UCL News


Cutting edge of ship design

4 July 2005

UCL's Professor David Andrews (Mechanical Engineering) is leading a multidisciplinary project to improve the main aspects of personnel and passenger movement and safety onboard ships.

SURFCON representation of the main features of an aircraft carrier As a naval architect and expert on ship design, Professor Andrews has already implemented a new design methodology that can be applied to a variety of vessels, from submarines to aircraft carriers.

The methodology employs a design building block approach, where all components of the ship are categorised by their function. At the preliminary design stages a balanced design can be achieved through taking wider issues into account. His current project will concentrate on applying the building block approach to the benefit of people living, working and travelling on board ships.

"Traditionally, when designing a ship, the driving issues are seen to be powering, stability and sea keeping," explained Professor Andrews. "The hullform then constrains the layout such that issues related to crewing, ship operations and personnel evolutions can only be investigated within the overall design boundaries. This can result in significant operational inefficiencies and potentially hazardous environments on board"

Ships pose special design problems - not only are they large, self-sufficient, complex entities that incorporate highly interdependent and integrated systems and diverse technologies, they must survive in an extreme environment and endure many years of service. In addition, they are built in small numbers at high cost to specific performance standards. Most importantly, from a design point of view, they are usually bespoke and rarely prototyped.

To overcome these issues by developing a new approach to ship design, Professor Andrews collaborated with software company Graphics Research Corporation Limited to create "SURFCON", an engineering design tool that allows naval architects to consider functional attributes alongside engineering requirements at the initial concept stage of the design, when the parameters are more flexible and able to accommodate change.

"Older methodologies offer a narrow perspective to this complex problem," says Professor Andrews. "Accommodation, escape routes and personnel movement would only be considered once the hull shape and propulsion requirements, as well as combat requirements in military vessels and operational aspects in merchant ships had been decided. With this information-rich building block approach, the gross sizing parameters of weight and space are outcomes of the configuration, not vice-versa."

Use of SURFCON to model personnel movement on a ship

The latest research project focuses on escape and general personnel movement aspects and will combine SURFCON technology with "maritimeEXODUS", an escape simulation programme developed by the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich.

"The overall objective of the project is to demonstrate the advantages of integrating cutting edge escape simulation and ship configurational design. This will enhance the guidance for all parties in the design, regulation, construction and operation of ships with regard to the main aspects of personnel movement onboard," says Professor Andrews.

The industrial partner on the EPSRC-funded project is the Defence Procurement Agency, and a marine engineer, Lieutenant Commander Pauline Boxel (MSc in Naval Architecture 2004), is monitoring personnel movement onboard a number of operational ships in order to provide appropriate data for the project. Many innovations in marine and aeronautical design filter down from military applications into commercial and passenger aeroplanes and ships, which is more than likely in this case.

Professor Andrews said: "With commercial ships, the ship designers must prove that they can evacuate passengers safely and quickly. Naval vessels are more complex, as the designers must take into account the fact that naval personnel will try to rectify any damage and continue to operate the ship. They will only evacuate as a last resort."

The team will create models of possible ship configurations and apply different scenarios to it, such as heeling the ship over at an angle to see how this affects personnel evolutions. "This methodology can be applied at the conceptual stage of design and will affect the way people involved in the industry go about their business," says Professor Andrews. "This kind of technology is becoming part of the tool set designers need to create large entities. Not just ships - the principle could be applied to many other large and complex constructions."

Images: Top - SURFCON representation of the main features of an aircraft carrier. Bottom - Use of SURFCON to model personnel movement on a ship.

To find out more about the project use the link below.

Link: Professor Andrews