Andrea Piccione, higher and higher

We met Andrea Piccione, Marine Sales Manager at Volvo Penta Italia, to take a closer look at engines for large boats

by Francesco Michienzi

Andrea Piccione, a mechanical engineer, is head of the marine division at Volvo Penta Italia. Italy is one of the most important markets for the Swedish firm, with the largest number of engines and IPS systems ever fitted on the yachts worldwide. Now more than ever, to handle the challenges – which remorselessly follow one upon the other – you need to be very clear about ideas and objectives. Piccione has the right cultural background to respond very determinedly and intelligently to all of the evolutions of the processes that are being carried out.

Talking about IPS for large boats is something that changes the entire landscape, both for Volvo and for the whole yachting market. You have already helped build some significant boats, I’m thinking of Mangusta or Sanlorenzo, but what is the situation right now? IPS is a journey that was begun twenty years ago with small boats, and over that time we have acquired all the experience required to increase in size. We have also worked in the commercial marine sector, so there are ferries with IPS fitted. And now, as a normal continuation of the upscaling, Volvo Penta is now looking strategically at entering a market from which it was excluded because of size.

There are currently 18 models using the system, from the IPS 300 to the 1350, with three different transmission levels, and it can have double, triple or quadruple installations for boats ranging from 30 to over 100 feet.

When did you realise that it was possible to enter this market? Was that a natural evolution or was it something that had been planned from the start? Actually, it emerged when we saw that the advantages of IPS were mainly appreciated on larger boats, since they leave more room on board and they provide greater benefits for owners and clients. So, we started to consider making them larger. Today we are getting to 33 or 34 metres as the largest yachts with the quadruple IPS 30s installed, we are looking to larger boats in the future. At the same time, we are developing the SCR element to make the systems compatible with IMO Tier Three environmental rules.

Does that also include electric motors? That’s right, the two main issues are definitely about going towards larger sizes and proceeding to reduce emissions. This system will be immediately available to be hybridised and electrified. 

The Volvo Penta SCR catalyser is part of a complete package, from engine to exhaust, that has been designed to meet IMO Tier Three requirements. To reduce the temperature in the restricted spaces in engine rooms, the Swedish technicians have heavily insulated the system.

As everyone knows, there was an instinctive preconception, especially amongst skippers of boats of this size, about using the IPS system, because they are much attached to traditional ones. How did you overcome this resistance? For a number of years now we have given skippers the chance to have a single point of contact for everything involving assistance, electronics, navigation, transmission and engines. That way we have made being at sea as comfortable as possible for owners. And that is where the benefits of IPS systems come in. Since everything that had seemed too easy to use – I am thinking of joysticks for manoeuvring – we have made into something extra. As soon as captains gets used to the onboard tools, which range from the Dynamic Positioning System to the Assisted Docking System, their job becomes safer and easier.

Amer 120

Have you had any feedback from skippers? I am thinking of, for example, the 33 Mangusta, which was the largest boat that you have made. Yes it was, that one and the Amer 120. As we said earlier, it depends a lot on legacy issues and the experience of each individual captain. For them it is nevertheless a change towards a new technology, to a system that they don’t know but we should say that it can be learnt very quickly, in the sense that the captains who have used it say they are happy. There is also the issue of saving fuel, which affects owners more, but for a skipper to be able to present the bills for boat upkeep properly is a plus.

Designed for zero-emission boats, Volvo Penta has made a hybrid propulsion system. Purely electric mode means that it can go into areas that are ecologically sensitive, as well as providing greater onboard comfort.

In financial terms, how much more competitive is this system compared to a traditional one? IPS systems have a point of maximum efficiency that occurs in pure planning mode: the more the boat is doing that, the greater the advantages as fuel consumption is reduced, to the order of 20 or 25 per cent according to the operating cycle.

Sanlorenzo SX112

What about the SCR, what impact did it have in the market during the transition stage? Let’s say that all of the engine companies were slightly late after 1st January 2021, the date when the regulation came into place. Then there was a memo from the US Coast Guard which gave two years in which people had to sort themselves out, and that led to a strong demand for boats with SCR. In the meantime, technology has matured, and we are now able to provide a very compact, integrated SCR system that is very flexible in terms of installation and which doesn’t require maintenance.

