UK team set to take on the world in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE final

December 4, 2018

 

A team of North East-based subsea engineering experts are preparing to represent the UK in the final of the prestigious $7m Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition to map the sea floor.

This month TeamTao, the only UK team and one of the smallest to reach the grand final of the Ocean XPRIZE, head to Greece to field test their technology in the last round of the prestigious international competition, which aims to create next generation tools and techniques for rapid, unmanned ocean exploration and discovery.

The designated competition area is roughly 500 sq km of seafloor, which is equivalent to an area the size of Paris. The teams get 24 hours to map as much of the area as possible at a resolution of 5m horizontally and 0.5m vertically. There can be no human intervention and the equipment must fit within a 40ft container.

During the final round testing, TeamTao will showcase their autonomous swarm system technology, and compete against seven other teams from around the world to map the largest area of seafloor in deep waters off the coast of Greece near the port city of Kalamata.

TeamTao will demonstrate the capability and efficiency of their swarm system of subsea drones and an autonomous surface deployment and recovery vessel to chart the seafloor and identify 10 archaeological, biological or geological features of interest at any depth.

Based in the National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Newcastle University, TeamTao brings together experts from UK-based subsea engineering specialist Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) and Newcastle University.

Dale Wakeham, SMD Design Engineer and TeamTao Project Leader, said: “The team has been working tirelessly during the last six months to develop and refine the technology and we are looking forward to representing the UK in such a prestigious international arena. The Ocean XPRIZE competition presents a significant challenge but we are using it as an opportunity to accelerate development and showcase to the world what the future of subsea survey looks like.”

The Ocean XPRIZE team that comes out on top will win $4m. Second place earns $1m.

Dr Jeff Neasham, the team’s sonar expert and a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University, added: “Newcastle University is immensely proud to be part of TeamTao and to have reached the final of the Ocean X-prize Competition. It has been hugely challenging to develop an innovative seabed mapping solution from scratch and we are very excited to see how this technology can impact ocean exploration in the future.”

The competition is part of XPRIZE’s 10-year Ocean Initiative – a commitment made to launch five multi-million dollar prizes by 2020 to address critical ocean challenges and inspire innovation that helps create an ocean that is healthy, valued and understood.

Mike Jones, SMD CEO, said: “To reach the final has been an outstanding achievement. We began this journey with an ambitious dream on a minimal budget and secured a fantastic partner in Newcastle University to create TeamTao. Together we have engineered a truly pioneering and cost-effective method of rapidly mapping the ocean floor and water column. In recent months, we’ve also received further support from a number of partners and generous sponsors, including UK Research and Innovation. This has enabled us to scale-up operations dramatically, and while there is still a lot of hard work to do, we’re on track to demonstrate our system’s capabilities, which are revolutionary both in terms of cost and speed of map generation, and once scaled up, they will change the way our oceans are monitored in future.”

The winning team will be announced in March 2019.

SMD and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are the title sponsors behind TeamTao. SMD is a world-leading designer and manufacturer of specialist subsea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) based in Newcastle upon Tyne. UKRI is a national funding agency with a £6 billion budget to invest in science and research across the UK. It brings together seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.  Newcastle University is a world-leader in subsea engineering and acoustics research, bringing together experts from a wide range of engineering and scientific backgrounds.

Andrew Tyrer, Robotics and AI Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation, said: “TeamTao encapsulates all that is great about the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund investment in Robotics and AI technologies. To see both SMD and Newcastle University develop innovative solutions so quickly to address the Shell XPRIZE challenge is awe-inspiring. As the only UK-based consortium left in the competition, I wish them every success in the forthcoming trials.”

Other sponsors and supporters of TeamTao include Rajant, Sonardyne, WAM-V, Lenovo, Altair, Swansea University, Advanced Industrial Solutions, Solidworks and Volz Servos.

In addition to TeamTao representing the UK, other teams competing in the final represent Germany, Japan, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States.

