The world’s most efficient engine, Wärtsilä 31, has passed yet another milestone – a successful factory acceptance test in front of a satisfied customer. The first Wärtsilä 31 engines are soon to be installed in a new icebreaker, built by Vyborg SY, which will then head to the Arctic.
There is excitement in the air when we enter the control room of the test-run facilities at Wärtsilä’s Vaasa factory, where the first Wärtsilä 31 engine is going through its factory acceptance test (FAT). We can hear a dull rumble from the other side of the soundproof wall as the engine picks up speed. All eyes are focused on the flat screen on the wall that shows the increasing number of revolutions per minute. Then the engine stops at the given set point, and a satisfied smile can be seen on everyone’s face.
Alexander Degterev, head of Atomflot’s diesel-electric icebreaker new-builds, nods contentedly. Item by item on the checklist, the Wärtsilä 31 engine successfully passes the FAT. “The engine has been running well and responded to all the commands given. Everything we wanted to know and see was explained and shown to us. So, all in all, we are very satisfied with the FAT,” says Degterev.
The customer is FSUE Atomflot, an enterprise of ROSATOM, the State Corporation for Atomic Energy. Atomflot, who joined ROSATOM in 2008, was established to provide technological service and maintenance to the atomic icebreakers and fleet of special vessels. “We are a quite young and innovative company. Therefore, it fits the company profile very well to choose a new, innovative engine, too,” says Degterev.
With almost 40 years in the business – and the last 18 months with Atomflot – Degterev is very convincing when he explains the reasons why Atomflot wanted to have the new Wärtsilä 31 engine. “We are convinced that Wärtsilä, with its long and good reputation as an engine builder, is able to build a reliable and efficient engine. Another feature in favour of the Wärtsilä 31 was the connection to the CBM (Condition-Based Maintenance) system. It is an advantage to us that Wärtsilä can monitor the engine operation online and, if necessary, provide us with instant advice.”
According to Degterev, Atomflot did not see the Wärtsilä 31 as a risk, since the company has very good relations with Wärtsilä, and they are familiar with Wärtsilä engines installed on their other vessels.
Operation in extreme conditions
Atomflot’s new generation icebreaker is currently under construction at the PJSC Vyborg Shipyard, which is an old partner with Wärtsilä. The yard has ordered Wärtsilä engines for almost all its new builds. This time though, it was the owner who insisted that the Wärtsilä 31 engine be used in the project. “Our main purpose is to meet the customer’s requirements, and Wärtsilä 31 engine is at the moment the No. 1 engine in the world, especially when it comes to complex, modern vessels,” says Alexander Solovyev, General Director of PJSC Vyborg Shipyard.
Around the turn of the year, three 8-cylinder Wärtsilä 31 four-stroke engines will be delivered directly to the shipyard. “This minimises the risks with loading and unloading in different ports,” says Wärtsilä Area General Manager, Sales, Alexander Staritsyn.
The new icebreaker will operate in Arctic conditions in the so-called Northern Sea Route, serving the Yamal LNG project in Sabetta, which is located northeast of the Yamal peninsula in Russia. “In these areas, where the temperature can drop to almost minus 50°C, it is very important to have reliable and efficient engines. The Wärtsilä 31, being the most modern engine in the world, also has very low emissions. This is important both for us and for the sensitive Arctic area. The engines also comply with the new regulations,” Alexander Staritsyn explains.
The icebreaker will be in operation for the whole winter period, which lasts 11 months. In addition, the vessel will serve as a tug in open water. Degterev says that Atomflot expects the new engines to function well and to have long maintenance intervals, which will allow the icebreakers to continue operating for longer periods and at lower costs.
Good relations are of the essence
Both Degterev and Staritsyn emphasise the importance of good relations, honesty and mutual trust in this type of business. Degterev says that the importance of the Northern Sea Route in the coming years will increase, not only for Russia, but also for other countries. “This area will be more and more in focus, which is why we are building three new atomic icebreakers as well.”
Still, Alexander Staritsyn, who is responsible for the Russian market, considers the number of new orders for icebreakers to be relatively low for coming next years despite the fact that the average icebreaker’s age is high. “There is big potential. Several projects are in development phase, but economic uncertainties hold back the investments. Positive thing is that almost all new icebreakers have generating sets made by Wärtsilä. Long experience with Wärtsilä technology can meet arctic requirements in the future.”
This was the second time that Degterev visited Wärtsilä’s factory. During the factory tour, he saw modern facilities with new machines and robotic techniques. “We were very impressed, especially with the attention to safety issues and how the work is organised in logical and effective processes. We will also implement some of these ideas in our company.”
Did the factory visit increase Wärtsilä’s credibility? Degterev exclaimed, “Yes, it did, but it was increased even more by the fact that the new Wärtsilä 31 engine made it into the Guinness Book of Records!”