Listening, studying, and offering solutions. Vulkan Italia proposes its tested novelty for the integration of hybrid propulsion systems. Supporting shipyards and owners
by Niccolò Volpati – photo by Andrea Muscatello
OFELÈ FA EL TO MESTÈ IS A MILANESE SAYING WITH A SIMPLE MEANING: each to his own job. What does a shipyard do? Building boats, which the owners want rather than the ones required by the yard. This is a transition period. Especially for propulsion systems. The old, dear diesel engine seems outdated, even in the yachting sector we hear about emissions reduction, green, sustainability, new technologies. There is a strong demand which comes from many corners; difficult to say which propulsion system will be used by the yachts of the future.
Those who say they have many certainties probably have built up their confidence on clay foundations. There are numerous alternatives; many of them still need to be explored. How do we come out of this? With a consultant. Someone who studies and, without prejudice, tries to suggest the best solution for the yard and the owner. This is what Vulkan has been doing for a long time, this is a philosophy and a systematic approach. Vulkan Italia, especially, has always focused on listening, because Gian Piero Repetti, its captain, has always thought like this, and it’s the same for his whole team.
In 1956 the Hackforth family, current owners of the Vulkan group, acquired the company, founded in 1889, which produced mine gearboxes and gear couplings. It was Hackforth himself who made an epochal turning point, when he started the production of the first flexible coupling for large diesel engines, the VULKAN EZ, so famous and used in the naval world. At that time, boating was still to be done. The first experience in this sector was in the offshore world, in the 90s, carried out with courage by Vulkan Italia. That joint mounted on Castello Gancia was scrambled for good race after race, but it did not break. The transition to the world of pleasure craft, yachts and megayachts is a natural consequence. Today Vulkan Italia has more than thirty employees, three of whom are involved exclusively to hybrid system research and consultancy. The technical office is made up of five people and over recent years the turnover has fluctuated between 12 and 13 million euros. The sectors it works in are the naval one, the cold technology, industry, and assistance. The maritime sector is divided between pleasure and professional yachting, with the military sector forming part of the latter. Its headquarters have been in Novi Ligure, in the province of Alessandria, for the last twenty years, with the offices, assembly areas, and warehouses occupying a total of 2,000 m2.
The first step was realising that the yachting world was going into a more comfortable sailing direction and that vibrations and noise were sworn enemies of the owners. Sure, they started from solid foundations: Vulkan manufactures flexible couplings, the most reliable ones in the naval sector, and knows torsional vibration issues very well. Then Vulkan Italia has organized itself, to be on the customer side: from the beginning, together with naval architects, white sheet and ideas only, up to the end of the project, through retrofitting activities offering a system, not simple products, for noise and vibration control. Figures show that this was a well-founded decision.
«The yard delegates everything to us and we look after the entire process of developing the hybrid system, acquiring all the components needed to make it work». Gian Piero Repetti
We met Gian Piero Repetti, who recalls: «When I started, Vulkan Italia was made up of a partner and myself. Our first office was in a flat above a supermarket. Vulkan invested 100,000 DM, setting us specific turnover target. After the first year, we had already reached 50% of it. We grew up quickly and we have continued to do so all over these last years». Gian Piero Repetti is not a salesperson only, someone who sells a product. He wants to understand problems and has equipped himself to provide the right answers.
So, fifteen years ago, Vulkan Italia took over a company that made possible to offer vibroacoustic solutions, a complete package for the propulsion system, made of engineering first, then couplings, resilient mounts and vibroacoustic consultancy.
Then the Propflex was born, the specific tail-shaft coupling which solves vibration and comfort issues due to the propeller. Listening to, offering solutions, problem solving. This is what they have done and they are still doing. Then the Vulkan Hybrid Architect comes out, softly, step by step, collaborating with important and different shipyards in Italy (Admiral, Benetti, Tankoa). From Italy the project has been welcomed in Germany, the headquarters, by the Hackforth family and the German management, who turned it into a Group project. So, they structured it with a brand new division, composed of Italian technicians, expert of mechanical, electric and electronic engineering, a project manager, who is the reference point for the customer and the team during the job phase, a German business developer who supports and works together with all Vulkan subsidiaries all over the world to develop and to give concrete form to the project. It has turned into an international project.
They study, keep up-to-date, make evaluations, suggest. This is all carried out on a lay basis as they are not believers of any particular church. They are neither diesel engines manufacturers, nor of electric motors. They don’t make batteries either. But they know how to make them play together. They have always worked to connect systems, getting the best result of the combination. They don’t need to sponsor, nor they must sell components, therefore they are in the best possible position to offer solutions.
The same listening and innovation attitude is a hallmark of Daniele Gaviotis, the new Vulkan Italia Sales Director, who knows the company very well, having worked as a Sales Manager in the marine sector in Italy and abroad for almost ten years. The new moves on, same ideals and attitudes driven, with the experience and the tradition knowledge at his side, always pushed towards innovation.
Hybrid propulsion for boats is still relatively new, but it has been talked about a lot over recent years and it is associated with the words environment, sustainability, green, and zero emissions.
«We have stepped down from the stage, or better we have never stepped onto, and place ourselves among the audience. Propulsion is changing. This is why is therefore even more important to have a look and understand the requirements of yards and owners», says Gaviotis. «Hybrid is a complex world. The most difficult thing is to put all the components together in a harmonious dialogue. It’s like an orchestra where all the musicians have to know the score off by heart, but they also have to know how to play together». Why should a yard that builds yachts consult an external organisation such as Vulkan? «Precisely because we are external, we are consultants and we look for solutions. Yards today should be investing extensive resources in their technical office to devote themselves to hybrid propulsion. We offer to do this for them. We offer our experience, research, competence, and a solution for the yard and the owner» explains Gaviotis.
There is a wide range of different solutions featuring a great variety of systems. Vulkan seeks to create some sort of order, analysing the differences between the various systems to understand their advantages and disadvantages and offer the best solutions.
Not only yachting sector and superyachts, but also professional one is looking at and is moving to new propulsion systems. In this sector there is a great interest towards hybrid, either because it offers more sustainable possibilities and it provides more economical systems with regards to fuel consumption: sailing for many miles, meaning that investments in a hybrid system are well paid, even quicker. In the passenger trasport sector, actually, there has already been companies building up full electric vessels, prototypes, where Vulkan Italia can speak its mind. «We offer three levels of consultancy. It is the yard who decides the one which needs. The first is a simple activity. We study the project, we listen to the owner’s requests, we understand the yard’s needs and we propose our solution. The second level is a bit more demanding for us because we also provide certain system components. Lastly, there is a third level where we take on the full responsibility. The yard outsources everything to us and we look after the entire process of developing the hybrid system, buying all the needed components to make it work», adds Gian Piero Repetti.
Under the guidance of Gian Piero Repetti, Vulkan has become a real specialist in hybrid propulsion systems. The company assesses the current potential for development in the nautical sector, imagining possible future scenarios.
In short, hybrid is not just something to be conformed to, but a system which continuously evolves. There is no single formula to apply, but instead a variety of solutions. It depends on the owner, the type of vessel, the use of the yacht, and the yard’s requirements as well. Repetti concludes: «Everything is hybrid. Even a sailing boat has a hybrid propulsion». That is why a consultant is needed.
(Vulkan Consulting, the tailor-made hybrid system – Barchemagazine.com – November 2021)