Common Rail At Sea: The Sulzer RT-flex Engine

Kaspar Aeberli Director, Marketing & Business Development, Marine Wärtsilä Switzerland Ltd, Winterthur John McMillan Technical Director Beltship Management Ltd, Bermuda SUMMARY
The paper gives a brief report on the experience with the first Sulzer RT-flex engine in the bulk carrier Gypsum Centennial. This is the world’s first large low-speed diesel engine in service with electronically-controlled common-rail fuel injection. The Sulzer RT-flex engine brings useful benefits in terms of reducing running costs, extendable times between overhauls, reduced exhaust emissions and ‘super dead-slow’ running. Particularly impressive during the sea trials were the completely smokeless operation at all ship speeds and steady running of the engine at speeds down to 12 rev/min. In service the engine has run well, up to our expectations, although with a few teething problems which are all covered in this paper.

A major seamark was passed on 18 September 2001 when the sea trials of the new 47,950 tdw bulk carrier Gypsum Centennial were successfully completed. She is notable for being propelled by the world’s first low-speed diesel engine having electronically-controlled common-rail fuel injection. The ship was built for her owners Gypsum Transportation Ltd (GTL) of Bermuda by Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in Ulsan, Korea. She is equipped with a Sulzer 6RT-flex58T-B main engine, having a maximum continuous output of 11,275 kW at 93 rev/min. * Paper presented at The Motor Ship Marine Propulsion Conference, Copenhagen, 10–11 April 2002.

This Sulzer RT-flex engine is basically a standard Sulzer RTA58T-B low-speed two-stroke marine diesel engine, except that, instead of the usual camshaft and its gear drive, fuel injection pumps, exhaust valve actuator pumps and reversing servomotors, it is equipped with a commonrail system for fuel injection and exhaust valve actuation, and full electronic control of these engine functions. The Sulzer RT-flex engine is the result of a long project in Winterthur to develop low-speed marine engines without the constraints imposed by mechanical drive of fuel injection pumps and valve actuation pumps but with far greater flexibility in engine setting to reach future requirements. The objective is to bring shipowners benefits in terms of engine running costs, maintenance requirements and compliance with emissions control legislation.

Fig. 1: The bulk carrier Gypsum Centennial powered by a Sulzer RT-flex engine


© Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002

Exhaust valve actuator

WECS9500 control system

Fuel injectors
50µ 6µ

Crank angle sensor

Exhaust valve actuating unit

Volumetric fuel injection control unit
1000bar fuel HFO / MDO 200bar servo oil

30bar starting air

Fig. 2: Schematic of the common-rail systems for fuel injection and exhaust valve actuation in the Sulzer RT-flex engine Electronic control of hydraulically operated fuel injection was first applied to a research engine in Winterthur in December 1981. This was subsequently developed into the second-generation system employed on a four-cylinder 540 mm-bore research engine which ran for some 2500 hours between March 1990 and April 1995. This was truly a camshaftless engine, with full electronic control of fuel injection, exhaust valve actuation, starting air and cylinder lubrication. The engine was very successful and clearly demonstrated the flexibility in engine setting given by full electronic control. However, as the fuel injection system was still a jerk pump system, with an individual hydraulically-operated pump for each cylinder, it was recognised that it had limited development potential. Thus the decision was made to look for a more promising solution which was found to be common-rail fuel injection. For this reason, the decision was taken to develop a third-generation system based on common-rail technology. This resulted in the first application of the Sulzer RT-flex system on a full-sized research engine in Winterthur in June 1998. Two years previously, a representative full-size RT-flex system was set up on a component test rig so that the actual hardware could be endurance tested ahead of engine operation. This was subsequently subjected to millions of cycles of operation, confirming the necessary level of reliability of the hardware for normal shipboard use. The RT-flex research engine provided the platform for comprehensive development testing of all aspects of the RT-flex system. It has run for more than 2000 hours, and furnished considerable input for further improvement of the Sulzer common-rail system. Today, it is regularly employed in the normal way as a research engine for the usual range of R&D testing in all aspects of engine operation.

