The ABB Group, a Swedish-Swiss digital technology company, has been awarded a “breakthrough contract” with the Spanish state-owned Navantia shipbuilding compnany. ABB will retrofit the Spanish flagship, the Juan Carlos I, with an electrical propulsion system based on its dual ABB Azipod units.

Work on the Spanish Navy’s amphibious assault ship-aircraft carrier is due to end in 2025.

The project is the first of its kind on a naval ship. The contract follows a study undertaken by ABB in 2020 to determine the feasibility of installing new propulsors on the ship. The study identified ABB Azipod as a solution to meet the vessel’s requirements for reliability, efficiency, manoeuvrability and safety.

ABB’s scope of supply for the Juan Carlos I comprises two Azipod propulsors and medium-voltage drives, with support and maintenance available locally from the ABB service centre in Spain and worldwide through ABB’s service network.

Image of ABB’s Azipod electrical propulsion system. Credit: ABB Group.

Tapping Europe’s maritime market

While the order represents the first retrofit of an ABB Azipod propulsion system aboard a naval vessel, the solution has been maximising ship performance in the naval patrol segment for several years. In 2019, the Norwegian Coast Guard icebreaker KV Svalbard became the first Azipod-powered vessel to reach the North Pole, where the system’s manoeuvrability and icebreaking capabilities proved critical.

ABB’s Azipod units have seen integration elsewhere too. Most recently, on 5 April, ABB had been contracted by the Finnish shipbuilder Meyer Turku to supply an integrated power and propulsion package for two newly built Finnish Border Guard patrol vessels. ABB claimed its “dual Azipod propulsors will provide the manoeuvrability and ice-breaking capabilities to optimise performance and safety while enhancing crew comfort by minimising vibrations.”

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Business line manager for the Coast Guard and Navy at ABB Marine & Ports, Sindre Satre, comments: “We already have a long track record with highly efficient solutions on the commercial market and now see that our technologies are becoming increasingly viable also for naval vessels.”

With its emerging track record, it appears that ABB’s electrical propulsor system will become an emerging commodity within the naval domain, on top of its reliability in the European maritime domain more broadly.