50 percent of the distance needed for shaft line drives, and the ship can still be steered while stopping, both major benefits to vessel and passenger safety.

According to Marcus Högblom, Head of Passenger Vessel Segment in ABB Marine & Ports, the basic maneuverability and efficiency of Azipod® propulsion has not changed from the first cruise projects. The difference, he says, is that systems now come with a lifetime service package based on advanced digital technology: “ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations Centers are highly valuable assets for all stakeholders. Azipod® units might be the most connected in the industry, and the more connected, the better the service. We can set trends and be proactive in our approach to maintenance and prevention, providing owners with improved economy and peace of mind.”

Cruise ships equipped with Azipod® system can connect to the digital ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations Centers for predictive maintenance and remote technical support.
Cruise ships equipped with Azipod® system can connect to the digital ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations Centers for predictive maintenance and remote technical support.

Growing to become the biggest

In 2008 ABB launched a new generation Azipod® propulsion unit, Azipod® XO. Improved reliability and maintainability as well as improved efficiency were key to the new design. Together with the new service concept featuring remote monitoring and diagnostics, Azipod® propulsion achieved a breakthrough in the cruise market, with orders booming in 2010 and continuing up to the present. “The upturn in 2010 had a huge impact on the business. This gave us references to approach new cruise owners, and we began to secure a significant market share soon after,” Högblom notes.

The advantages that brought Azipod® propulsion to the forefront of navigating in ice-covered waters have also allowed ABB to extend its leading position in the cruise sector to expedition ships. Azipod® propulsion was selected for the world’s first discovery yacht Scenic Eclipse, followed by a string of orders including the first polar newbuild for Lindblad Expeditions Holdings, Inc., and the world’s first electric hybrid ice-class vessel for Ponant, the 100th cruise vessel order for Azipod® propulsion.

All major cruise line companies now have vessels powered by the Azipod® system in their fleet, on order, or on ships under construction. For the biggest cruise vessels, Azipod® propulsion has become an industry standard, powering most of the largest cruise ships in the world. As of April 2021, seven cruise vessels have been in successful operation with Azipod® propulsion for more than 20 years, and the total number of cruise vessels, including the fleet and order book, stands at more than 130.

Flexibility, sustainability the future keys to cruise

“Electrification will drive sustainability as it enables flexibility in terms of power sources,” Högblom maintains. “An electric motor can take power from different sources, and owners can add or exchange power sources as they evolve. We are even starting to see cruise ships being designed to Azipod® propulsion standards in order to accommodate future developments.”

“The global cruise industry is continuously evolving, with innovations driven by technology, regulations, and changing consumer patterns,” notes Juha Koskela, Division President of ABB Marine & Ports. “Cruise vessel owners and operators are more and more proactive in choosing technologies that are likely to bring value to the segment in the years ahead. ABB has been closely involved in the propulsion, automation and control of cruise ships for decades, and we are seeing a clear trend: the cruise industry is increasingly opting for more sustainable and efficient technologies.”

Arriving at the shipyard fully assembled, Azipod® units are simply ‘plugged’ straight into the vessel’s hull.
Arriving at the shipyard fully assembled, Azipod® units are simply ‘plugged’ straight into the vessel’s hull.

Many forces are behind the push for more sustainable cruise solutions, Koskela concludes. “Customers are more likely to choose a green cruise, and global environmental regulations will only become stricter. With its energy efficiency and flexibility to adapt to future power sources, Azipod® propulsion can provide solutions to the biggest of these challenges.”

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