The common rail is a manifold running the length of the engine at just below the cylinder cover level. It provides a certain storage volume for the fuel oil, and has provision for damping pressure waves. The common rail and other related pipework are neatly arranged beneath the top engine platform and readily accessible from above. The common rail is fed with heated fuel oil at the usual high pressure (nominally 1000 bar) ready for injection. The supply unit has a number of high-pressure pumps running on multi-lobe cams. The pump design is based on the proven injection pumps used in Sulzer four-stroke engines. Fuel is delivered from this common rail through a separate injection control unit for each engine cylinder to the standard fuel injection valves which are hydraulically operated in the usual way by the high-pressure fuel oil. The control units, using quick-acting Sulzer rail valves, regulate the timing of fuel injection, control the volume of fuel injected, and set the shape of the injection pattern. The three fuel injection valves in each cylinder cover are separately controlled so that they may be programmed to operate separately or in unison as necessary. The common-rail system is purpose-built for operation on just the same grades of heavy fuel oil as are already —2— © Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002

interface for the electronic governor and the shipboard remote control and alarm systems. Sulzer RT-flex engines are designed to be user friendly, without requiring ships’ engineers to have any special additional skills. Indeed, the knowledge for operation and maintenance of RT-flex engines can be included in Wärtsilä’s usual one-week courses for Sulzer RTA-series engines given to ships’ engineers. Training time usually given to the camshaft system, fuel pumps, valve actuating pumps, and reversing servomotors is simply given instead to the RT-flex system.

Fig. 3: Top platform of the Sulzer 6RT-flex58T-B engine standard for Sulzer RTA-series engines. For this reason, the RT-flex system incorporates certain design features not seen in other common-rail engines using middle-distillate diesel oils. The key point is that, in the RT-flex system, the heated heavy fuel oil is kept away from the precision quick-acting rail valves. The key features of the Sulzer common-rail system are thus: • Precise volumetric control of fuel injection, with integrated flow-out security • Variable injection rate shaping and variable injection pressure • Possibility for independent action and shutting off of individual fuel injection valves • Ideally suited for heavy fuel oil • Well-proven standard fuel injection valves • Proven, high-efficiency common-rail pumps • Lower levels of vibration and internal forces and moments • Steady operation at very low running speeds with precise speed regulation • Smokeless operation at all speeds. The RT-flex system encompasses more than the fuel injection process. It includes exhaust valve actuation and starting air control. The exhaust valves are operated in much the same way as in existing Sulzer RTA engines by a hydraulic pushrod but with the actuating energy now coming from a servo oil rail at 200 bar pressure. The servo oil is supplied by high-pressure hydraulic pumps incorporated in the supply unit with the fuel supply pumps. The electronically-controlled actuating unit for each cylinder gives full flexibility for valve opening and closing patterns. This unit utilises exactly the same Sulzer rail valves as are used for controlling fuel injection. All functions in the RT-flex system are controlled and monitored through the integrated Wärtsilä WECS-9500 electronic control system. This is a modular system with separate microprocessor control units for each cylinder, and overall control and supervision by duplicated microprocessor control units. The latter provide the usual At its heart, the Sulzer RT-flex engine is the same reliable, basic engine as the existing RTA engine series. The power ranges, speeds, layout fields and full-power fuel consumptions are the same for both engine versions. The Sulzer RT-flex engine offers a number of interesting benefits to shipowners and operators: • Reduced running costs through lower part-load fuel consumption and eventually longer times between overhauls • Reduced maintenance requirements, with simpler setting of the engine, for example adjustment of mechanical injection pumps is no longer necessary, and ‘as-new’ running settings are automatically maintained • More balanced engine operation. The common-rail system with volumetric control gives excellent balance in engine power developed between cylinders and between cycles, with precise injection timing and equalised thermal loads • More predictable maintenance costs owing to better balanced engine operation and better retaining of engine settings over many running hours • Extendable times between overhauls through better engine running conditions, and better prediction of maintenance timing • Better fuel economy in actual in-service load range • Flexibility to optimise fuel consumption at selected service loads within compliance with the NOX emission limit in Annex VI of the MARPOL 73/78 convention • Smokeless operation at all operating speeds. • The RT-flex system is based on well-proven hardware • Full electronic common-rail control with integrated monitoring functions • Lower steady running speeds, in range of 10–12 rev/ min obtained smokelessly through sequential shut-off of injectors in all cylinders. Selective shut off of injectors gives more balanced engine operation than cutting out cylinders • Built-in overload protection • Built-in redundancy, as 100 per cent power can be developed using three of the four fuel pumps, and with one servo oil pump out of action. Shipowners are becoming very interested in RT-flex engines, and already orders have so far been booked for six engines, including the one in the Gypsum Centennial. These include two Sulzer 7RT-flex60C engines for two —3— © Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002

Fig. 4: The first Sulzer RT-flex engine during its official shop test in January 2001

13,200 tdw reefers, another 6RT-flex58T-B for an Aframax tanker building in Japan for Italian owners, and two further 7RT-flex60C engines for two 30,000 tdw multi-purpose carriers in China. At present, the RT-flex technology is being applied to the Sulzer RT-flex58T-B and RT-flex60C engine types. It will be applied right across the Sulzer low-speed engine programme, currently ten engine types covering the whole power range of 5100–80,080 kW (6925–108,920 bhp). This will be achieved by employing RT-flex hardware in four ‘frame’ sizes: for engines of less than 550 mm bore, of 550–650 mm bore, 650–800mm bore, and greater than 800mm bore. These will be introduced into production as experience is gained with the technology and its reliability becomes fully proven.

