Major innovations in Finnish ship design

article picture: Major innovations in Finnish ship design

Chairman of the Board Jyrki Lehtonen from ILS with their project manager, Pyry Haimila.

Finland has a long history of high-tech achievements in the domain of naval architecture and ship design, specifically in producing blueprints for arctic ice-breakers or multipurpose vessels. Meet Mr. Jyrki Lehtonen, M.Sc., one of the ship- designing forerunners in this field.

In two cities on the southern coast of Finland, ILS Ship Design & Engineering creates designs for newbuilding, conversion and repair projects. The company specialises mainly in ice-classified vessel design.

”Naval architecture is our profession. It is what we do from dawn to the twilight hours,” says ship designer and Chairman of the Board Jyrki Lehtonen from ILS.

”This line of work is in the process of constant and rapid development. Digitalisation has become a part of all industries. In the case of ship design, things are now moving faster and more efficiently than before.”

Founded in 1988 by former shipdesign specialists from Wärtsilä shipyard – Jyrki Lehtonen among them –, ILS Ship

Design & Engineering is a privately-owned marine engineering company with offices in Turku and Helsinki. The current CEO is Jyrki Lehtonen’s son Kristian.


ILS has decades of experience of carrying out commissions for ship owners, shipyards and other design companies around the world, including high profile design and consulting projects for Finnish and international customers.

should first of all focus on what the ship is eventually expected to accomplish, and in what kinds of operating environments,” Jyrki Lehtonen emphasises.

Testing the prototypes

At the present time, ILS designers are taking part in various projects that will eventually result in the building of different kinds of ships.

”They include two passenger ships, one car and passenger ferry, and one sizeable cargo ship,” notes Lehtonen.

Quite often, designers utilise floating scale models of prototypes to help in their design work.

”This usually happens in the final phases of design when most things are starting to take shape.”

”Model tests will show how the ship actually works on the waves – and whether or not she works as she ought to, in accordance with the design specifications. Such tests are particularly important for the design of ice-breakers.”

In southern Finland, model tests can be arranged in Vuosaari and Otaniemi. Abroad, test laboratories can be found in Germany, Russia, and Canada.

”Additionally – and perhaps surprisingly – there is a very good lab for model tests in Austria where different types of vessels are often tested for inland water navigation” Lehtonen points out.

Vessels for all purposes

Propulsion systems are also an integral part of ship design.

”All of ILS’s ship designers have been trained for propulsion system design. Then again, none of our designers are concentrating solely on propulsion designs on a whole-time basis,” recounts Lehtonen.

Many ILS projects over the years have focused on the design on tugs.

”Typically, tugs are vessels that are able to operate even in very difficult conditions.”


”We have also designed three multipurpose ice-breakers that can operate as ice-breakers in Finland’s winter – but in summer they can double as offshore vessels or supply ships, or perhaps cable-laying ships. Each ship concept must be determined individually, so that the ship can be designed just for its future purpose.”

According to Lehtonen, arctic research vessels are often intellectually

rewarding projects from the ship designer’s point of view. He was one of the original designers of R/V Aranda, the renowned ice-strengthened Finnish research vessel capable of operating both in icy waters and on open seas.

”A few years back, we also designed major alterations for the Aranda design, giving the ship a longer life-span. The midsection of the ship’s hull was lengthened by more than 10 metres to provide additional laboratory space and displacement and to expand the operational capabilities of the vessel,” he explains.

Global challenges

Finding new customers and new projects can sometimes be challenging for ship designers.

”These days, more and more ships are buying built by shipyards abroad, even when the ship has been designed in Finland.”

”Recently, ILS was commissioned by a Russian shipping company to design an ice-breaking multipurpose tug. We provided first the ship concept design and later the final blueprints, but the ship was eventually built by a shipyard in China,” Lehtonen mentions.

”As it turned out, the resulting ship was good and solid, even if it was the shipyard’s first-ever ice-breaker newbuilding project.”

Lehtonen feels that it is important to communicate the ship designer’s intentions in some detail to the shipyard, to avoid any misunderstandings or construction errors.

”Good cooperation can usually solve all problems. Of course, communication is more simple if the ship is to be built by a local shipyard.”

”Even so, today’s shipbuilding projects have become more globally oriented than they used to be just a couple of decades ago. Nowadays, is not uncommon that shipowners select foreign shipyards for the task of building their ships.”

by: Ari Mononen

photos by: ILS Oy

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