To advance to the final round, the eight semi-finalist teams had to pass a technology readiness test. This included a site visit by XPRIZE staff and judges where the technology was tested against rigorous measurement criteria to show the approach was capable of meeting the operational requirements necessary for rapid, unmanned, high-resolution ocean mapping.

Events

QTrencher 1600 and 48Te A-Frame Delivered to Van Oord Commences First Job

August 8, 2018

Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) are pleased to announce that the QTrencher 1600 and its associated deck equipment package delivered in April 2018 to Van Oord, has commenced its first job at Borkum-2 wind farm.

Van Oord’s deck equipment for the QT1600, Dig-It, included a 48Te launch and recovery system (LARS) with A-Frame, cursor docking head, umbilical winch with snatch limiter and hydraulic power unit ensuring safe and reliable deployment of the QTrencher 1600 in higher sea states.

Paul Hatchett, Managing Director SMD Deck Equipment comments, “SMD have been delivering safe and reliable launch and recovery and cable handling equipment for over 35 years, and we have used our expertise to deliver a Lloyds Register approved system to our new customer, Van Oord. We have designed this LARS to offer flexibility and ease of maintenance to our customer. The compact design means that Van Oord are not restricted on the layout of their vessel, with the system being compact enough for operation across the beam and over the stern. Together with SMD’s QTrencher 1600 Van Oord will be able to increase their operational window, working in conditions up to sea state 6.”

The deck equipment comes equipped with a state-of-the-art cursor launch system which allows high sea state deployment using the lift winch. SMD’s cursor launch system protects the vehicle’s umbilical and ensures operational loads are within safety factors at all times, even when the air weight of the vehicle exceeds the safe working load of the umbilical.

Furthermore, the integration of the snatch limiting device means the system is able to handle transitions through the splash zone, from heavy-in-air to light-in-water without transferring shock loads to the umbilical. This function prevents the umbilical from becoming overloaded, and also handles slack umbilical to prevent damage during vehicle recovery which can be caused by vessel motion in high sea states.

The QT1600, Dig-It, has commenced cable installation work which should be finished in July 2018. Once completed in 2019, the Borkum-2 offshore wind farm will deliver green energy to an equivalent of 460,000 households. The offshore wind farm is located 54 kilometres off the coast of Lower Saxony, Germany.

General Deck Equipment Trenching

SMD's Multi-Mode Pre Lay Plough Completes First Job for Assodivers Ltd

June 21, 2018

World leading subsea equipment designer and manufacturer Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) are pleased to announce that their Multi-Mode Pre Lay Plough, delivered to Greek offshore contractors Assodivers Ltd in Spring this year, has successfully completed its first offshore job in the Baltic sea.

The Multi-Mode Pre Lay Plough is the newest addition to SMD’s power cable installation and protection product range. This plough has configurations for boulder clearing, trenching and backfill. The boulder clearance pass clears a 13.0m wide route including surface and submerged boulders. The trenching pass creates an engineered ‘Y’ trench profile with a secure power cable pocket for subsequent lay process. The backfill pass moves the cut spoil excluding boulders back over the product for maximum cover. All three modes have responsive and controlled steering and a fully integrated sensor suite for as built survey of performance.

Managing Director for SMD’s Subsea Business, Paul Davison comments, “I am thrilled that we have been able to deliver the plough with all three configurations. Having multiple configurations available means this one plough can be set up to carry out a campaign of route clearance and power cable installation and cover processes making it economical in both cost and time, minimising lay risk and maximising lay speed. Assodivers are the first client who have this capability in a single vehicle. We have a longstanding relationship with Assodivers, they have two of our Atom Work Class ROV systems already in their fleet and we are pleased that they trust us and our equipment.”

The equipment was mobilised on board Assodivers’ DP-2 Construction Support Vessel, the Aethra, directly from SMD’s quayside access point.