What about the hybrid part? What stage is the electric motor at, have you already started offering it? Volvo Penta always starts from very technical and real considerations, so we started from the analysis of operating cycles for the entire range of engines and boats that we power. The first consideration is that there isn’t a single hybrid solution, or an electric one, that satisfies all of the needs of the yachting world, because they are very different. So, we have divided up all of the segments that we operate in, and we have identified some precise development plans. We see a future in which small boats, let’s say in the 30-foot range, could even be entirely electric. I am referring to boats that are used on lakes, service boats for hotels… Then, moving up, we have the development of parallel hybrids; so, a diesel engine, an electric engine and a stern drive. We already have some prototypes, one of which is working on the Svalbard Islands, which can use both the diesel unit and the electric one, so there are no range issues. The boat can start using electric mode so that passengers can admire the marine life in silence entering the natural oasis. It can be fitted onto a wide range of vessels. I am thinking of Venice, which for us will be a definite target for this kind of application, and also of all the boats of around 30 to 40 feet that use stern drives.

Mangusta 33

The Volvo Penta IPS 1350 system was used by boats of over 30 metres with excellent results in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption, comfort, manoeuvrability and ease of use. The Volvo Penta D13 torque curve was modified to include electronic management, so as to handle higher loads at lower speeds, which is what displacement or semi-displacement yachts require.

State però lavorando anche a mezzi più importanti… Salendo di misura sale la complessità e l’importanza delle installazioni. Nell’ambito dei 60 /70/80 piedi Ips, quindi ibrido parallelo con Ips, si apre tutta una serie di nuovi tipi di installazioni legate proprio ai cicli operativi. Nel marino commerciale, ad esempio, abbiamo una forte richiesta legata anche alla base di natura economica. Una delle installazioni che maggiormente ci stanno chiedendo sono degli Ips completamente elettrici, senza motori diesel, con a bordo dei gruppi elettrogeni a giri variabili.

But you are also working on larger boats… As size increases, so does the complexity and the importance of the installations. In terms of 60/70/80-footers, so a parallel hybrid with IPS, a whole series of a new kind of installations linked to operating cycles opens up. We have a lot of demand coming from commercial operators, for example, which is also linked to financial considerations. Completely electric IPS systems are some of those that people are most asking for, without diesel engines, but with variable rev generator units onboard.

IPS forward propeller drives can be individually directed, and with the joystick control they mean you can have reactive steering when under way and very simple and precise control during manoeuvring and mooring. That means yachters can move in small areas, carry out manoeuvres, even complicated ones, and stay stable even in rougher sea conditions.

So, you could create a very wide range of configurations with generator units. Let’s say that you have to consider the balance between the complexity of the on-board system and the size of the generator: so, between installing ten small generators or three medium-size ones. We are currently making boats with five or six generators and electric IPS pods. 

Can you tell us something about boats that are larger still? Boats that are still larger, as well as having the new IPS system, which will be presented in the forthcoming months, will fit complicated equipment made in partnership with Siemens or Danfoss, who we work with as engine suppliers when they make integrated systems.

Azimut S8

Is there anything new you can tell us about more efficient accumulation systems? Yes, Volvo Cars is opening a factory at Göteborg in Sweden precisely because of the research, execution and independence of Volvo in the battery area, so there is a lot of investment being made in developing batteries. I would say there is going to be a technological leap, like LED in lighting, and then the process will accelerate a lot since being able to have battery packs that hold a similar amount of energy to a fuel tank would be extremely useful.

If we stay on the subject of big boats, what do you think of hydrogen systems? Personally, I think that they are a long way off. What we don’t have is the whole distribution, storage and transport structure, because there is a deep-rooted mistake in assuming that hydrogen is a source of energy. It carries energy, it has to be produced, stored, held and then used. However, the technology to make that cycle affordable and achievable is still far behind. In yachting it will be very difficult, there will definitely be prototypes and examples created in very limited numbers. For example, in Norway, the ferries have a perfect work cycle: they cross a fjord, unload and then load, before going back across, and that means they can have full-electric boats. But I think that it will take time to move on to more general applications, and especially yachting ones. The real revolution from Volvo Penta is not in developing components for hybrid systems, because they are already available on the market, but in providing the glue, so being able to deliver an integrated system and take responsibility for everything. And that is what Volvo Penta is basing its hybrid strategy on.

(Andrea Piccione, higher and higher – – September 2022)