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Old 27-09-2015, 06:51   #1
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The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

I have been an IPS owner since 2007. It is truly a wonderful technology since it makes docking such a simple procedure. When this system was first introduced there wasnít anything like it on the market and the additional benefits of better performance and better fuel economy made it sound like an absolute winner.

My current boat still has IPS; in fact it has three such units. So over time is this system worth the extra money? Because this is a really expensive technology.

Today you can get similar docking solutions using joystick controls that combine the twin engine control with bow and stern thrusters. It works the same and makes docking a simple operation just like the IPS.

Much can go wrong with this system because the IPS system is basically a gearbox, much like an outdrive, that hangs below the water line and any leaks will immediately render the drives unusable, needing a complete rebuilt. Looking at the user manuals, that came with the boat, there is no mention of any specific maintenance recommendations for the IPS (other than oil changes and anodes replacements), no mention of how long the drive seals would last and when it they would need to be replaced.

Well, I learned that the hard way. My boat was purchased new in 2009 but was actually built in 2008. So by 2014 my drive seals were six years old. I keep my boat in the Caribbean and have always kept it in the water. I would haul it once a year for a bottom clean, paint and propspeed treatment. Well in 2014 I hauled the boat. Insurance companies love that solution, especially when your boat is located in a hurricane zone. I hauled my boat late May and launched it again early November. We did the usual complete service of the engines, as described in the manual. That included replacing the gear oil in the IPS and replacing the gear oil filters. The most important is to make sure to replace all the outside anodes protecting the IPS drives. The anodes are made of aluminum and there are two per drive plus two regular zincs for the boats other equipment protection. We also replaced the engine block anodes. Pretty standard stuff that was part of the recommended preventive maintenance as described in the Volvo operating manuals.

Excited about a new season in the Caribbean we took the boat out for a cruise. As always I check all oil levels and inspected the oil before any trip. When we arrived at our destination and before we were ready for the next leg of our trip I checked all the oil levels once again. This time I found the oil in all the IPS drives looking "milky" a sign of water getting into the gearbox. I decided to return home and haul the boat. After some pressure testing it appears we had a leak around the shaft seals (and possible also on the upper seals) on EACH of the three drives. And since we have evidence of water in the oil in ALL three propulsion units itís clear that the seals on all units have failed ALL at once. Now how can that be?

We contacted Volvo for some guidance. That was the first sign of things to come. Volvo was completely unresponsive. I called them and emailed their customer solution center. NO response. Then I started talking to authorized Volvo technicians, guys with many years in the business. Well they basically told me that all the drive seals should be replaced every five years or you will have a complete failure. Now I understand why itís not in the manual or why Volvo wouldnít reply. This is pretty expensive and very intensive work. I would have been a hard sell to reveal this information up front before I bought the IPS drives.

Now comes the fun part. In order to completely rebuild these drives because as soon as oil gets in the drives they have to be completely disassembled and all gears cleaned, seals replaced, clutch packs replaced and everything realigned and pressure tested. Now only a certified Volvo technician can do the job and for this job there are dozens of specialized tools that only they have. These tools are extremely expensive and so are all the parts so needless to say this job cost a small fortune. To make matters worse they were no reliable Volvo technicians available in the Caribbean. I reside in BVI and the other IPS boats on the island gets maintained by Florida Volvo technicians which are hard to get and expensive to fly down. My technicians flew down from Annapolis where I live in the summer. They spent several weeks getting the drives rebuilt, re-aligned and tested. Of cause all the specialized tools and parts had to be flown down there and back. So at the end we were looking at a bill in excess of $30K to fix.

Looking at an average use of the boat of 100 hours a year (which is high) and saving maybe 20% in fuel there is just no way this technology can pay for itself and is worth it.

Volvo finally did get back to me because my dealer contacted them and told them too. They didnít do a thing and were completely unwilling to even admit that these seals should be changed and at what frequency. I think the fact that I hauled the boat for six month may have made the situation worse (because of the heat). But even when asked if I could store the boat on land for six month in the Caribbean they just said they didnít see why not.

My plan is to get rid of this boat and the technology. I want the old prop and shaft solution and with some help of a couple of thrusters and the new computerized joystick solutions I will have a far better and cheaper solution for the future. At least I can find someone to work on my boat without the need for expensive tools and training.

