It may seem like cutting edge technology, but the azimuthing electric podded drive is now 30 years old.
It still looks like no other propulsion system – more like a giant outboard motor. This was especially evident when I visited the Rolls-Royce factory in Rauma, which has been rebuilt to handle the production of a range of azimuthing electric podded-derived thrusters.
The azimuthing electric podded drive was designed to save space by removing the long propeller shafts associated with traditional engineroom layouts. A bonus feature was the azimuthing electric podded drive’s superior ice-breaking performance. The first vessel to test the azimuthing electric podded drive was a vessel that operated all year round in Finland and the original 1.5-MW unit produced in the 1980s is now on display at the maritime museum in Turku, Finland.
Since then the azipod-type propulsion system has expanded in power and size. The thrusters we saw being tested at Rolls-Royce in Rauma were some of the largest in production and are suitable for oil rigs, large offshore vessels and tugs.
After some initial teething problems, the azimuthing electric podded drive has become a favourite in the cruise ship sector. ABB recently announced that two ABB XO azipod units with a total power of 32 MW are to be fitted to the Virgin Voyages cruise ships.
After 30 years of development, new uses are being found for azimuthing electric podded drives and I am told that they are finding favour with super yacht owners who value the quiet operation and compact design. Perhaps this might result in a trip to see one in operation, but hopefully in the Caribbean rather than Finland in December.
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