The first production engine, the Sulzer 6RT-flex58T-B in the Gypsum Centennial, was ordered from the Korean licensee Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd early in 2000. It was first started on 5 January 2001, and passed its official shop test on 16 January. The Gypsum Centennial is a 47,950 tdw bulk carrier equipped with gravity type self-unloading gear, including the innovative ‘Moving Hole Feeder’ system for transferring the cargo from the holds and on to the conveyor belts. She was built by Hyundai Mipo Dockyard for her owners Gypsum Transportation Ltd, based in Bermuda. She is primarily employed in the carriage of gypsum between Nova Scotia and US East Coast ports on behalf of her owner’s parent company United States Gypsum. However, she carries a wide range of other bulk cargoes for third-party cargo owners. The first of two main criteria in the ship design was to

create a safe and ‘environmentally-friendly’ ship in line with company policy. Thus the ship has double-hull construction (including the bunker tanks), bow thruster, high-lift Becker rudder, a water-lubricated propeller shaft bearing, sludge-minimising fuel purifiers, and dust suppression arrangements for cargo handling. The second main criterion was to outfit the vessel with machinery which would be supported for the 25- to 30-year expected life span of the vessel. Thus, the RT-flex engine, with its favourable exhaust emission characteristics and Sulzer pedigree was recognised by GTL as an ideal choice. The RT-flex engine drives a controllable-pitch propeller to facilitate manoeuvring in the various ports envisaged. Otherwise, the engine installation is completely conventional. The RT-flex engine does not have any special requirements in that respect. However, the engine is equipped with a Sulzer MAPEX-CR system to monitor the engine’s piston-running behaviour. This is based on sensing the temperatures of the running surfaces of the cylinder liners.

Sea trials of the Gypsum Centennial were run during 12 to 18 September 2001, and involved some 150 running hours. This was longer than expected owing to heavy seas. Nevertheless, the extended trial period allowed ample time for final adjustment and thorough testing of the RT-flex system, particularly of its electronic control system. In fact, no mechanical adjustments were necessary. All adjustments of the engine were made purely by adjusting software parameters. During the trials, the engine performed as expected. With full electronic control of engine functions, the engine manoeuvred very easily when varying speed from —4— © Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002

0.50 0.45 0.40

Filter Smoke Number [FSN]

0.35 0.30 ON 0.25 0.20 0.15 OFF Aux. Blower

HFO 380 cSt 3% sulphur 0.1% ash

Smoke visibility limit
Conventional low-speed engine

0.10 0.05

6RT-flex58T-B with Common Rail
0.00 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 Engine Load [%] 70 80 90 100

Fig. 5: Smoke measurements from the sea trials of the Gypsum Centennial demonstrate the smokeless operation of the RT-flex engine compared with the conventional low-speed engine full ahead to dead slow, and vice versa. It was especially noticed that the engine ran very steadily at very low speeds, and demonstrated its ability to run continuously at speeds down to 12 rev/min. The control system also proved its accuracy during the very demanding crash manoeuvring tests and the UMS manoeuvring tests, as well as in heavy seas. Additionally, the complete RT-flex equipment was checked and approved according to classification requirements. As is normal practice, during the sea trials, the engine ran for the first part on marine diesel oil before switching over to heavy fuel oil for three days. The fuel was of 380 cSt viscosity with three per cent sulphur. The engine ran equally well on both fuel types. The engine’s exhaust was smokeless throughout the sea trials, even when running at lowest loads and manoeuvring conditions. The smokeless operation is achieved by the superior combustion performance with the common-rail system. This is because the common-rail fuel injection system maintains the fuel injection pressure at the optimum level right across the engine speed range for optimum combustion under all operating conditions. In addition, a selective shut-off of single injectors at very low speeds and an optimised exhaust valve timing help to keep smoke emissions below the visible limit. In contrast, engines with the traditional jerk-type injection pumps have increasing smoke emissions as engine speed is reduced because the fuel injection pressure decreases with speed, and they have no means of cutting off individual injection valves and setting special exhaust valve timing. The shipowner’s representatives on board were very satisfied with the performance of the engine and the teamwork between Wärtsilä’s commissioning crew for this project, the licensee who built the engine Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd and the shipbuilder Hyundai Mipo Dockyard.

