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W31 engine to set the standard for Wärtsilä's future

Wed 14 Jun 2017 by Paul Fanning

W31 engine to set the standard for Wärtsilä's future
The Wärtsilä 31 is to be the first of a new generation of medium-speed engines

The Wärtsilä 31 is the model for a generation of engines to come, the Finnish giant has revealed

As its portfolio in other areas becomes ever more diverse – particularly in areas such as digitisation – it is fair to say that as far as the future of its engine activities are concerned, Wärtsilä Marine Solutions focus in on its flagship engine, the Wärtsilä 31.

Launched two years ago, the Wärtsilä 31 is  very much billed as the first of a new generation of medium-speed engines, even having been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most fuel-efficient four-stroke engine in the world.

Speaking to Marine Propulsion at its recent customer day in Vaasa, Finland, Robert Ollus, product manager for the Wärtsilä 31, said: “Reliability was the key driver behind development of the engine, along with energy efficiency, total cost of ownership and emissions reduction in line with legislation.”

Fuel flexibility is another major factor in the engine’s appeal.The Wärtsilä 31 engine comes in three alternative versions; diesel, dual-fuel (DF) and Spark-Ignited Gas (SG). The multi-fuel capabilities of the engine extend the possibilities for operators to utilise different qualities of fuels, from very light to very heavy diesel, and a range of different qualities of gas.

Maintenance, too, is an area where Robert Ollus believes the engine has the potential to make major savings. “On average,” he says, “we believe the engine can reduce the need for maintenance work by as much as 50 per cent.”

In terms of sales, however, Mr Ollus concedes that, with 9 engines sold in the marine market so far, the Wärtsilä 31 is “behind where we would like it to be”. This he ascribes, however, to the notably tough condition of the market at the moment.

Certainly, there is no suggestion that the group’s confidence in the engine is in any way diminished. A programme has been initiated by Wärtsilä to create serial production capabilities and process for its manufacture by the end of 2018. This, the group believes, will bring the efficiency of its manufacturing operations to a new level by optimising value streams and minimising waste. It is also believed that it will offer delivery and lead time reduction by bringing in transparent production control.

With regard to the future, Mr Ollus is clear that the Wärtsilä 31 will set the standards for Wärtsilä’s engines from hereon in, revealing to Marine Propulsion that: “It will be the blueprint for a whole generation of engines, much as the Wärtsilä 20 was for a previous generation.”

Indeed, Mr Ollus went on to make explicit that the 31 “will be followed by a bigger brother and a smaller brother”. And, while he was not prepared to be specific on the timing for this, he was clear that these developments would appear in the next five years.

For the moment, however, a new state-of-the-art pelagic trawler will be the latest vessel to be fitted with a Wärtsilä 31 main engine.

The vessel has been ordered by Research Fishing Co based in Lerwick, Shetland Islands. The order with Wärtsilä was booked in April 2017. There is an option for a second vessel.

In specifying the Wärtsilä solutions, the customer cited the need for the latest technologies in order to optimise the total efficiency of the vessel.

This will be the first 12-cylinder version of this engine ordered. In addition, Wärtsilä will supply the gearbox, the controllable pitch propeller with the Wärtsilä ProTouch propulsion control system, as well as one 8-cylinder and one 6-cylinder Wärtsilä 20 auxiliary engines. Delivery of the Wärtsilä equipment is scheduled to commence in November 2017.