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Plastic chains on the largest working ship in the world

The "Pioneering Spirit" is engaged in the record-breaking laying of pipeline using energy chains from igus, Cologne

The largest construction ship in the world - the Allseas Pioneering Spirit - was built to construct pipelines of record weight in all water depths. Last year, the floating factory for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline covered up to five kilometres a day, installing thick-walled pipes with a diameter of 48 inches in over 200 metres of water. To ensure that the bridge crane on board continues to function optimally, Allseas opted for energy chains from igus.


  • What was needed: e-chain and chainflex cables from igus
  • Requirements: High speed of the trolley on the crane, harsh environmental conditions due to rough sea weather
  • Industry: Pipeline construction
  • Success for the customer: Pre-assembled "all-in-one" solution from a single source, fast delivery of all components on schedule

The "Pioneering Spirit"


The pipeline production system on board the world's largest pipe-laying vessel - the Pioneering Spirit - is largely automated. Part of the system is a grey, arch-shaped bridge crane from the French manufacturer IMECA. The crane stacks the delivered steel pipes - much like tree trunks on a lorry - and positions them piece by piece in a waiting area before they reach the production process.
A major potential weak point can arise in the trolleys of the bridge crane, which lift the steel pipes on hoist ropes and transport them along a horizontal axis at a speed of up to 90 meters per minute. Energy and data cables must follow every movement of the trolley with thousands of repetitions. Classic trailing cable systems, the so-called festooning, can reach their limits. Because the cables move like a curtain rod and form loops. They threaten to get entangled and are exposed to wind and weather almost without any protection. Conditions that increase the likelihood of cable breakage.


The competent bridge crane manufacturer, IMECA, decided on e-chains from igus for the crane's energy supply. They protect energy and data cables in a tough plastic cage whose segments move in a similar way to the chains of a tracked vehicle. If the trolley is on the left edge of the jib, the energy chain lies in the guide trough. If the trolley drives to the right, the upper run of the chain lies on the lower run - the chain folds, the cables are fixed in chambers inside the e-chain. The energy supply is thereby also safer, more space-saving and more maintenance-friendly than a festooning system. The e-chains, which are made from tribo-polymers, are also robust enough to withstand the harsh weather at sea for years to come. As companies increasingly want an "everything from one source" system due to the high time savings, igus also equipped the e-chain with 17 chainflex cables all of which were delivered from stock at short notice and on time.

"Thanks to the igumid polymer, the energy chains achieve a running performance of up to 200,000 kilometres even in extreme weather. This corresponds to an average duration of use for ten to twelve years, according to the running performance. "
Theo Diehl, Head of Industry Management, Crane Technology at igus

Sensors predict maintenance

"We are proud that our solutions are used on the world's largest special vessel," explains Theo Diehl from igus. But that was no reason to sit back and take things easy. "We will continue to invest in research and development to further improve the e-chains' longevity, reliability and functionality. " Even today, the chains can be equipped with sensors that measure tensile and shear forces, accelerations and ambient temperature. If a fault occurs (e.g. due to a stone or other foreign object in the chain), the system shuts down automatically to prevent cable breakage and further, more expensive, damage. Often it is these small, inconspicuous functions that decide the schedule of huge projects.

energy chain