• Propeller Shaft Bearing Systems - Navy & Coast Guard
  • Surface Fleet

Canada's Support for Canadian Manufacturer, Thordon Bearings: A Highly Successful Partnership

Twin screw Vessel Illustration - Front

The concept of producing engineered components from elastomers first intrigued Thordon’s Innovator, Sandy Thomson in the late 1960s.  After careful development, the world’s first polymer alloy bearing was produced and installed in a scale pit pump at a local Ontario steel mill, replacing the traditional rubber bearing.  The results were so positive that they sparked a new interest, the marine industry.

By the late 1970s the first Thordon propeller shaft bearing was fitted in a Great Lakes tug owned by McKeil Marine, a Canadian ship owner who remains a customer to this day. It was clear that Sandy and Thordon had developed a winner, but how to grow this business?

Canadian opportunities came knocking in the early 1980s, and after arduous testing, both in the field and in the lab, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) specified Thordon XL tailshaft bearings in the then 1100-series icebreakers.  Now known as the Medium Duty Multi Tasked Vessels, these vessels operate successfully to this day with Thordon XL bearings.  With this reference, Thordon’s marine business was set to make its entry into the global naval and coast guard market.

Thordon pursued the Halifax-class frigates throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, only to lose out to rubber, the dominant naval bearing at the time.  When the rubber bearings could not meet the HMCS Halifax’s demands during sea trials, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) knew who to turn to.  Thordon’s revolutionary COMPAC propeller shaft bearing design allowed for hydrodynamic operation at low shaft speeds and a low acoustic signature, passing sea trials very successfully.  Thordon’s COMPAC tailshaft bearings went on to enjoy a 26-year wearlife run in the Halifax’s A-Brackets, three times the life of Thordon’s closest bearing competitor.

The success of COMPAC on the Halifax-class put Thordon on the global naval map.  The Anzac-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy followed shortly thereafter, and before long the list of global navies and coast guards grew to more than 40 within just a few years.  These were performance driven results that could not have been proven without the RCN and the Canadian Coast Guard giving the Burlington, Ontario   based company the opportunity.

Thordon’s RCN successes continued to grow - the Oberon-class submarines and the Protecteur-class auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) led to international AOR references as well as installations on US Navy guided missile nuclear submarines.

Sandy ShipTechWith Sandy Thomson at the helm, being the world’s leading polymer bearing manufacturer was just the beginning.  The next step was full system packages that included an increased scope consisting of shaft coatings, bearing mating elements and condition monitoring equipment. The full “package” would control the bearing’s operating environment for the customer, thereby extending product service life time, reducing operational costs, ensuring asset availability and receiving a “Technical Equivalence” to oil lubricated shaft systems notation by the industry’s governing authorities.   

In 2009, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) asked Thordon to review the CCGS Samuel Risley’s propulsion systems - an oil lubricated propeller shaft system.  The CCG worked together with Thordon and Heddle Marine in St. Catharines, Ontario to convert the shaftlines to water lubrication eliminating any oil pollution risk.  This partnership with the Coast Guard proved the feasibility of converting an existing oil lubricated propulsion system with a sea water lubricated system.  In turn, this led to commercial ship owners across the Great Lakes and around the world understanding the implications of Green technology, ensuring environmental compliance, while reducing operating costs.

Further taking advantage of the new Thordon driven commercial shipping regulations, the Canadian Coast Guard, brought the Heavy Icebreaker CCGS Louis St. Laurent into drydock at Davie Shipyard in Quebec.  This changed the mandatory maintenance requirements of the vessel and has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating cost savings.

As Canada started to recapitalize the Federal fleet, Thordon worked closely with Irving Shipyard (2012 to present) to deliver complete packages to the Hero-class Mid Shore Patrol Vessels for the Coast Guard and the Harry DeWolf-class Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels for the RCN. 

Despite the success, the journey was not complete and Sandy Thomson decided once again to push the engineering envelope by launching the Thordon SeaThigor, the most advanced maintenance free bulkhead seal in the world. 

With the Build Canada Innovation Program (BCIP), the Thordon SeaThigor seal received full funding and was installed on the CCGS Hudson, at Heddle Marine in Hamilton, Ontario.  The exemplary performance of the seals kept the vessel dry despite being subject to the heaviest seas that the vessel had seen in the past 35 years. 

This seal showcase application was delivered to the Canadian Coast Guard from the Thordon shipping docks by Burlington MP, Karina Gould, in a celebration of partnership between Canadian industry and government.  Based on this partnership, the CCG converted the fleet of Medium Icebreakers, as well as commercial orders including seals for one of the world’s most successful cruise operators.

These past successes bring us to the present day - from 1980 to 2020, Thordon’s business has grown into a global operation with distributors in 82 countries around the world, 95% global exports, multiple manufacturing locations, and over 120 employees based out of the Burlington, Ontario headquarters.

The support from Canada, whether it be from the early development and installation days to today, cannot be understated.  Thordon Bearings is a shining example of what the support of Canadian Government can deliver. 

Sandy Thomson was awarded the Elmer A. Sperry Award in 2019 for “Advancing the Art of Transportation”, the global transportation sector’s most illustrious engineering award. Thordon’s Innovator is ready to take on the next evolution in propulsion supply to Canada. 

Thordon is prepared to take the next step again, delivering significant critical equipment never before built in Canada to significantly improve operational safety and efficiency on a Navy or Coast Guard surface vessel. Thordon and its partners are now ready to provide the design, manufacture and supply of all components of the propeller shaft line aft of the thrust bearings.  As the National Shipbuilding Strategy advances and the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard continue to build ships, Thordon is ready.