Technical Manager from Assodivers, Aggelos Tziotakis comments, “We are excited with the opportunities that have arisen from the use of a unique tool such as the multi-mode pre-lay plough; The vehicle has already performed its maiden work in the offshore fields of the Baltic with very successful results.”

Offering a full turnkey solution, SMD delivered a 20ft Control Cabin and a 60Te stabilising frame operational in up to sea state 5 via their dedicated Deck Equipment business. The team were able to integrate the 60Te stabilising frame with Assodivers’ existing A-Frame.

The scissor type stabilising frame used in conjunction with the A-Frame is designed to maintain plough orientation and reduce side to side movement during launch and recovery; fore and aft motion is restricted by the tow wire.

Deck Equipment Trenching

SMD Develop Fast ROV Capability

April 23, 2018

As price pressures continue in the ROV industry, the need for operators to reduce operational costs through the adoption of new technologies is increasingly apparent.

For areas such as seabed mapping and pipeline inspection, where traditional work class ROV systems remain the preferred choice, SMD has recognised the limitations of the current technology available and developed FLO, a new high-speed Survey and Inspection ROV system, capable of delivering higher quality survey data and significant time savings in offshore operations.

Traditionally, standard work class ROVs have speed limitations due to their size, weight and hydrodynamics. They can also be unsteady operating at higher speeds.

SMD engineered FLO, a high-speed variant based on proven SMD ROV fleet technology, to perform tasks faster and more efficiently. The new system has a top speed of 6 Knots and the ability to hold position in currents up to 4 Knots from any direction. FLO also boasts 50% faster survey times compared to conventional work class ROVs and is capable of significantly extending the operational window in areas where high currents are prevalent, especially within the renewables sector.

From concept to manufacture, the new high-speed ROV by SMD, has been designed around the latest sensor payloads it would be tasked to carry in order to perform offshore, whilst also providing the most stable and acoustically quiet platform possible to gather quality survey data.

In order to provide this level of performance, FLO uses SMD’s advanced ROV drivetrain technology in a low profile hydrodynamic package less than half the height and half the weight of a typical Work Class ROV. Coupled with eight open water vectored thrusters and SMD’s advanced ROV control automation, FLO is able to accurately navigate and remain stable at high speeds while close to the seabed.

FLO can also be operated in free swimming mode for shallow water and uses a tether management system (TMS) in deeper water. Although travelling at high speed creates drag on the ROV umbilical, in water depths of 500m in free swimming mode, FLO has the power to achieve speeds greater than 4 Knots.

To ensure optimised deployment and retrieval of FLO in difficult conditions. SMD has drawn upon its’ 45 years of Deck Equipment design to offer purpose designed LARS system which incorporates innovative functions including the auto cable render and a gimballing docking head.

ROVS

SMD Deliver Deep Sea Mining Vehicles

November 3, 2016

February 2016: This week marks a significant milestone for subsea engineering company SMD as the MV Happy Delta, loaded with the world’s first deep sea mining vehicles, leaves the port of Tyne.

In late 2007 SMD was awarded with a contract to design and build the world’s first deep sea mining vehicles for Canadian listed company Nautilus Minerals. Eight years on, having worked in close partnership with the customer, this massive feat of engineering is complete. The SPTs and associated equipment, totalling over 1000 Tonnes, have now been loaded onto the vessel which has set sail for Duqm Port in Oman where they will undergo further testing.

As well as the three mining machines or Seafloor Production Tools (SPTs), SMD designed and manufactured the full spread equipment required to remotely operate, launch and recover the SPTs from the deck of the ship onto which they will be installed in 2017.

SMD conducted rigorous commissioning and factory acceptance testing on the full spread of equipment in dry conditions on land at their production facility in Wallsend, North East England prior to shipping. The SPTs will now undergo extensive wet testing at the port facility in Oman which is designed to provide a submerged demonstration of the fully assembled SPTs, prior to commencement of the first mining operations in 2018.

