In the spotlight with: Andrea Frabetti – Diesel Center S.p.A

Captain of Industry is a term that’s bandied around quite a lot, but every now and again one comes across a person who fits the description so well, that it’s easy to apply it without fear of over exaggerating!

Andrea Frabetti is a man who is most definitely in that category. He also happens to have a strong historical connection with METSTRADE, having been a Jury Member for the prestigious METS DAME Awards for 15 continuous years, and he is driven by a passion to make leisure yachting ever more environmentally friendly! 

Currently Andrea is CEO for the Italian based marine propulsion and energy specialist Diesel Center, an innovative enterprise that was founded by its President Michele Maggi.

The company’s mission is to offer complete propulsion, electronic power and automation systems with a clear emphasis on reducing harmful effects on the environment, but without compromising performance expectations.  

A distinctive specialisation on producing innovative solutions for motor and mega yachts is something that has defined Andrea’s career for almost three decades, since he graduated with a marine and mechanical engineering degree from the University of Genoa in 1990.

A strong Ferretti connection.

In fact, Andrea’s graduation coincided very nicely with developments within Ferretti Marine, which had been started by Norbetto Ferretti and his brother Alessandro in 1968, as a nautical division of the family business.

Having made their name with seaworthy and comfortable sailing yachts through the 70’s, the Ferretti’s were keen to expand their horizons into producing a range of motor boats, an exercise that started out in 1982 when their first motor yacht made its debut, and thereafter the company began producing open and fly bridge boats for sports fishing use.

Norbetto Ferretti saw the potential in Andrea and asked him to join the company in order to steer the ongoing development of its motor yacht range, a role that he successfully grew into over the next 25 years, where he became Vice President of Research and Development for the Group.

During this time Andrea helped to pioneer the Ferretti Advanced Yacht Technology (AYT) concept, and established an engineering division which specialised in designing new yachts, and pushing the boundaries on construction materials and high-performance propulsion systems.

This period also marked the beginning of Ferretti’s participation in Offshore powerboat competitions, and in much the same way that Formula 1 motor racing benefits the development of every day cars, then significant engineering advances from race boats could be applied to Ferretti motor yachts for leisure use.  

A CV full of innovation.

As part of this vibrant developmental process, Andrea’s expertise and his enthusiasm for invention and innovation led him to record a number of significant achievements during his quarter of a century with Ferretti.   

These included the first motor yacht application of an anti-roll gyro stabilising system, the first hybrid propulsion leisure yacht to operate in ‘zero emission mode’, and the first megayacht (60 metre ‘MY Jade) to be delivered with a floodable garage.

Apart from a whole series of such ‘firsts,’ Andrea was instrumental in winning several innovation awards for Ferretti, and his name is registered against a list of worldwide patents. These applications include the ‘transplaning hull design,’ an eco-friendly concept which reduces fuel consumption by 40% when compared to vessels of similar weight and speed.

These days Andrea also sits on the board of Bavaria Yachts, where he has been appointed with a particular mission to oversee the development of their motor yacht range; a task that obviously suits his talents, considering the emphasis on the company’s E-Range, where the focus is on economy, the environment, and on being in harmony with nature.

Exchanging views at METSTRADE 2017.

Andrea came across as a modest but highly knowledgeable character when we sat down for a chat with him at this year’s METSTRADE show. Here are a few of our questions and Andrea’s answers:

METSTRADE: As one of the long-term partners of METS what are your thoughts on the show’s development?

AF: I have been privileged to be part of the DAME Awards Jury for so long, and what I have observed, is how much it has helped to promote innovation in our industry. It’s really something prestigious and motivational that designers can aspire to.

I’m also continually impressed with how Irene Dros and her small team of ladies manage to put on such a well-organised show; it just keeps getting bigger, more varied and busier every year!

METSTRADE: There is a lot of focus on hybrid and electric propulsion nowadays, and some suppliers are even offering drop-in hybrid packages for relatively small boats, what are your views on these developments?    

AF: The progress that we have seen has been largely driven by the fact that so many component parts have been reduced significantly in size. Things like gen sets, electric motors, and inverters have all been made much more compact in recent years. We can thank the research and development in other industries such as automotive and construction for this, as they have much larger economies of scale, and thus more generous R & D budgets to expend.

Also, the advent of variable load generators has allowed us to match the power requirement for hybrid systems, whilst keeping the fuel consumption and emissions as low as possible. All in all, these innovations have allowed us to make much better use of the limited space on a yacht. After all, the internal spaces of the boat are the owner’s property, and he wants to use as much of that as possible for his leisure time and enjoyment, not for loading up with bulky propulsion and energy systems.

METSTRADE: Can you give us an example of a typical hybrid system that Diesel Center is designing for large motor yachts.

AF: Yes, in fact a few months ago I presented a typical twin-engine ‘green and safe’ configuration that we have installed onboard a San Lorenzo 106. We call it the Full Parallel Hybrid System, and the principle architecture is based on the main engines being directly connected ‘in-line’ to the electric propulsion motors.     

The system offers several navigation modes, which can be selected according to the owners wishes. For instance, the main engines can be off, and propulsion provided by variable speed generators powering the electric motors, we call this Top Comfort Mode.

Or, Economy Navigation mode can be selected, with only one diesel engine running, both propellers powered by electric motors, and both generators off.

For higher speed navigation, a Booster Mode is available which powers the yacht from both diesel engines, providing full shaft power via the in-line electric motors.

The other big benefit of this system is the possibility to run in Zero Emission Mode, from the high voltage DC lithium battery bank. This will give navigation speeds up to 10 knots, or just as importantly, up to 9 hours of hotel load with no noise, and no smoke emissions.

Many superyacht owners use their boats as floating health and wellness resorts for their families these days, so the possibility to sleep peacefully onboard and swim around the yacht without noise or fumes is usually considered to be just as advantageous as eco-friendly navigation is.

METSTRADE: So, what about pricing, how does all this hybrid technology affect the overall cost of the yacht.   

AF: Well actually there is a critical point where the installation of such a hybrid system becomes practically cost neutral, when compared with a conventional twin engine set up. Typically yachts over 70ft (21 metres) are suitable for installation of such a Hybrid Inline solution, but when we get to 100ft (30 metres) the fact that we are able to downsize the diesel engine from a 16 cylinder to a 12 cylinder unit, effectively offsets the cost of the other hybrid components.        

METSTRADE: And finally, how about controlling all of these variables? How difficult is it for the captain to switch between the various modes?

AF: That’s a good question, and it’s something that we have put a lot of thought and development time into. We didn’t want to have the captain pulling levers and switches to toggle between modes, so we worked with automation control specialists Naviop. With them we developed a fully integrated remote-control system with ‘touch screen’ display. This is part of the navigation consul on the bridge, and presents a one page view with fully selectable options for navigation and power.   

Diesel Center S.p.A, provides a turn-key design, supply and system integration service to boat builders and individual owners, for complete propulsion and power systems, from conceptualisation through to commissioning.