Turbochargers power smooth sailing for Spirit of Tasmania

Spirit of Tasmania provides an essential passenger and freight service between Devonport, Tasmania and Port Melbourne, Victoria.

Twin ships Spirit of Tasmania I and Spirit of Tasmania II, operated by TT-Line Company, operate more than 800 crossings of Bass Strait a year, carrying close to 450,000 passengers as they do so.

The Finnish-built ships came to Australia after a short stint sailing the Adriatic and have serviced the 429km route between Port Melbourne and Devonport since September 2002. ABB Turbocharging Service has been in charge of the care and maintenance of the ferries’ suite of turbochargers ever since.

“Each vessel has four main engines with two ABB VTR454 turbochargers on each – so eight in total,” says John Thomson, State Service Manager for ABB Australia’s Turbocharging Service. “They’ve also got three generators each to supply the ship’s power – for the passenger areas and so on – and they’re fitted with ABB VTR214 turbochargers. In all, we look after 16 main engine turbochargers and six alternator-engine turbochargers.”

Thomson explains that internal combustion engines are ‘air-breathing’ machines, so their power is determined by the amount of air they can take in. “Whatever the advertised horsepower of any engine, from small up to the biggest in the world, without a turbocharger it can only do 25 to 30 per cent of its capability,” he says. “If a turbocharger breaks down, the engine can only run ‘normally aspirated’, a fraction of its capability. As much as the turbocharger is an addition to the engine, it’s the most critical part because without it, you can’t get the full power.”

“In general terms, about 70 per cent of the engine’s power comes from the turbocharger; without the turbochargers running the overall performance of the ferries would be dramatically impacted,” adds Anthony Abela, ABB’s Local Division Manager for Turbocharging in Australia.

“Vessels like the Spirit of Tasmania never operate without the turbochargers, unless they’ve had a breakdown and have to get back to the nearest port. In that case they would see a massive power loss and the fuel efficiency would drop by 30 to 40 per cent.

“Built for absolute longevity, up-keep by the original manufacturer ensures the turbochargers continue to generate power for the Spirit of Tasmania population during its entire lifetime.”

The reason Spirit of Tasmania contracts ABB for the maintenance of these critical mechanical lungs is simple, says John Anastassiou, Engineering Superintendent at Spirit of Tasmania. “We pride ourselves on the reliability of our service: We don’t miss crossings,” he says. “The vessels must be able to perform at optimal speed; when they were built, they could do 27 knots and they still do 27 knots.

“They’re fast ships with a very powerful engine set which we maintain to the highest standard, and servicing the turbochargers to achieve this peak performance is one part of that puzzle. That includes detailed monthly maintenance reports on each turbochargers.”

Thomson says the training of the service engineers is the difference between ABB and its competitors. “We have 110 service stations in major ports around the world and we fully train our own service engineers in Switzerland. Every new service engineer hired by ABB Australia’s Turbocharging Service business – whether an apprentice or qualified tradesman – goes to Baden, Switzerland for elementary training. Then every two-three years, they must do refresher training to make sure they are up to speed with the developments on our turbochargers.

“That training happens by area, so ours are usually in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan – the trainers come from Switzerland and work with our engineers there. There are 12 service engineers across the four ABB service stations in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

“We have our turbochargers data bank – a repository of all information on every single one of our turbochargers worldwide,” Abela says. “We invest an enormous amount of money working with the OEMs of the engines to develop our turbochargers, and in that dedicated training for our engineers.”

TT-Line’s Anastassiou says that’s critically important. “My view has always been to get as close to the manufacturer as possible and ABB makes these turbochargers,” he says. “The fact that ABB has their own service network in Australia, even though other companies try to undercut them, to me it’s much better value because you’re working with the source, genuine parts and well-trained technicians.” The turbochargers are vital to keep the engines running at peak performance.

Spirit of Tasmania is an essential service for Tasmania so it’s vital to keep to our schedule. In the 18 years that these ships have been running, I believe they’ve only missed one or two sailings. That’s a pretty phenomenal record when you’re doing around 800 crossings a year between the two ships and we are very proud of our record.”

Maintenance by ABB has achieved more than simply extending the lifespan of the turbochargers. Cleaning carbon deposits from the turbocharger fins has helped to maintain the excellent burn efficiency ratio of each unit to improve fuel consumption and lower running costs. The overhauled VTR turbochargers also reduce exhaust gas temperatures and emissions.

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Joanne Woo

Storyteller & head of communications for ABB Australia. From large global conglomerates to fast growing start-ups, Joanne Woo has led diverse marketing and communications teams across energy, mining, aviation, transportation, healthcare and technology sectors. Joanne is also a mentor for the Superstars of STEM program which aims to smash society’s gender assumptions about scientists and increase the public visibility of women in STEM.
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