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ABB turbochargers –
history and milestones
Malcolm Summers

ABB exhaust gas turbochargers are hard at work all around our planet – on the
world’s oceans and high in the Himalayas, from the icy Arctic wastes to the
simmering Australian outback. Out of an idea born a century ago has grown a
high-tech product that is efficient and reliable in the extreme.

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ABB turbochargers – history and milestones


L ike so many other innovative ideas

before and since, the exhaust gas
turbocharger was initially slow to
Progress at last
Things changed in 1923 with the pub-
lication in Germany of a report on
charged 10-cylinder, four-stroke MAN
engines. The turbochargers were de-
signed and built under Buechi’s super-
progress after its announcement to the successful low-pressure supercharging vision. Launched in 1926, these two
world in 1905. In a patent filed that trials with a four-stroke diesel engine. ships were the first in maritime history
year, Swiss engineer Alfred Buechi 1 Brown Boveri, one of the two found- to have turbocharged engines.
described a “highly supercharged ing companies of ABB, now made the
compound engine” with diesel engine, decision to apply its extensive know- The “Buechi Syndicate”
axial compressor and axial turbine how in building turbines and com- In 1925 Buechi took out a new patent
mounted on a common shaft. While pressors to the development of turbo- in his own name that would win him
Buechi continued to develop his idea, chargers. world-renown. Detailing the advantag-
inventors elsewhere were having es of pulse operation for low-pressure
some success with mechanical super- supercharging, it was the break-
chargers. But Buechi had like-minded
The period between 1945 through that everyone had been wait-
competitors, too. By 1920 small ex- and 1960 saw the world’s ing for. A new company, popularly
haust gas turbochargers were being merchant fleet double in known as the “Buechi Syndicate”1),
used in aircraft in France and the was set up the following year. Buechi
USA. Heavy-duty turbochargers were size, and marked the final was put in charge of engineering and
not yet considered to be economically breakthrough for turbo- customer relations, Brown Boveri was
viable. to build the turbochargers and SLM
charging. would provide the diesel engines for
tests and trial runs.
1 Alfred Buechi. His 1905 patent is
That same year Swiss Locomotive and
recognized as the starting point for
Machine Works (SLM) had a two- An improved, larger turbocharger des-
exhaust gas turbocharging.
stroke experimental engine under test ignated VT592 was supplied to SLM in
which needed bringing up to a higher 1927 for a second experimental en-
power level with better fuel consump- gine. The results were impressive.
tion. Brown Boveri recommended Licensing agreements were now being
using an exhaust gas turbocharger concluded between the syndicate and
that would feed into the scavenging leading engine manufacturers. First
blowers, and SLM subsequently placed test runs on diesel-electric locomo-
an order for such a machine. In June tives took place 3 . Turbochargers
1924 turbocharger VT402, the world’s were also recommending themselves
first heavy-duty exhaust gas turbo- for more economic operation of sta-
charger, left the Baden works of tionary diesel power plants.
Brown Boveri 2 .
In 1932 specifications were formulated
Interest was also high in the maritime for a standardized range of turbo-
community. One year earlier, in 1923, chargers. Nine sizes were chosen, cor-
the Vulkan shipyard in Germany had
ordered two large passenger ships, Footnote
each to be powered by two turbo- 1)
The syndicate was dissolved in 1941.

2 World’s first turbocharger for a large diesel engine, 3 This ALCO 8-cylinder, 900 horsepower engine was typical
delivered in 1924 of the engines being supercharged by Brown Boveri in the late 1930s
(here with a VTx 350).

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ABB turbochargers – history and milestones


