The Wärtsilä 32 engine reached an important milestone in March as the 6000th engine rolled out of the Wärtsilä factory in Vaasa, Finland. This popular engine, which is efficient, has low emissions and is able to run on various liquid fuels, has stayed at the top of the industry thanks to long-term product development. The engine still attracts new customers worldwide both in the marine and energy industries. Moreover, most of the engines built 30 years ago are still in use.

A small piece of Finnish industrial history was written in March as the 6000th Wärtsilä 32 engine began its landmark journey from the Wärtsilä factory in Vaasa to a power plant site in Brazil. This 9000kW engine will become part of a local base load power plant, meeting the energy demands of the local community.

Despite representing the latest technology, the celebrated engine that brought Wärtsilä international acclaim, has roots going back nearly four decades.

The development of the engine, called the Vasa 32 at that time, began during the oil crisis of the 1970s. The aim was to produce a power source with lower energy consumption for the shipbuilding industry, one that could be used as both the main and auxiliary engine, and that would run on heavy fuel oil as well as diesel.

The engine would make it possible to eliminate expensive two-fuel systems and ship-owners could save money by using less expensive fuel.

A joint effort

The first Vasa 32 deals were signed in 1979 with a Norwegian ship-owner that purchased an engine built in Vaasa for use as a secondary power supply on its cargo ship. The first order for a main engine was received at around the same time, from Norway. The actual market breakthrough took place in the 1980s, when the sales numbers of the engine doubled almost every year.

Sten-Erik Häggman, sales director of Ship Power, said: “Our product development, production, sales and service personnel worked very hard together to bring about this success.”

From sea to land

In the product development, Wärtsilä engineers focused on different size and power variants as well as continuously improved fuel-efficiency. The development work produced a record number of patents, which also put the company and the technology of the engine ahead of the competition.

In the mid-1990s, the engine was renamed the Wärtsilä 32 to give it a more international style. New customers were found in the shipbuilding industry as well as the offshore sector, and gradually also in energy production. In this sector the first orders came from India, but the engine has also been sold in Europe and North and South America.

Mr Häggman said: “In the Wärtsilä 32 development work, we have always set our sights far enough ahead. At the same time, we have been able to respond very well to our customers’ needs and offer innovative solutions.”

The value of energy efficiency

The future of the Wärtsilä 32 also looks bright according to Kenneth Rönnbäck, vice president, delivery centre Vaasa. The efficiency of the engine has continuously been improved, which has led to a decrease in fuel consumption and emissions.

In addition, the range of suitable fuel options has been expanded from traditional fuel oil and diesel to include natural gas and new bio fuels. In this area, development will speed up even further.

“Nevertheless, reliability has been the most important factor. The engines delivered 30 years ago are still in use, although they may have as many as 200,000 operating hours behind them,” Mr Rönnbäck said.