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Going Deep Engineering Solutions for Deep Sea Applications

In the high-pressure undersea arena, there is little room for mistakes to be made. Whether operating beneath the waves for commercial purposes, scientific research or naval defense, the risks are generally the same. Only the specific stakes involved vary, and whatever they may be, they're always high to the individuals and organizations involved.

It's become clear over the course of the past several decades that high-quality precision engineering is important to the success of deep-sea projects across all verticals. To support their work, explorers, professionals in the energy industry and technicians aboard naval submarines need reliable performance from the technology they use, which itself depends on the dependability of the components used. AMETEK ECP designs and manufactures a broad scope of products for these applications. In this blog post, we'll explore some of deep-sea engineering's remarkable progression over time, current trends, potential future developments and factors important to successful underwater operations.

Alvin: A fundamental aspect of deep-sea engineering

Until 1964, no manned vessel could investigate the ocean's depths. That year marked the launch of Alvin, a submersible able to withstand the immense pressure - as much as 500 times greater than what's typically encountered in Earth's atmosphere - while carrying a pilot and two passengers. Designed by scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Alvin remains in operation due to a series of updates over the years, and can now dive up to 14,764 feet with people on board.

While submarines existed long before Alvin, it's nonetheless likely that if not for the creation of this submersible, the developments necessary for modern undersea tech wouldn't have occurred, at least not as we know them today. The ability to plunge to depths unthinkable just a half-century ago has led to numerous scientific and historical discoveries, added a major new dimension to defense and created numerous opportunities for the petroleum industry over that time.

Advances achieved through robotics and automation

The primary hazard of deep-sea exploration for human beings is, of course, the physical risk: Diving 130 feet or more, even with proper scuba equipment, requires the individual to stop every 15 feet when ascending so they can conduct decompression stops. During these breaks, the diver expels nitrogen and other gases that dissolve in the bloodstream underwater, according to LeisurePro. Failing to do so invariably leads to decompression sickness, involving joint pain, bone degeneration (for repeat divers) and the risk of paralysis or death. Traveling in submarines or submersibles doesn't carry this risk, but may not be cost-effective for commercial purposes.

Because of this, robotics have become pivotal to all aspects of deep-sea exploration and activity, according to Solid-Works. These devices, not dissimilar to aerial drones, vary between remotely operated and entirely autonomous, and can collect material samples, take photographs, perform various calculations regarding their environment and more. Additionally, sensors designed and built to function without fail underwater are able to continuously take readings of various deep-sea metrics, and are extremely valuable for commercial energy applications such as offshore oil drilling.

Future developments: Separating breakthroughs from novelties

One of the challenges in a highly specific field like deep-sea engineering is determining what developments have staying power and which will be passing fads - or worse, novelties. Those that tie into existing tech for other fields, such as machine learning, fall into the former category. As Eiva pointed out, automated learning could easily have a place in maritime engineering, enhancing the data collection capabilities of subsea sensors and related instruments. Advances in undersea robotics will also likely see broader use in the near future, according to Business 2 Community, handling heavy-duty industrial cleanup tasks, pest control, hazardous waste disposal and more.

On the other hand, there's the Exosuit: This 500-plus-pound metal suit protects wearers at depths up to 1,000 feet, with air supply for 50 hours. It has already been used in early construction efforts for the Water 3 undersea tunnel in New York, as well as other commercial and scientific applications. But at $600,000 apiece, the expense will limit its use to just a few applications. That said, such early efforts could be a prelude to similar, more efficient developments in the future.

Ensuring subsea connectivity
subsea connection cables

AMETEK ECP's selection of products for subsea purposes includes connectors, cable assemblies and penetrators. All of these components employ either hermetic or glass-to-metal sealing methods to guarantee that electronic packages, sensors and other instruments don't endure any water, pressure or temperature damage. They help ensure reliable connections at what would otherwise be vulnerable points so that data, power and radio frequencies are transmitted without any notable impedance.




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