Major export deal boosts UK marine engine building

End view of the Paxman VP185 engine End view of the Paxman VP185 engine
Industry Database

Paxman engines have been prominent in the larger high speed marine engine sector for many years, and the VP185 continues to attract important orders for its current proprietor, MAN Diesel & Turbo; David Tinsley looks at the engine’s history and current orderbook.

Giving a huge fillip to the resumption of engine building in the UK by MAN Diesel & Turbo, the VP185 high-speed diesel has attracted a major contract from overseas. A total 60 engines of the compact, well-proven design are to be supplied for a project entailing 28 newbuild vessels. The £39m (US$67m) order includes gearboxes, controls and monitoring equipment, and is thought to be the single largest UK propulsion engine export deal for nearly three decades.

The first set of two, 12-cylinder VP185 engines was despatched in May, and deliveries of the entire series are scheduled over a six-year period. Augmenting the primary role of the UK arm of MAN Diesel & Turbo role in engine servicing, overhaul and after-sales, the manufacturing and test programme for the 60 units is focused on MAN’s Colchester factory, the erstwhile Paxman works, where the VP185 was designed and initially rolled-out in 1993 by former owner GEC Alsthom Diesels.

Although MAN Diesel & Turbo UK and its parent MAN Group, now majority-owned by Volkswagen, are loath to release information about the order, The Motorship understands that the contract rating for each 12-cylinder engine is in the region of 2,600kW-2,700kW and that the recipient shipbuilder and ultimate user are located in the Far East. The order was secured, in cooperation with MAN Diesel & Turbo’s Singapore office, against rigorous competition.

A large population of VP185 engines serves a very broad application field, including the marine propulsion, marine auxiliary, rail traction, power generation, industrial and other sectors. MAN had switched VP185 manufacture from Colchester to the former Mirrlees Blackstone factory at Stockport in 2003, and subsequently decided to stop offering the engine to the market. However, it appears that customer demand and specific opportunities saw the recommencement of batch building of the engine at the Colchester works in 2005.

Since then, contracts fulfilled have included new 18-cylinder models for installation in a series of triple-engined Vietnamese patrol boats. The current 60-engine assignment from elsewhere has provided a baseload of work for the next few years, and prompted the strengthening of the skilled workforce and taking on of new apprentices.

In 1988, GEC merged its Paxman, Ruston and Mirrlees Blackstone businesses with the Alsthom division of Compagnie Générale d’Electricité (CGE) to form GEC Alsthom. Towards the end of 1997, the company became Alstom Engines, following GEC Alsthom’s initial public offering (IPO) as Alstom. In June 2000, Augsburg-based MAN B&W Diesel, a 100% subsidiary of MAN, acquired Alstom Engines. The MAN UK company thereby embraced the Mirrlees Blackstone, Paxman and Ruston engine brands, and governor and control specialist Regulateurs Europa, with the associated factories in Stockport, Colchester, Newton-le-Willows and Stamford. In 2005, MAN sold the Regulateurs Europa controls business to German specialist Heinzmann.

Barely one year on from the takeover, MAN sanctioned a major investment plan. More than £20m (US$34m) was ploughed into the development of the plant at Stockport as the pivotal element in the German group’s UK network.

The expenditure at Stockport, the fountainhead of the erstwhile Mirrlees Blackstone range, entailed the upgrade and extension of production capabilities and the creation of a central research and development (R&D) facility. Subsequent measures saw the closure of the former Ruston works on Merseyside at Newton-le-Willows, and the transfer of Ruston medium-speed engine manufacturing to Stockport. In 2006, the latest Ruston model, the powerful RK280 type, was re-branded and further developed as the MAN 28/33D engine, and production was switched from the UK to Augsburg.

Through the takeover of 14 years ago, much of the remaining UK diesel engine building industry had passed into MAN control, and the emphasis at the British subsidiary had fairly rapidly come to be placed on overhaul, repair, service and spares activities, today expressed in its role within the PrimeServ network. However, the latest and most substantial order for the VP185 type surely sends a signal to the market as to the company’s competitiveness and propensity for new production within its overall business strategy.

The Paxman lineage from Colchester has included many successful high-speed designs, including the 197mm-bore Valenta and 160mm-bore Vega types. The product of a £15m($26m) development programme, the 185mm-bore VP185 was widely seen as one of the most advanced and potent designs in its field when brought to the market in the early 1990s.

