Modern ship transfer systems

Modern ship transfer systems

In modern Russia, there are about 160 enterprises specializing in the construction and repair of civil ships, warships and submarines, offshore development facilities and icebreakers. Today, the efficiency of the industry largely depends on the development of domestic ship transfer system

Konstantin EFIMOV

During the Soviet era, the Soviet industry mass-produced a wide range of specialized equipment for shipbuilding and ship repair enterprises, including ship-carrying equipment. At that time, there were two main approaches to the supply of shipyards. The enterprises engaged in the construction of mainly civil river vessels were equipped with a standard range of ship-carrying trolleys with a lifting capacity of up to 125 tons, designed by Giprorechtrans and manufactured by Gorodetsky Ship Repair Plant. A different scheme was applied to equipping shipyards engaged in the construction and repair of warships and submarines. Ship transporters supplied by a centralized hydraulic power system were designed by a special division that was part of the Soyuzproektverf State Union Design Institute (GSPI-2) located in Leningrad. GSPI-2 was responsible for the design of all the largest shipyards in the Soviet Union, as is now commonly said, on a turnkey basis. As a rule, the shipbuilding enterprises themselves were engaged in the production of equipment.

Until the late 1970s, the ship transfer equipment produced in the USSR was not inferior to its counterparts used at foreign shipyards. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Soviet shipbuilding technologies, despite the existing intellectual groundwork, froze in place, while foreign ones continued to evolve actively.

By the early 2000s, there was no production of ship transporter with trolleys with a load capacity of 200 to 320 tons and a centralized hydraulic drive for lifting/lowering hull blocks. Perhaps the only exception was a ship transporter, manufactured by the Zvezda Far Eastern Plant for its own needs to a slightly modified Soviet project. At the same time, the Soviet-era equipment available at such major shipyards in the industry as Sevmash, Zvyozdochka and Nerpa, gradually served out its life and, despite the cessation of production of many components, remained in service only thanks to high qualification of the maintenance and repair personnel at the shipyards.

At about the same time, proposals from Western manufacturers on the delivery of ship transporters appeared on the Russian market. In 2004-2005, Germany’s IMG delivered three modern ship transfer systems (STS) at the time to Russia. They were equipped with automated control systems based on a programmable logic controller (PLC). The systems were delivered to FSUE RosRAO and the Nerpa ship repair plant. Since the new system, intended for use only in the disposal of nuclear submarines, was used at Nerpa in parallel with  standard ship transporters  typical of domestic shipbuilding and ship repair industry, all the advantages of the new transporter system soon became obvious: its maintainability, safety, ease of operation and cost-effectiveness. The use of a modern STS has significantly reduced not only the time of its preparation for a transport operation, but also the cost of the process.

Following IMG, two other global players entered the Russian market. TTS (Norway) supplied the PELLA shipyard with a ship transport system fitted with a self-contained diesel hydraulic station and rotating trolleys. This eliminated the need to use a transborder for crosswise movement and significantly save on construction and equipment costs. And the use of rotating trolleys made it possible to free space on the territory of the shipyard by abandoning a transborder pit.

The delivered systems showed clear advantages over equipment that existed in Russia at the time. Many in the industry decided that since there are no Russian counterparts and their development is not expected, it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel and it’s reasonable to use proven imported equipment when re-equipping Russian shipyards.

As it turned out, not everyone agreed with such an opinion. Several Russian companies have announced their development projects and the beginning of production of fully localized modern ship transfer systems. The Kirov Materials Handling Equipment Plant (Kirov ZPTO, St. Petersburg) has advanced furthest in this area. Having invested considerable own funds in R&D, the company developed and patented a STS with self-propelled rotating trolleys and hydraulic pumping stations with automated control. In 2014, in connection with the imposition of anti-Russian sanctions, the domestic industry quickly embarked on import substitution of a long list of equipment used in shipbuilding. Kirov ZPTO did not stand aside either. The pace of work on the design of equipment and localization of modern STS in Russia speeded up. A fully functional prototype of a 170-ton driven rotating trolley, designed and manufactured in Russia, was publicly presented for the first time at the Offshore Marintec Russia Exhibition in October 2016. Previously, only closed presentations for some potential buyers of STS were held.

