By Andrew Safer: Twenty undergraduates in Memorial University’s Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering (ONAE) program presented their five final-project vessel designs to a capacity crowd on Mar. 27, 2012.

Occupying the boardroom’s 65 seats were junior ONAE students, all six ONAE faculty members, and guests from the Canadian Coast Guard and the private sector who had consulted with students when they were developing their designs. Unique in Canada, the six-year ONAE program (recently changed to five years) gives students the opportunity to roll up their sleeves during four to six  four-month work terms, ensuring they graduate not only with their B. Eng., but also with significant professional experience.  This year’s projects included an environmental protection vessel, ROV support vessel, fast rescue craft, sovereignty and defence patrol vessel, and a cargo ship to supply Arctic communities.

“Most have travelled abroad on at least one work term,” explains Dr. Brian Veitch(Shown in photo to the right.) He taught the class. “It’s technical work, and they work under the supervision of an engineer. Typically, they accumulate two years of experience,” he said. “It’s a great way to start your professional practice, establish a network, and really get to understand what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do. Companies use the co-op system to recruit, and students use it to be recruited,” he explained.

Amy Stapleton, 22, spent her work terms with PSN in St. John’s, BMT Fleet Technology in Ottawa, EXMAR Offshore in Houston, Robert Allan Ltd. in Vancouver, and London Offshore Consultants in London, England. Seated in the classroom in the Engineering building where she and her teammates created their vessel design, Stapleton explains why they decided to design an Arctic Environmental Protection Vessel (AEPV). “There’s a resurgence of interest in the Arctic,” she says, “and companies have identified roadblocks—challenges—to safe development.” She notes how long it took to clean up after the Deepwater Horizon blowout, even though it occurred in a heavily populated area where lots of assets were available, and then points out that the lack of infrastructure and available assets in the Arctic presents a whole different set of requirements. Stapleton and team members Jose Diez, Leslie Oxford, and Lian-Feng Li started working on their design last summer before they headed out for their work terms that ended in December, and then continued to refine their design in the 16 weeks allotted for the final project between January and March.

On Dr. Veitch’s invitation, Dr. David Murrin, Executive Director of the Centre for Arctic Resource Development, and representatives from the Canadian Coast Guard consulted with Stapleton’s team, which helped them determine the vessel’s operational profile. “First we thought it would be a government asset,” Stapleton explains, “but then because of the contingency plans companies are expected to have in sensitive areas, we figured it would be more marketable as a private chartered supply vessel.” She adds that the eastern Arctic is expected to open up for development first, so they have designed it to operate in Davis Strait and the southern section of Baffin Bay, the entry to the Northwest Passage.

The AEPV is 80 metres long, has a 16-metre beam and a 5.7 metre draft. It’s a Polar Class 4 vessel with a maximum speed of 15.5 knots and is capable of breaking ¾- metre-thick ice at 7 knots. It was designed to store up to 1415 cubic metres of recovered oil and be multifunctional, ranging from ice management to emergency towing. The vessel would be play a key role in coordinated ice management efforts, ensuring that offshore installations are protected from ice while also maintaining logs of ice conditions, and be ready in case of an emergency. For oil recovery, the AEPV would be equipped with two skimmers: one with a roller made of brushes that would pull the oil into a receiving vessel, and one with oleophilic ropes that are run through a device that extracts the oil for transfer to the receiving vessel. Cranes on both port and starboard decks would launch and recover the oil skimmer in conjunction with the oil booms in simultaneous operations, and there are fireproof booms for in situ burning operations. The winch and oil spill equipment are stored inside a large covered deck space designed to keep equipment from icing up and the crew protected from the elements. The helideck and handrails are heated for winterization purposes.

From his home in central Mexico, Jose Diez found out about Memorial’s ONAE program on the Internet.  “I’ve always had a huge passion for the ocean,” says the 24-year old, “and I like to build things. The European schools were too expensive. Then I found out about the work terms and I fell in love with the program.” Two of his five work terms were with STX Canada Marine in Vancouver. After Diez graduates, he’s moving there to join their design team. “I’m really lucky to be able to be part of Memorial,” he reflects, “and to be able to become a naval architect.”  

Asked if he expects the AEPV design to have a life post-graduation, Diez says, “My dream is for it to be built. Some company that needs a solution can use this design as the basis. So much work has been done already. It can be taken to the last stage. I’m sure the design behind it is feasible.”

To support the Government of Canada’s strategic interests in protecting its sovereignty over the Arctic, Matt Robbins (Above with team’s design summary of submarine), Adam Lewis, Patrick Eveleigh, and Alex Dawe designed a submarine that can operate continuously for 300 days. The limitation is determined not by fuel, but by the amount of storage space that’s available on board for food supplies. Robbins, 27, points out there’s more to the submarine than simply patrolling Arctic waters. “Monitoring isn’t enough”, he says. “The threat of force has to be implied,” which is why it is outfitted with cruise missiles and torpedoes. Robbins received degrees from Memorial in English and Business before enlisting in the Navy, which then sent him back to Memorial to study Engineering. After considering the fuel and range requirements in the Arctic, the team settled on nuclear power. “It’s almost dictated as a necessity in the Arctic because of the difficulty of resupply,” Robbins observes. While nuclear powered submarines are not currently in use in Canada, he points out that the US Navy fleet has operated for 54,000 nuclear reactor years without an incident (no loss of nuclear fuel). Before this project , his team members had never studied nuclear power or subsurface ships. “It presented a challenge,” he says. “We had to take everything we’ve learned and find a way to tweak it in new and unused ways. It forced us to see how well we could actually apply the skills we’ve learned in unfamiliar territory.”

The submarine is 130 metres long, has a 10.5 metre beam, surface draft of 9.5 metres, and can descend to a depth of 250 metres (“unofficially” to 500+ metres). Speed is rated at 15 knots at the surface and 35+ knots subsurface, and it’s designed to accommodate 14 officers and 121 enlisted personnel.

To detect sound, there are 15,000 hydrophones in the sonar package—1/3 more than usual—which provides 360-degree coverage. The towed sonar array provides obstacle avoidance, oceanographic, and environmental (depth control) capabilities. When the submarine isn’t performing military mission-specific tasks, it can be used to map the ocean floor. Hydraulically retractable bow planes facilitate berthing. “The mast system is my favourite part,” says Robbins. The team reduced the total number of hull penetrations from 27 to 8 by using fibre optic equipment in combination with universal modular masts that are capable of housing multiple components. Photonic masts are equipped with fibre-optic cameras to produce thermal imaging video and still images in a 360 degree view without having to change the angle of the masts, and radar enables launching satellite communications. “The advantage for covert technology is enormous,” says Robbins, who adds that one of the masts doubles as a spike that can crack a 1.5 metre thickness of multi-year ice. To reduce the noise, the propeller was designed with seven blades. The team estimated the total build cost at $43.264 billion for an eight-class vessel fleet ($5.4 billion each), and the total project cost at $78.662 billion ($9.8 billion each) for construction beginning in 2020.

In an ideal world, Robbins would like to continue working on the design and present a concept to the public. “That way, it’s out there,” he says, “and if nothing comes from it, at least it’s source material for someone else.” He also sees applications in the educational arena, as his team has “basically created a guide to first-stage concept design of a submarine. In my heart of hearts,” he adds, “I’d love to see somebody say, ‘Can we borrow your ideas on concept design and teach that to other people?’”

“Two to three years from now,” Robbins says, “I’d love to stumble upon something where someone has referenced our report in their design. Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery.”

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