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Cat twin fin propulsion system wins prestigious Platts award

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Twin fin propulsion system from Caterpillar has been recognized as the Commercial Application of the Year at the 17th annual Platts Global Energy Awards

JANUARY 11, 2016 — A new concept in ship propulsion developed by Caterpillar has won the he Commercial Application of the Year category in 17th annual Platts Global Energy Awards.

The Cat Propulsion twin fin system secured the prestigious award for its innovative design and energy-saving potential across a range of ship types.

The twin fin system is a new short-shaft diesel electric set-up that has already demonstrated significant fuel and emissions-saving benefits of up to 30% in installations on board two seismic survey vessels of Ulstein SX124 design.

Caterpillar has expressed confidence that the new engine solution will yield energy savings of at least 15-20% for other vessel types.

The flexible propulsion configuration also has a range of other benefits and is particularly well-suited to vessels operating in harsh conditions, notably ice.

It comprises a compact electric motor and gearbox, connected via a short drive shaft to controllable pitch propellers, the performance of which is optimized by the two tailor-made fins attached to the hull.

If dynamic positioning is required, tunnel thrusters can be attached either to the fins or on the central skeg between them.

Cat Propulsion Naval Architect Mattias Hansson, one of the designers of the twin fin system, says that the company has received enquiries from ship operators in many different sectors – from offshore support vessels, dredges and fishing vessels to ferries, cruise and research ships.

The system is suitable both for new ships and retrofits— where the fact that the twin fin system can be designed and manufactured in advance leads to significant time savings.

“The fins are integrated parts of the hull,” says Mr. Hansson, “but they can be prefabricated and installed easily and quickly. For conversions, this can reduce time out of service from, say, 100 days to around 30. We see significant opportunities in the retrofit market.”

The short shaft line – typically between two and four meters long – gives greater flexibility and allows larger propellers to turn more slowly, thereby raising efficiency and providing more thrust,” he continues. “There are fewer moving parts leading to longer service intervals and reduced through-life maintenance costs and the fact that there is only one bearing leads to better propulsive efficiency. There is also significantly less noise and vibration, meaning that the system is well-suited to cruise-ship applications.”

There are a several other benefits. The revolutionary design effectively means that engine room space is moved outside of the ship’s hull but with full serviceability from inside the vessel. Not only does this provide more space and deadweight capacity within the hull, but it also means that the self-contained fins can be demounted without drydocking the vessel.

The twin fin system thus protects all of the propulsion components within the hull profile while maximizing cargo space and the maneuverability performance associated with outboard propulsion systems.

The twin fin system was originally developed by Caterpillar in partnership with Odense Maritime Technology and Scandinavian Marine Group to reduce the risk of damage to propulsion systems on board vessels operating in the Arctic. Now, though, the large energy savings achieved on board the two seismic vessels indicate that the technology has a far wider range of possible applications.

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