Investments in the development of the STS have borne fruit. In 2018, the Kirov Material Handling Equipment Plant was recognized as the winner in a tender for the supply of a ship transfer system with a lifting capacity of 14,000 tons and a set of transport and shipbuilding equipment to the Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka». The work under this state contract was completed exactly on time, and in November 2019, following a number of mandatory tests carried out on the customer’s territory in full compliance with Rules for the Design and Safe Operation of Ship-carrying and Ship-launching Equipment 741-12-330-75, the equipment was handed over to Zvyozdochka for operation.

The tests carried out showed that the delivered equipment is in no way inferior to the Western counterpart, but even exceeds it in some indicators. For example, ship trolleys that are part of the ship transfer system are structurally adapted to work on worn tracks with large height differences. Also, unlike imported systems, the trolleys of the Russian system for transportation of ships and submarines, have a mechanical safety system (nuts on the hydraulic cylinder rods) in addition to a hydraulic one, which in the event of an accident will prevent damaging the transported item during preparatory and transport operations.

The STS delivered to the Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka» is adapted to operate in adverse weather conditions. Transport operations can now be performed in the temperature range from -25 to +35 °C. The hydraulic pumping stations that are part of the ship train are equipped with an integrated medium heating/cooling system. Ship-carrying trolleys can be submerged in seawater If necessary.

The delivered equipment, including the control system architecture and software, was not only developed, but also released in Russia and, accordingly, is serviced only by Russian specialists, which is a very significant factor for defense enterprises.

In the second half of 2020, the Nerpa ship repair plant, which is
 a subsidiary, announced a tender for the production and supply of a ship transfer system with a capacity of 19,000 tons. At the same time, perhaps for the first time in domestic practice, the specifications included the requirement of standardization and compatibility of the ordered equipment with the previously purchased one. After all, the availability of two standardized systems at the enterprises that are part of the Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka» will reduce the operating cost the equipment and increase its availability. But these are far from the main benefits of such Zvyozdochka’s purely pragmatic approach to the purchase of equipment.

Practice has shown that the dock weight of the repaired submarines is gradually increasing. And the existing and ordered systems have the ability to work together as part of one STS. In practice, this means that after the STS is put into operation at the Nerpa Ship Repair Plant, the Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka» will be able to combine the two systems and transport items weighing up to 25,000 tons, if necessary.

According to Kirov ZPTO, which was recognized as the winner of the competition and has already started manufacturing the order, Nerpa will receive an upgraded version of ship-carrying trolleys and hydraulic pump stations with improved performance characteristics. At the same time, all the specification requirements for equipment standardization and compatibility will be met, and the software of the existing STS will be updated to version 2. It is important to note that if USC enterprises’ commitment to standardize ship-carrying equipment continues, this will allow in the medium term to increase the reliability of the equipment used and reduce investments in fixed assets. Kirov ZPTO is not going to stop there. At the moment, the company’s design office is not only engaged in expanding the proposed range of ship-carrying equipment, but also in detailed design and engineering of a vertical shiplift (VSL) with a lifting capacity of 6,000 tons for a potential customer. This type of ship lifting/launching equipment is widely used around the world, together with a ship transfer system, and has long proved its effectiveness. In Russia, despite the obvious advantages, there is not yet a single shiplift of this type. After the completion of the planned works, Kirov ZPTO, as in the case of the STS, will be able to offer the supply of localized equipment for vertical shiplifts.

  • Until the late 1970s, the ship transfer equipment produced in the USSR was not inferior to its counterparts used at foreign shipyards

  • Since 2014, the Russian industry has been successfully implementing a program to develop modern Russian ship transfer systems


YERZHANOV Kairat Amirovich
 Deputy General Director of Kirov ZPTO LLC

«Ship and submarine transfer system with a capacity of 14,000 tons for Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka» is the first STS with an automated control system designed and fully manufactured in Russia.

We highly appreciate the trust placed in our company by the management of the Shiprepairing Center «Zvyozdochka», and we hope that our cooperation will be even more fruitful in the future.

For our part, we want to assure you that we are not going to stop there and continue to develop a line of dedicated equipment for shipbuilding and ship repair in support of the import substitution policy and meet the needs of USC enterprises in modern, reliable and efficient domestic equipment as much as possible.»