ABB technologies that changed the world: the turbocharger

2016-05-12 - In the year that ABB in Switzerland celebrates its 125th anniversary, we take a closer look at some of the technologies that have contributed to our position as a global leader in power and automation technologies.

ABB is the world-leading provider of turbocharging systems with power output of >500kw and has been at the forefront of turbocharging technology for more than 110 years.

Not long after ABB’s forerunner BBC was founded, Swiss engineer, Alfred Büchi invented the turbocharger. In 1915, he contacted BBC in the hope of turning his idea of a “highly supercharged compound engine” into reality. So began ABB’s contribution to the development of the turbocharger and one of the most notable success stories in Switzerland’s industrial history.

In an increasingly industrialized world, demand for more powerful engines fueled Büchi’s early research in turbochargers to be combined with BBC’s experience in building turbines and compressors. This led to the idea of exhaust gas turbochargers, and when Swiss diesel engine manufacturer, SLM, placed an order for such a device, the market was established. Büchi and BBC worked with SLM and, in 1924, the world’s first heavy-duty exhaust gas turbocharger left BBC’s factory in Baden.

A190-L type turbochargers from ABB are used in some of the largest diesel engines in existence.
A year later, the three-way “Büchi Syndicate” (Büchi, BBC and SLM) was formalized to advance the development of a “compound combustion engine with an exhaust gas turbine and a supercharger pump.” Büchi was in charge of engineering and customer relations; BBC looked after manufacturing; and SLM provided diesel engines for tests and trial runs.

By collaborating with major engine builders both past and present, BBC (now ABB) has become an expert in the optimum matching of engines and turbochargers, and provides invaluable expertise to customers seeking more powerful, efficient and effective engines.

In 1932, BBC made an important strategic decision. It created a series of standardized turbochargers. Its nine different models covered a wide range of applications, and their use of standard components in a modular design simplified both manufacturing processes and servicing requirements.

After a brief interest in aircraft turbochargers, which were quickly superseded by the newly invented jet engine, BBC expanded into turbochargers for two-stroke engines. These were the primary source of power in the shipping industry and required a different type of turbocharging system. BBC’s answer was a pulse-type turbocharging system, as incorporated into the B&W marine propulsion engine in 1951. The first ship fitted with this system, Dorthe Maersk, was launched in 1952, marking a milestone in two-stroke marine turbocharging.

The 18,000 tonne tanker, Dorthe Maersk, was launched in 1952. It was the first ship to be powered by a turbocharged two-stroke diesel engine.

Although the Büchi Syndicate had been dissolved by 1941, BBC had built up its own turbocharger design department, testing facility and production unit. In the post-war years, thanks to more shrewd business decisions, demand for BBC turbochargers soared.

Collaborations with engine manufacturers in the US markets and with Ishkawajima-Harima Industries in Japan, saw BBC’s markets expand across North America and achieve a dominant market position in Asia. Through the 1960s, smaller, lighter turbochargers were developed for modern diesel engines and in the 70s and 80s new models were launched to help customers meet power requirements without exceeding their fuel budgets during years of unprecedented hikes in the price of oil.

Continuous improvements and adaptations to meet customers’ needs in a changing world have rewarded ABB’s turbocharging business with a leading position in the markets, and the development continues today. After more than 110 years, the turbocharger is still an indispensable component of diesel and gas engines and ABB continues to provide the most energy-efficient turbocharging systems.

For more information about ABB’s contribution to the development of turbochargers over the past century, watch the video and visit ABB’s Turbocharging Web page.

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    Alfred Büchi, inventor of the turbocharger, went into partnership with BBC in 1915.
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