The VP185 offered increased power output, and improved fuel consumption and emissions performance, and realised other key goals of the Colchester design technicians as regards enhancements in compactness and lightness. Encapsulating higher firing pressures and a compression ratio in excess of 13:1, the engine embodied a smaller bore and stroke compared with the Valenta, and a different configuration by way of a 90-degree cylinder bank angle, rather than a 60-degree ‘vee’.

Component count was reduced significantly. A central camshaft located in the ‘vee’ provides the actuation for all valves and unit injectors. The single camshaft and 90-degree configuration allows the camshaft gear to mesh directly with the crankshaft gear, thereby eliminating the need for intermediate idlers. Low-pressure fuel oil is delivered to the unit injectors from a gear-driven fuel lift pump, obviating the requirement for high-pressure fuel lines.

After thorough consideration of the various alternatives in relation to the design goals, including that of simplicity and maximised reliability, it was decided to employ an innovative, ’passive’ two-stage turbocharging arrangement with intercooling and aftercooling. The standard 12-cylinder model has six automotive-type turbochargers, four providing low-pressure air and two providing the high-pressure air, fitted in a single casing.

While the same concept is applied to the 18-cylinder engine, this has an increased number of sets, whereby a total of six low-pressure and three high-pressure turbos are packaged in groups of three, giving three turbocharger housings. The range is augmented by a ‘two-box’ version of the 12VP185, which has two turbocharger housings rather than the single casing of the standard engine.

The 12VP185 in its maritime guise was introduced with a maximum power of 2,610kW at 1,950rpm, mainly targeting high-speed military, agency, commercial marine and superyacht markets, complemented by availability at restricted and unrestricted duty ratings of 2,180kW at 1,835rpm, with 2,000kW at 1,800rpm for other, heavier-duty, applications. The ’two-box’ 12-cylinder variant gives a slightly higher top power. For marine duties, the 18VP185 offered a maximum of nearly 4,000kW at 1,950rpm, and restricted and unrestricted outputs of 3,265kW at 1,835rpm and 3,000kW at 1,800rpm.

The indicated power level specified in the latest contract for 12-cylinder marine propulsion engines points to some subsequent increase in the design’s potency.

The reference list for the VP185 is remarkably diverse, spanning sales to shipbuilders, shipowners, agencies, rail operators, genset suppliers, industrial producers, utility companies and others on every continent. To strengthen the appeal of the VP185 in the rail traction market, where the Valenta had scored so well, MAN had advertised a ’re-engineered’ 18VP185 in 2002 for high-speed trains at 3,100kW/1,800rpm, with availability also at 2,800kW/1,500rpm.

In the marine field, the VP185 found wide receptivity for coastguard and naval patrol boats, fast ferries, and large, luxury yachts. Prestigious orders in the commercial marine domain included 18-cylinder models in emergency generators for each of six cruiseships built by Meyer Werft for Royal Caribbean International. Each auxiliary was supplied at a rating of 3,000kWe at 1,800rpm. Four such sets were also delivered to newbuild cruise vessels at Chantiers de l’Atlantique (now STX France).

Comprehensive after-sales service constitutes an increasingly important business in its own right for engine and propulsion equipment suppliers, and new engine manufacturing contracts accordingly provide MAN Diesel & Turbo UK with more through-life support business scope in its capacity as the UK representative of the MAN PrimeServ network.

Under the PrimeServ brand, the company offers UK support for MAN low-speed and medium-speed engines, including the Pielstick portfolio, and for MAN, GHH, Borsig, Sulzer Turbo and Blohm + Voss turbomachinery, as well as worldwide support for the legacy Mirrlees Blackstone, Paxman and Ruston brands. Another strand of the company’s activities, that of customer training, is undertaken from the purpose-built academy in Stockport.

Achieving competitiveness in the high-speed diesel sector of the marine engine market has always been especially demanding because of the need for the most highly-skilled machining and assembly and adherence to extremely fine tolerances. The market’s increased expectations as to plant reliability, performance and efficiency has set even more exacting criteria for manufacturers, and raised the threshold for bringing new or revised designs to fruition.

As perhaps demonstrated by the strengthened workload of the MAN network in the UK, the quality and extent of craft skills and experience is the fundamental adjunct to technological know-how and efficient production resources and systems.


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