The load out operation took place at Swans, an advanced manufacturing site being developed next to SMD’s site on the banks of the River Tyne. It was the first operation of its kind to take place at Swans’ recently dredged 9m-deep quay.

SMD CEO Andrew Hodgson commented “It is a fantastic achievement for SMD to deliver another engineering world first project. Our engineers have taken proven technology which we have developed over forty years, and adapted it for a new application to suit Nautilus’ needs, and we’re very proud of that.

“We thrive on using our problem solving skills to help our customers make the impossible possible and we’re delighted to have been involved in what stands to be a game-changing project facilitating birth of a new industry.”

Nautilus’ CEO Mike Johnston commented “Nautilus’ approach in building the world’s first seafloor mine was to seek out world class partners, leaders in their respective fields, and SMD’s unparalleled leadership in the design and manufacture of remotely operated vehicles operating in the earth’s harshest environments certainly reaffirms the validity of that strategy.”

“SMD’s engineering design and manufacture of our seafloor production tools is simply second to none; we thank them for their invaluable partnership and their determined leadership in building these impressive machines, and we look forward to seeing them in action on the seafloor once our project at Solwara 1 is in production in 2018.”

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive of North Tyneside Council which owns Swans, said: “We are delighted that world-leading projects like this are being delivered at Swans.

“Our state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facilities being developed at Swans and other sites make North Tyneside one of the best places to do business, and we’re thrilled to be helping those in the marine, energy and offshore industries to compete in a global market.”

General

Commissioning of Final SPT Begins

November 2, 2016

May 2015: Our Mining team saw another major milestone in the first quarter of 2015 as the commissioning of the third and final of the Seafloor Production Tools (SPT), the Auxiliary Cutter, began.

The three SPTs have been in assembly in SMD’s main Wallsend heavy equipment assembly hall, known as the Turbinia Works, throughout 2014.  The launch and recovery equipment was assembled at various locations in Norway, Poland and Korea and is already complete.

Nautilus’ CEO, Mike Johnston said “We are very excited that commissioning of the final of the three SPTs has begun. With the Bulk Cutter and the Collecting Machine having already begun Factory Acceptance Testing and now with the Auxiliary Cutter underway, we are on track to complete this testing phase and take delivery of the three SPTs in Q4 2015.”

SMD’s Managing Director, Mike Jones commented “This is always an important and delicate phase, particularly when developing such large scale and high power technology. The experience from the first two SPTs will be a great help in this.  We look forward to their despatch for wet testing later this year.”

So How Will They Work?

The excavation and collection of mineralised material has been split into three individual tasks, with each carried out by a different SPT. The Auxiliary Cutter is designed as the pioneering tool which prepares the rugged sea bed for the more powerful Bulk Cutter. These two tools gather the excavated material; the third, the Collecting Machine, will collect the cut material by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the subsea pump and on to the vessel via the Riser and Lifting System.

The Auxiliary Cutter weighs in at 250 tonnes. It is a preparatory machine that deals with rough terrain and creates benches for the other SPTs to work on. It will operate on tracks with spud assistance and has a boom mounted cutting head for flexibility.

The Bulk Cutter is the heaviest of the three SPTs, weighing 310 tonnes when fully assembled. It is designed to be the high productivity machine responsible for the bulk of production.

The Collecting Machine is the lightest of the three SPTs, weighing 200 tonnes when fully assembled. It is designed to collect material cut from the seafloor by drawing it in as seawater slurry with internal pumps and pushing it through a flexible pipe to the Riser and Lifting System and onto the vessel.

What will they mine?

The vehicles will be used to mine polymetallic sulphides, rich in copper and gold, at the Solwara 1 deposit which sits on the seafloor at a water depth of some 1600 metres, off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The mine site boasts a copper grade of approximately 7%, which is significantly higher than land-based copper mines, where the copper grade today averages typically 0.6%. In addition, gold grades of well over 20 g/tonne have been recorded in some intercepts at Solwara 1 and the average grade is approximately 6 g/tonne.

General