Sulzer to the fore

08 Oct 2014
LNG carrier, 1964 vintage, the ‘Jules Verne’

LNG carrier, 1964 vintage, the ‘Jules Verne’

Big news back in October 1964 was that the first licence for building high power Diesel engines in the US had been awarded by Sulzer Bros to Nordberg Manufacturing.

This was seen by the magazine as the beginning of the US transition from steam turbines to Diesel power for ship propulsion – something that had been a long time coming, At that time, according to figures that had just been published, Sulzer was the market leader in ship propulsion engines, with 40 units of a total 466,520bhp completed in the first nine months of 1964. This was closely followed by B&W (39 of 348,620bhp) and MAN (30 of 212,170bhp) – the latter two were, of course, separate companies. These three were well ahead of Fiat, Götaverken, Doxford and Mitsubishi.

As we were reminded in the last issue, LNG carriers have been around for some time. Even in 1964, the first, Methane Pioneer, was five years old. The October 1964 issue of The Motor Ship featured a French-built LNG carrier, the Jules Verne. Propulsion was by steam turbine, fuelled by boil-off gas, as was customary up to quite recently for this type of vessel. Most of the interest was in the cargo tanks. The ship had seven 18.35m diameter steel reservoirs, insulated with Perlite, sheathed in stainless steel and coated with an expanded insulating plastic known as Klégecell. The tanks were integral with the hull, each contributing to the other’s structural integrity.

A controversial issue of the time was whether or not heavy fuel oil needed to be centrifuged, or if filters would be sufficient. A number of manufacturers, ship operators and engine specialists contributed to the debate – most considering that filtration could never perform as well as centrifugal separators. Most were worried about the effect on cylinder wear of ‘dirty’, i.e. non-centriguged, fuel, though consulting engineers Ricardo pointed out that the company had carried out trials which suggested that only the poorest of fuels, which would be rejected as unfit for use, had any effect on cylinder wear. Dirty fuel could be problematic for injectors, though, so the best solution would seem to be to continue to use centrifuges at high throughput in order to deal with a variety of fuel qualities. The discussion stemmed from the use of a French duplex filer system, made by Sofrance, in place of centrifuges, and this system was comprehensively described. It was claimed to remove all impurities greater than 20 micron, though similar units could operate down to 5 microns.

Finland’s largest passenger vessel, the 5,100gt Ilmatar, built by Wärtsilä and fitted with a Wärtsilä-Sulzer engine, was the subject of a full description. The engine was a 12-cylinder trunk piston two-stroke unit, rated 4,500bhp at 320rpm, directly coupled to a CP propeller. But perhaps the most remarkable feature was the inclusion of two pages of coloured interior photographs – a first for the resolutely monochrome marine press of 50 years back.

Most of the engine coverage in The Motor Ship of 1964 centred on large bore engines, but smaller units were still being developed. The October 1964 issue included a description of Sulzer’s latest addition to the RD range, a 440mm bore unit made in five- to 12-cylinder versions, of power 2,250 to 6,800bhp. As a foretaste perhaps of things to come, the RD44 was designed in Winterthur, Switzerland and built by Wärtsilä in Finland – nobody would have imagined then that Wärtsilä, then a mere shipbuilder, would come to own Sulzer’s engine business following its own near-bankruptcy in the late 1980s, and, in 2014, the two-stroke business, still based in Winterthur, would pass into Chinese majority ownership.