responding to compressor diameters flow rate. Compressor development in importance of the relationship be-
from 110 to 750 mm. Wide use of the following years would erase this tween the engine OEM and turbo-
modules and as many standard parts disadvantage, pushing the pressure charger supplier. It was important to
as possible allowed fitting to an enor- ratio at full load steadily towards 3. explain the new technology and how
mous range of engines. Design fea- to make the best use of the exhaust
tures included externally mounted ball energy in pulse operation, especially
bearings, which made service work
In 1925 Buechi took out how the exhaust pipes were to be
considerably easier. a new patent in his own designed.
name that would win him
The VTR..0 is launched From 1955 on, Brown Boveri signed a
From 1940 on, Brown Boveri had a world-renown. Detailing number of important licence agree-
new range of turbochargers under the advantages of pulse ments. One was to have special signif-
development. Denoted VTR, these had icance: In 1958 a licence was granted
an open radial-flow compressor
operation for low-pressure to Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Indus-
(hence the R) and light rotor, flexibly supercharging, it was tries (IHI) in Japan to manufacture
mounted external roller bearings and the breakthrough that BBC/ABB turbochargers. IHI, which
a self-lubricating system. Component was then building engines under
standardization allowed large-scale everyone had been licence from Sulzer, went on to ex-
production. The market introduction waiting for. pand throughout Asia, and in doing
of the VTR..0 series in 1945 is a signif- so secured a dominant position for
icant milestone in the BBC/ABB tur- ABB turbochargers in that region.
bocharger story. With a compressor Continuous refinement of turbocharg-
efficiency of 75 percent for a pressure ing technology had, by the early Shipbuilding was now at a record
ratio of 2, it was only the start of what 1950s, set the stage for the next pio- level, crude oil prices were low and
was to come, but the VTR..0 marked neering act. In October 1952, the fuel costs had become insignificant.
the beginning of a new era 4 . 18,000 tonne tanker Dorthe Maersk The diesel engine industry was boom-
was launched. Built by the Danish ing. The VTR..0 was in its heyday,
shipyard A. P. Møller, it was the first with overall turbocharger efficiency
Turbocharging’s triumphant march ship to be powered by a turbocharged at around 56 percent. Engines with
The period between 1945 and 1960 two-stroke diesel engine (B&W, 6 cyl- BBC/ABB turbochargers were continu-
saw the world’s merchant fleet double inders). Two VTR630 side-mounted ally breaking records for output and
in size, and marked the final break- turbochargers raised the engine’s out- efficiency.
through for turbocharging. Boost pres- put from 5530 to 8000 horsepower.
sures increased slowly but steadily Dorthe Maersk was the first milestone Enter the VTR..1
during this period. The original VTR in two-stroke marine turbocharging. The 1950s and 1960s saw the develop-
turbochargers could be equipped with ment of new compressors with higher
either a low-pressure or a high-pres- There were several important collabo- efficiencies and pressure ratios as well
sure compressor, but the latter was rations with engine builders during as increased air flow rates. Bearing
hampered by a restricted volumetric this period, showing once again the designs were improved and mount-

4 Progress of turbocharger technology from 1924 to 1945. Designed for the same engine size, 5 Sulzer 32,400 horsepower 9 RLA90
the more compact VTR320 on the left achieves a much higher boost pressure than the earlier two-stroke diesel engine with three VTR714
VT402. turbochargers, manufactured by IHI, Tokyo

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ABB turbochargers – history and milestones


