With OEMs under pressure to lower the costs of rotating machinery, premature electrical failures are becoming a problem for the cruise industry. Martyn Benstead, manager of Sulzer’s Southampton service centre, explains how operators can avoid high costs and disruption to passengers by having repairs carried out in situ

Can you give us some background on the company?

Martyn Benstead: Sulzer is the leading independent service provider for all brands of rotating equipment such as turbines, pumps, compressors, generators and motors. We started in Southampton in the early ’60s and have long enjoyed the benefits of close proximity to the docks while servicing ships that travel worldwide. We repair all types, sizes and voltages of rotating machinery. This also includes the mechanical repairs and associated parts.

We have a very strong relationship with our main customers, for which we carry out all electromechanical repairs. We’ve also worked with and gained approval from the ‘class surveyors’: Lloyds, BV and DNV.

Is demand for propulsion repairs growing?

The cruise industry has expanded a great deal over the past 20 years. As a result, the spending on new vessels has been enormous. This makes OEMs extremely price-conscious when giving out quotes for propulsion and generation equipment; the customer, however, always wants the best price. This puts pressure on the OEMs to be as cheap as possible in order to be competitive. The short-term result is premature electrical failures – and that’s where we come in.

In the news, you constantly hear about cruise liners having issues with breakdowns, and we only really hear about the big ones. Recently, a generator failed on a vessel, and we inspected it for the repairs. It didn’t make the headlines though, because there was no interruption to passengers or schedule.

Do ships have to be brought to your dock for repairs?

Vessels usually wait until they are alongside a service centre or until dry-docking is available before removing large electrical rotating machines for repair. This is a laborious process that often involves dismantling the surrounding equipment and main support structures, and cutting a hole in the side of the ship.

In most cases, however, such machines can be repaired or completely rewound in situ. The limiting factor is available space: if the rotor can be removed from the stator, the repairs can be done. The only propulsion motors that cannot be rewound in situ are the POD motors, located underneath the vessel.

Sulzer is fully equipped to carry out repairs in situ. This overcomes the cruise industry’s biggest challenges – cancelled cruises and negative customer perception. It also doesn’t require a costly dry-docking procedure.

What sort of repair services do you offer?

With its decades of experience, Sulzer can rapidly identify any typical generator or motor failure, whether it is caused by damage to the windings as a result of dirt ingress, general fatigue, overload, partial discharge or poor design.

The company is capable of repairing large machines from anything less than 1MW to more than 60MW at 3.3kV, 6.6kV, 11.0kV or above.

The service is suitable for all vessels including cruise liners, bulk carriers, tugs, ferries, and FPSO and military vessels.

As an independent organisation, Sulzer also offers impartial advice on the most efficient and cost-effective way to repair or replace a generator, propulsion system or bow thrusters.

To help alleviate the risk of machinery failure at sea, Sulzer has introduced its Vessel Preventive Maintenance programme. This includes regular inspection and monitoring of a ship’s rotating machinery to help identify any maintenance that may be needed before failure occurs. This comprehensive observation of any change in a machine’s condition can reduce – or even eliminate – the chance of catastrophic failure.

Do you have any interesting developments on the way?

We currently have four projects on the go and several more in the pipeline. With OEMs still experiencing strong demand, cost competition will continue to result in more electrical failures and the subsequent need for repairs at very short notice, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.