EEMC team in product development at ABB Marine

ABB Finland’s Marine and Ports unit in Vuosaari Harbour in Helsinki develops electrical and automation solutions for the marine industry. The unit’s spearhead product is the Azipod® propulsion system, which enhances the fuel economy, energy efficiency and manoeuvrability of ships such as cruise ships, icebreakers, ro-ro vessels and tankers.

In the Azipod® propulsion system a variable frequency drive motor rotating the fixed pitch propeller is located in a separate control unit on the outside of the ship’s hull. Since the control unit rotates 360 degrees about the vertical axis, a vessel with an Azipod® propulsion system is easier to steer and is quieter, and the space inside the ship can be used more effectively. Ease of steering means that it also gives a significant improvement in safety.

Energy efficiency is becoming one of the key issues for ship building. A vessel fitted with an Azipod® propulsion system can give fuel savings of up to 20 per cent compared to conventional propellers. This is achieved because the propellers operate in a clear flow of water. Using the Azipod® system in a typical car ferry in the Baltic Sea reduces carbon dioxide emissions by some 10 000 tonnes a year compared to a conventional propeller system.

Client plays key role in product development

Nowadays ABB looks after the products it supplies throughout their service life. More than 250 Azipod® units have been installed, on almost 120 vessels around the world.

The orders received by ABB this year include one worth more than USD 60 million for Azipod® propulsion systems. These are built at ABB’s Vuosaari and Hamina factories in Finland. This is a repeat order from the MEYER WERFT shipyard, the leading builder of cruise ships in the world, which demonstrates the added value that the client obtains from ABB’s flagship product. It also shows that the Azipod® propulsion system has established a firm footing.

Development of Azipod® propulsion systems

Product development of Azipod® propulsion systems goes on continuously. ABB works with clients to develop solutions. In most cases development focuses on improving performance or power, thrust or speed. Clients carry out improvements and adjustments to ships in other ways, so they also want to get as much as they can out of the propellers. User experiences provide some of the most valuable contributions to developing business operations and products. The client and their needs are always at the heart of ABB’s development activities. ABB not only develops the products it has already launched, but is also continuously developing new products and ideas.

“The large Azipod®s are manufactured in Vuosaari and the small ones at ABB’s factory in China. Development of both takes place in Vuosaari, however,” says Kai Karila, R&D manager for high power Azipod® systems.

“Two years ago we started a development project to look into a new rotating device. One major element in this was the hydraulics system. We started working on the hydraulics with Comatec’s EEMC team at that time,” states Kai.

“During this separate five month project the EEMC team created altogether 30 different concept options,” Kai continues.

The EEMC team discussed these with ABB and cut down the number of proposed solutions and is now continuing development of the hydraulics with the concept chosen by ABB, and this is being productized. About one year ago, project manager Suvi Westerlund from Comatec’s EEMC team spent several months on secondment in Vuosaari in connection with the project.

“Each of us has their own area of special expertise but we mainly work as a team. This also gives the best results for the client. For ABB, for example, during the concept project and while we have been working together since then we have made several invention disclosures. In an invention disclosure we tell the client what we have invented, how it works and of course how it can benefit the client. If the client decides to purchase the rights to the invention, the EEMC team may no longer use it in other projects,” Suvi explains.

“At that point the invention becomes the property of the client, and the client’s own personnel may not necessarily know what the invention consists of, so we are very paranoid about preserving confidentiality,” says Suvi with a laugh, but immediately becomes more serious.

“The invention then moves into the patent phase in accordance with the client’s schedule, that is if they decide to productize and protect it.

“Confidentiality is a hallmark of the team’s work. Virtually all the projects are such that we cannot talk much about them. To start with, as a rule we cannot even say who we are working for. The client decides on how fast we move in these matters,” explains Suvi.

“This product may go public in a year’s time,” says Kai.

Comatec expertise

The other people who have worked with Suvi on creating concepts and in R&D are EEMC team members special design engineer Hannu Vihtanen and design manager Jukka-Pekka Uusitalo. Senior design engineer Anne Kotalampi from Comatec’s expert services has also carried out an FMECA (failure mode, effects and criticality analysis).

“We have been very happy with the FMECA. It looks as if it has been carried out extremely thoroughly, taking all aspects into account. It did surprise us how much work was involved in the analysis, however. And it needs to be kept up to date and maintained,” states Kai.

“We have ordered further training in FMECA, and we will also be making use of Comatec’s expertise in both FMECA and hydraulics in our other projects,” says Kai.

“Cooperation has been really smooth. I can find no faults. The make-up of the team and the people in it was just right. Hannu thinks through the technical issues down to the finest details – looking at the different options and from different angles. Suvi is also an engineering expert and can examine matters from different viewpoints, but she is also able to get things moving. Anne is another expert professional,” says Kai.

Thorough testing

“We aim to carry out tests at the factory on as many components and part solutions as possible, as long as this is sensible. Suvi and Hannu oversaw the testing for the hydraulics,” says Kai.

“For this project we tested different options affecting safety and functionality to find the best way to implement a new feature,” explains Suvi.

“We try to find any weak spots with new features on the designer’s desk, but sometimes it requires testing or simulation. We always take decisions about these in consultation with the client.

“It is only possible to carry out sea trials, for example for the product being developed here, after the client has purchased it and it has been installed on the first ship. The EEMC team may take part in the sea trials for the hydraulics when that time comes,” states Kai.

Competence centre with five experts

Comatec’s competence centre for hydraulics and motion control set up by business unit manager Arto Timperi is headed by Jukka-Pekka Uusitalo. The other member of the core team, in addition to Suvi, Hannu and Jukka-Pekka, is engineering manager Vesa Aarni from Comatec’s Kuopio office. They possess indepth expertise not only in mobile machinery but also in marine applications.

“The EEMC team is the result of Arto’s vision and of Hannu’s and my desire to work together. Then Vesa joined us, and Arto invited Suvi to join the team soon after it was set up. The structure of the core team has worked very well,” explains Jukka-Pekka.

Comatec Group’s EEMC team (Energy Efficient Motion Control) provides engineering solutions that save energy and costs, in accordance with its philosophy.

“The services offered by the competence centre include the concept phase, preliminary design, simulation, design and supervision of the construction of a prototype and testing, either as individual services or combined with other Comatec Group services. After the preliminary design, product design and consulting continue in cooperation with our clients throughout product development,” states Jukka-Pekka.