ings were reinforced. In 1970, engine output range of

6 RR..1 turbocharger with mixed-flow turbine and compressor wheel
compressors with an even about 500 to 1800 kW, it can
with backswept blades
higher air flow rate were also take much of the credit
introduced and the gas outlet for the wide use of turbo-
ηTC [%]
housing was enlarged. The chargers on gas engines in
turbine intake was also Europe and in the USA.
Turbocharger efficiency
Further development of the
All of these improvements 60 VTR..4 turbocharger was
were incorporated in 1971 in meanwhile also under way,
a new series – the VTR..1. 55 producing peak efficiencies
From now on, Brown Boveri close to 75 percent with the
could offer turbochargers with 50 VTR..4E in 1989 and pres-
an overall efficiency of almost sure ratios of more than 4
60 percent for a wide range with the VTR..4P, introduced
1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 πC [-]
of applications. In the past, to the market in 1991.
Compressor pressure ratio
efficiency had risen steadily
but slowly. This was the first The TPS/TPL generation leap
big leap. In 1989, following the merg-
in 1980 with the VTC..4. This opened er of ASEA and BBC to form ABB,
VTR..4 gives a further boost up new opportunities in the US mar- ABB Turbo Systems Ltd was set up to
By the mid-1970s the VTR..1 had tak- ket and was successfully deployed on handle the new group’s turbocharger
en the original VTR concept as far as locomotives in India, later also in business. The change of name coin-
it could go. A new turbocharger range China. Changing market conditions cided with another development:
with completely re-designed compo- subsequently called for the develop- Market studies in the mid-1980s had
nents was on the drawing board. Fol- ment of an uncooled version of the shown that new, benchmark turbo-
lowing prototype tests, the VTR..4 was VTR..4. chargers were needed in all the main
introduced to the trade press in late areas of business. The engine-building
1978 and launched on the market the Another breakthrough came in 1985 industry was consolidating. Fewer, but
year after. Freed from the constraints with the RR..1 6 . Mainly intended for stronger and more innovative compa-
imposed by the first VTR, it ramped high-speed four-stroke engines, the nies were developing new generations
up efficiency by five percent and RR..1 set new standards of efficiency of diesel and gas engines. For these
more and increased the maximum for small turbochargers, an area of engines, more efficient turbochargers
compressor pressure ratio to over 4. business Brown Boveri had first en- capable of higher pressure ratios and
The VTR..4 contributed to the spectac- tered seriously in 1968 with the flow rates were essential.
ular rise in thermal full-load efficiency RR150.
of large engines at this time from In the early 1990s, ABB began to de-
38–40 percent to peak values of In the years that followed, the RR..1 velop a new generation of compact,
44–46 percent 5 . contributed to the popularity of the lighter high-performance turbocharg-
high-speed engine in applications ers as successors to the VTR, VTC and
The need for a compact version with ranging from emergency gensets RR. Two new families, the TPS and
as many of the VTR..4 turbocharger’s through marine propulsion to off- the TPL, were designed from the
components as possible was answered highway vehicles. Designed for an ground up.

7 Container ships are an important market segment for the largest ABB turbochargers.

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ABB turbochargers – history and milestones


The TPS debuts runaway success soon after its market also made easier by an integrated oil
Since the launch of the first RR turbo- launch in 1996. Five frame sizes cover tank 8 .
chargers in 1968, the high- and medi- the requirements of applications that
um-speed diesel and gas engine range from main and auxiliary marine A new turbocharger for the
market had been changing fast. ABB engines to stationary diesel and gas traction market
therefore set about developing an power plants. The TPL was also the basis for the
entirely new generation of small TPR, a new railroad turbocharger
heavy-duty turbochargers in four Three years later ABB launched the launched by ABB in 2002. Designed
frame sizes to cater to the foreseeable first of its TPL..-B turbochargers. specifically to meet demand for extra
needs of this sector. Two compres- These were developed primarily for power and robustness as well as bet-
sors were initially developed, achiev- the large, modern two-stroke marine ter environmental performance in
ing pressure ratios of up to 4.5 and diesel engines rated from 5000 to traction applications, it features an
peak efficiencies of more than 84 per- 25,000 kW (per turbocharger) being integral high-efficiency turbine, an im-
cent. built for large ocean-going vessels 7 . proved single-entry gas inlet casing
and a unique foot fixation.
Developments in the diesel and gas
engine markets also led in the mid-
The steady improvement The pressure ratio benchmark
1990s to a version of the TPS with in turbocharger and is raised again
variable turbine geometry (VTG). engine efficiency has The continuing trend in engine devel-
An “adjustable” turbocharger was seen opment towards higher specific power
to be the ideal solution for diesel always relied on close is accompanied today by an urgent
engines with the increasingly popular cooperation between need to reduce emissions, and this has
single-pipe exhaust systems as well led to most modern engines having
as for gas engines, which require
ABB and the leading some version of the so-called Miller
precise control of the air-to-fuel ratio, engine-builders. cycle2) incorporated. For these and fu-
so-called “lambda regulation”. ture advanced engines ABB has devel-
Initially, four frame sizes were consid- oped the TPS..-F family 9 . Three new
Launch of the TPL ered to be enough to satisfy market series cover the engine power range
The TPL turbocharger family was demand in the medium term. Howev- of 500 to 3300 kW and achieve full-
developed for large modern diesel er, it was later decided to develop a load pressure ratios of up to 5.2 with
and gas engines with outputs from fifth, even more powerful turbocharg- an aluminium-alloy compressor wheel.
2500 kW upwards. For this range, er (TPL91) to take account of ship-
ABB’s engineers designed new axial builders’ plans to build even larger The TPS..-F was also the first ABB
turbines, a new, innovative bearing “post-Panamax” container vessels. turbocharger to feature recirculation
assembly and two new centrifugal ABB’s engineers were challenged
compressor stages. once more: The turbocharger was to Footnotes
be designed for use on engines with 2)
The basic principle underlying the Miller process is
The first of the new-generation TPL power outputs in excess of 100,000 that the effective compression stroke can be made
shorter than the expansion stroke by suitably shift-
turbochargers to be introduced to the brake horsepower and yet still be
ing the inlet valve’s timing. If the engine output and
market was the TPL..-A. This was compact. This was achieved by de-
boost pressure are kept constant, this will reduce
developed for four-stroke diesel and signing a new, shorter rotor and a the cylinder filling and lower the pressure and tem-
gas engines in the power range of new constant-pressure turbine and perature in the cylinders, thereby reducing the
2500 kW to 12,500 kW and became a diffuser. Mounting of the engine was emissions.

