30 years of excellence at sea
From its creation three decades ago to its unique position in shipping today, Azipod® propulsion has revolutionized marine transport with its unparalleled performance, efficiency and reliability. This year, ABB celebrates 30 years of Azipod® propulsion in operation, a revolution under the water.
The outboard motor is a familiar sight, mounted on the back end of a boat, providing both power and steering. Now picture an electric motor encased in a steel pod, suspended under the hull, allowing it to rotate full circle. Then imagine the pod as big as a house, with a motor powerful enough to move a ship the size of an entire town. In these images, the ingenuity of the Azipod® propulsion system starts to become clear.
To get an idea of the immense toughness of Azipod® propulsion, consider that it was conceived to cut through sheets of ice more than two meters thick. To understand the finesse of the system, remember that it was entrusted to move humans – the most valuable of all cargoes.
The podded propulsion system relies on an electric motor, the simplest motor of all, requiring no oxygen to operate and generating zero exhaust. As long as electricity can be supplied, the motor can be placed virtually anywhere on a ship – or in the case of Azipod® propulsion, not on the ship at all, but under. This in turn allows the propeller to be connected directly to the motor, instead of via shaft lines or mechanical drive trains.
Together, these features allow the motor and propeller to be rotated 360 degrees, pulling the ship in any direction, providing the revolutionary maneuverability that has made Azipod® propulsion a legend in the marine industry. Electrical power minimizes engine noise and vibration as well, ensuring a smoother, quieter ride.
Since the first installation on a cruise ship 25 years ago, Azipod® units have saved approximately 1,000,000 tons of fuel in the cruise segment alone, while clocking over 20 million running hours at an impressive availability rate of 99.9 percent. And with its silent electric motors, Azipod® propulsion meets international standards for underwater radiated noise.
Up to 95 percent of the material used in the production of Azipod® units is recyclable, testimony to the sustainable lifecycle perspective that guides the development and application of this remarkable technology.
An icegoing fairway support vessel in Finland became the first vessel operating with Azipod® propulsion in 1991. Early trials demonstrated remarkable icegoing capabilities with Azipod® propulsion, and the images of a large tank ship equipped with Azipod® propulsion “chasing its tail” in open water astounded the maritime world and inspired the move into cruise.
In the mid-1990s, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Elation became the first cruise ship to be fitted with Azipod® propulsion. Azipod® propulsion gave the ship unprecedented maneuverability, cutting the Elation’s turning radius of by half, while treating passengers to the smoothest ride of their lives.
An order from Royal Caribbean International came in 1997, with three Azipod® units installed on the biggest cruise ship of its time – Voyager of the Seas. Other large cruise lines followed, selecting Azipod® propulsion for their vessels for its superior performance and reliability. Soon, Azipod® propulsion has earned a leading position in the newbuild cruise market, powering some of the largest vessels on the water.
With its unique combination of precision and power, Azipod® propulsion proved perfectly suited to highly demanding marine operations in the offshore oil and gas segment. Talking about precision, one captain claimed: “I could hold a fresh egg between the boat and the dock without cracking it.”
Dry cargo vessels benefit from Azipod® propulsion in operations where vessels must perform reliably over an extended period at maximum efficiency, in addition to being highly maneuverable in shallow waters. Special requirements such as ability to operate in ice is another advantage of Azipod® propulsion for these types of vessels.
And as the mainstream cruise industry strengthens its commitment to Azipod® propulsion, ferries and exploration-class cruise vessels are emerging as growing markets. Over the years, a full range of Azipod® units has been developed to serve the various marine segments.
Azipod® units are produced at three factories, with Helsinki and Hamina factories in Finland delivering the largest models’ propulsion and steering units respectively, and compact units constructed at the Shanghai facility, which celebrates 10 years of operation in 2021.
All factories stand out as models of cleanliness and safety. During production, the giant units are transported between workstations on air-cushion dollies. With the towers of the large units rising several stories into the air, the pods give the impression of weightless submarines as they glide silently across the gleaming floor.
Despite the massive dimensions of the units, the safety record at the factories is impeccable. In keeping with ABB’s paramount dedication to safety, strict anti-infection measures were enacted at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring uninterrupted production with minimum risk to factory workers.
With future-proof capabilities that allow owners to invest today in anticipation of tomorrow’s power solutions, the Azipod® system can be powered by electricity drawn from any energy source, including batteries and fuel cells, and is designed to be adaptable even to energy sources that have yet to be discovered.
The story of Azipod® has been written by innovative believers on a quest to deliver a new and better solution for propelling ships. Now Azipod® propulsion has rounded 30 years of service to society, saving fuel and reducing emissions while delighting captains and passengers alike with smooth, precise and powerful performance. With its built-in ability to tackle new challenges as shipping sets course to a sustainable future, the next decades of Azipod® propulsion promise to be equally as rewarding.