IPS is very cool solution, but it is an over-engineered solution to a pretty simple problem that has worked very well for many many years; prop and shaft.
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Old 27-09-2015, 07:13   #2
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

ha, i thought only SD 50 have problems

process they took to fix you, seem way too complicated.

Lots can be achieved by simply changing saildrive oil, even more than once if required. Cost around $30 and 30 min.

Pressure of oil in SD 50 is positive, so not much reason for water to come in.

Only way is if oil heats up a lot, creates positive pressure, oil leaks in sea, and when oil cools down negative pressure sucks water in. This I could never notice as saildrive caters for overheating by escape channel.

Even in that case one can change oil couple of times and not drive engines too hard so oil does not heat too much and not leak out.

i think this issue - water in saildrive - is blown out of proportions.

start using your own head and ask for logical explanation and proof if someone starts screaming water, water in saildrive.
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Old 27-09-2015, 07:14   #3
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Thank you for taking the time to share some real-world experience. To date, there's been little to go on beyond marketing hype, although I share your suspicion of overly complex solutions.

Call me old-fashioned, but part of the fun of owning a boat is the challenge of learning to maneuver it.

I'm certainly not opposed to multiple thrusters and joystick controls. Buy all the toys your resources allow. I'd love to ride along and play with them. I'm just saying that, for me, those are pretty low on the priority list.
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Old 27-09-2015, 07:22   #4
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Its IPS I am talking about not saildrive technology. This is not a rare issue it apparently happens to a lot of IPS owners every year.
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Old 27-09-2015, 07:37   #5
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Quote:
Originally Posted by mlundp View Post
Its IPS I am talking about not saildrive technology. This is not a rare issue it apparently happens to a lot of IPS owners every year.
sorry duno what IPS is, but I thought you talk IPS & 2 x saildrive combined.

3 seals fail at once, etc.

I have seen cats with bowthurster, so one can maneuvre high windage cat past 30kn winds in close quarters.

Although best is experience and complete plan before start maneuvre.
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Old 27-09-2015, 07:45   #6
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

The other advantage for boatbuilders is you can fit a larger aft cabin with rhea engines further aft in the hulls. It was pretty obvious to any mechanic they were going to be a nitemare and Volvo parts are some of the most expensive. At 6 y/o they must be out of warranty? Why bother with Volvo techs?
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Old 27-09-2015, 09:35   #7
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Thank you for sharing the detailed story of your experience
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Old 27-09-2015, 10:05   #8
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Lund, that is one of the worst stories I have heard in a long time. I feel your pain. Personally I don't have that kind of cash to even be outfitting a boat with such. Even a wealthier man such as yourself it would be an unpleasant experience. I had a twin engine trailer able cruiser that all my buddies and I would take diving over to Catalina and other Channel Islands. The engines were big inboard Mercs with sail drives that could be raised by hydraulics. First year I owned the boat the port side rubber boot developed some pinholes and allowed seawater into the drive couplings. What a pain in the arse to remove those suckers. U-joints toasted, seals, fluids, and new boots was a lot of money for me back in the mid 80's. My buddies helped me with mechanical work but I footed the bill. I checked star board boot and it looked good. I wasn't smart enough back then to understand that I was given a big clue when port side went out. My wife hated boats any way. So when she saw like 700 dollars go bye bye it was A bit frosty. Less than half a year later the starboard side suffered the same issue. I was kicking myself. Frosty does not begin to describe the Siberian winter that ensued when she saw us boyz tearing into it again.