8 Assembly of the TPL91-B turbocharger 9 TPS..-F turbocharger

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10 The TPL76..-C turbocharger has been developed for advanced 11 Progress in the compressor performance of ABB turbochargers since
four-stroke engines 1960 (full load, with an aluminium compressor)

πC [-]



Compressor pressure ratio








1.00 2.00 3.00 4.00 5.00 6.00 7.00 V298 [m3/s]

Volume flow

technology – a bleed slot around the in the power range of 3,000 to sets the development goals and which
compressor wheel which, by improv- 10,000 kW (per turbocharger), the will, in all probability, become closer
ing the flow field, increases the surge TPL..-C offers two different turbines: as the demands made on the “turbo-
margin. The effect of this slot is to one for quasi-constant pressure as charging system”, and not just the tur-
enlarge the map width without com- well as pulse-charging systems, and bocharger as a component, increase.
promising the compressor’s high effi- one specifically for quasi-constant
ciency. pressure systems. An innovative fea- In the technologically advanced TPS
ture of the compressor is optional air and TPL turbochargers, ABB has wor-
A turbocharger for advanced cooling. This extends the field of ap- thy successors to the highly successful
four-stroke engines plication for aluminium alloy wheels, VTR and RR series. With the market
The new millennium has seen the offering users an economic alternative continuing to demand higher boost
four-stroke engine market continue to to titanium impellers when very high pressures and efficiencies, not least
push for more output and lower emis- pressure ratios are required. because of the contribution they make
sions. ABB therefore decided to make to reducing engine emissions, the
use of the TPL’s modular platform to A century of progress future belongs to turbochargers that
introduce new components and inno- In the 100-plus years since Buechi’s combine these qualities with highest
vative technologies in a new series – 1905 patent3), the exhaust gas turbo- performance and long times between
the TPL..-C – that caters especially to charger has become indispensable to overhauls.
this future market 10 . the diesel and gas engine industry.
Investment in research and develop-
Developed for advanced four-stroke, ment over the decades has brought
medium-speed diesel and gas engines quantum leaps in technology and
design – well documented by the
progress demanded, and achieved, in
Factbox How turbocharging works
turbocharger performance over the
The output of an internal combustion engine years 11 .
is determined by the amount of air and fuel
that can be pressed into its cylinders and by
the engine’s speed. Turbochargers supply
The continuing trend in
air to the engine at a high pressure, so more engine development
air is forced into the cylinders and is towards higher specific
available for combustion.
power is accompanied Malcolm Summers
The engine’s exhaust gas, at approximately today by an urgent need ABB Turbo Systems Ltd.
600 °C, is directed at high velocity onto the Baden, Switzerland
blades of a turbine, which drives a
to reduce emissions.
compressor wheel mounted on the same
shaft. As it rotates, the wheel sucks in air The steady improvement in turbo-
through a filter-silencer, compresses it and charger and engine efficiency has Footnotes
feeds it via an after-cooler to the air receiver, always relied on close cooperation 3)
A complete history of the BBC/ABB turbocharger
from where it passes to the cylinders. between ABB and the leading engine- can be read in the centenary issue of Turbo Maga-
builders. It is this cooperation that zine, no. 2/2005, published by ABB Turbo Systems.

90 ABB Review 2/2007