The engine will have accumulated well over 2000 running hours by the end of March 2002. Basically the engine has operated very successfully. Although there have been quite a number of teething problems with the RT-flex system, there have only been two major engine halts, both outlined below and both concerned mechanical problems. The great majority of the problems did not interfere with normal ship operation. Some could be rectified during normal engine halts while others, concerning common-rail and electronic components, could be rectified by briefly slowing the engine and replacing components. Software As one can expect, despite the many hours of operation with the RT-flex system, first on the research engine and now on a production engine, shortcomings in operation still arise. They are caused by the need to adapt control loop parameters under real sailing conditions. However, these shortcomings are declining in number. In any case, none have led to unsafe situations. Sensors Problems have been experienced with sensors but these have mainly concerned having the right specification and securing the sensor against local environment. For example, some wire connections were not at first optimal and corroded. In addition, some crank angle pick-ups gave output signals with too much noise. © Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002


This was a design problem and subsequent batches of rail valves made with better damped wires run without trouble. Other service experience The traditional parts of the engine have operated well. As is now standard for Sulzer RTA-series engines, the engine incorporates the TriboPack design measures for improved piston-running behaviour. Thus, all the problems experienced can be regarded as ‘teething’ problems, and they have been remedied. The fact that the whole design of the common-rail has been made ‘in-house’ helps when troubleshooting problems arises. In-house knowledge allows quick diagnosis of problems and prompt identification of suitable remedies. In its turn, this adds to the in-house knowledge for future use. Lessons from this first RT-flex engine are already being applied to the designs of the following engines.

Fig. 6: The supply unit mounted on the side of the engine with the three servo-oil pumps on the near side and four fuel pumps on the upper and outboard sides

Servo-oil pipe connections One major halt was caused by cracking of servo-oil pipes (200 bar) close to the supply unit. This was found to be caused by poorly fitting pipes. Thus, flexible hoses were employed to allow adequate freedom of movement. Since this modification, the problem has not recurred. Missing oil feed hole The other major stoppage was caused by a missing lubricating oil feed hole in one of the fuel supply pumps which had been left out during manufacture. It became evident by the pump sticking after some 1200 running hours without lubrication! Although the supply unit could fortunately be repaired within 36 hours, the ship just missed a charter by two hours and was two days off-hire. It required the replacement of the damaged pump and components in the pump drive. Lubricating oil consumption Excessive lubricating oil consumption was experienced at the beginning. It was caused by excessive lubrication of the fuel supply pumps’ regulating racks. After the oil feed to the fuel pumps was reduced to a reasonable level, the losses came down significantly and can now be considered acceptable. The whole common-rail system uses engine lubricating oil for purposes of servo control and actuation, which does not involve any consumption of lubricating oil. However, it is also employed for lubrication of the fuel supply pumps and there is a small consumption of oil past the pump plungers to the fuel side. Rail valves Problems were experienced with broken wires in some rail valves of the common-rail system. Fortunately these valves can be replaced within about 12 minutes while the engine is running. Although one should be cautious about being too optimistic after comparatively few running hours (after all a ship’s main engine has a total life of some 150,000 running hours or even more), the first Sulzer RT-flex engine is performing very well and shortcomings are being resolved one by one. Sulzer RT-flex engines have started to be accepted by the market. Apart from the orders from four shipowners, this is evident from the discussions with other owners showing keen interest and growing in confidence. RT-flex technology is, in fact, a quantum step forward which has even more significance than the change from air-blast injection to airless injection some 70 years ago. It holds clear promise for further development. Electronically-controlled common-rail injection is certainly the future direction of diesel engine development. Improvements in engine performance, such as reduced fuel consumption and less exhaust emissions, will in the future be gained by continuing software upgrades.

Kaspar Aeberli is grateful to John McMillan, Technical Director of Beltship Management Ltd, the managers of Gypsum Centennial, for his assistance in writing this paper, and to his company, colleagues and himself for their confidence in the new engine concept, and their patience through the ‘teething’ problems.

1. Stefan Fankhauser, “Jump into the new Millennium: Sulzer RT-flex with the world’s biggest common rail”, The Motor Ship International Marine Propulsion Conference, Athens, March 1999 2. Stefan Fankhauser and Klaus Heim, “The Sulzer RT-flex: Launching the Era of Common Rail on Low Speed Engines”, CIMAC 2001, Hamburg © Wärtsilä Corporation, April 2002


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