It just sucks when u think u r doing everything correctly and get murdered like this. Volvos are good engines but I would never have them in a boat that I owned due to customer service related issues and expensive parts. I much prefer Beta marine on the west coast...
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Old 27-09-2015, 12:05   #9
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

I have never heard anything good about Volvo.
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Old 27-09-2015, 13:33   #10
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

..I have a customer with same problem... 4 years after got the boat, water on IPS unit.. I don't know how much cost the rebuild but the guy was not happy at all and ended selling the boat fast..
I was astounding about the technology when first show up but now I realized (like the author) it's an over engineered solution for something was easy for years: docking...
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Old 27-09-2015, 13:35   #11
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Thanks for sharing your very expensive Pod experience. From the get-go I could not see their real need in "normal-dollar-$cope" pleasure boats.; and, it seemed obvious their real co$t$ could become over bounding. Pleasure boats that are not normal-$cope, that are cared fore via millions of dollar funds, then the pods could be OK. As well, Pods should be good in some commercial boat applications.
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Old 27-09-2015, 15:02   #12
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

When are you guys going to lean? I have knowledge of only two Volvo ISP equipped boats and both are horror stores. Europeans over-engineer everything; cars, boats and airplanes. Their attitude is “We are superior and everything we make is superior.” Plus they lie about their failures. This is why the Germans lost WWII. They over-engineered weapons system to perfection but they were so unreliable they couldn’t be maintained in the field. Their latest is to rig their cars (Volkswagen products) with computers that can tell when an emissions test is in progress so it can change the engine mapping to reduce pollution for the test following which it switches back to its best fuel economy mode. The forward-facing props are just plain nuts, one fish net and you’re toast. They constantly bad mouth American and Japanese products. Even most Chinese products are more reliable that European. Give me a good old Yanmar or Cummins with a strait shaft and conventional prop and I’ll learn how to dock the boat. Can hardly wait for the self-parking Audi.
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Old 27-09-2015, 19:17   #13
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

I'm now a retired marine mech. Back in the 70s my boss wanted to install sail drives in a sailboat he was building, I told him if he did I would not be working on them. I did not need the job security they would provide. In board/outboards had been around around long enough for the redicious idea of sticking a chunk of aluminum with gears and oil in it into salt water to have become apparent. Mad a lot of money repairing and maintaining them. I have sea trialed and delivered hundreds of single and twin powered power and sailboats and can remember only 2 single engine power boat that could not be maneuvered at will. Volvo isn't the first to build a forward facing outdrive, they weren't successfully marketed either. Can you just imagine what would happen when a forward facing prop(s) outdrive strikes a sea cow, or other big fish (or human) instead of just sliding over it. Forward facing props just another really stupid idea. The pods are also designed to shear off if they hit something solid, now you talk about something expensive! Even if a open prop hits something damaging one can usually limp home
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Old 27-09-2015, 20:05   #14
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

[This is why the Germans lost WWII. They over-engineered weapons system to perfection but they were so unreliable they couldnít be maintained in the field.

JM, I totally get your point and agree with much of what is said. But to honor our dead and respect what they paid for victory in Europe the reasons the Germans lost the WWII was over 180,000 americans lost their lives in the European theater. The Russians lost millions of men as they pushed west. It also helped that Hitler was insane. His treaty with Stalin of "No attack" on them and then surprise attack stands out as just one example of someone crazy. The French tried it, the Swedish tried it, and the Germans tried it...they are tough people.

So, it was not just the engineering problems...it was massive loss of life and bomb the ever living poo out of them. Did you know that over one million people were lost in Saint Petersburg when the Germans blockaded the city and starved uncountable people to death? We lost over 3 thousand lives in 911 and it was a terrible thing for our people. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the carnage of WW I and WW II. So, I believe I just want to politely point out the respects due to the American, British, and Russian armed forces and the massive price they paid to subdue Germany. That is why they lost...
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Old 28-09-2015, 02:02   #15
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Re: The truth about Volvo IPS drive technology

Just to call a spade a spade, believe the parts exposed to sea water are Nibral, so the corrosion issue is probably mostly a non-issue.


That being said, I agree with a lot of what others have said, the technology is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, at best it's a rich mans' toy.


There is no doubt that the fuel efficiency and maneuverability are greater, and the design is sort of elegant in a busy kind of way, but any return on investment seems impossible to achieve, unless maybe one counts 'pride of ownership'.


I am however a of fan of inboard/outboards in certain applications; they are efficient, quiet and maneuverable. The aluminum corrosion problem with them that the manufacturers have is (mostly and usually) under control by various measures, but I remember thinking, when first reading about the then new Volvo system, 'finally someone's going to fix the problem correctly'.

Well that hasn't been realized. I guess as far as the hoi polloi are concerned, the cost/benefit numbers for the manufacturers don't pan out....
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