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The Subsea ROV Demo Unit team: (left to right) Sebastian Villa Cuellar, Connor Barnes, Ahsan Waseem, Abigail Ridder and Darce Markowsky.
The Subsea Remote Operated Vehicle Demo Unit team consisted of interdisciplinary engineering students with various areas of focus, such as subsea engineering, cybersecurity, controls, materials, safety and other combined engineering areas. Left to right: Ahsan Waseem, Darce Markowsky, Abbey Weyand, Abigail Ridder, Connor Barnes and Sebastian Villa Cuellar. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering
Along the ocean floor and off the coast, mechanical objects are often seen moving underwater. Rather than fearsome sea creatures or mechanical monsters, these objects are remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that work underwater and, like aerial drones, are generally operated remotely by people above the surface.
Here at Texas A&M University, a team of interdisciplinary engineering students in the Department of Multidisciplinary Engineering set out to create an ROV unit for their senior capstone design project.
ROVs are used in the subsea engineering industry to safely survey drilling and offshore platforms, repair damages to the structural foundations underwater and observe corrosion levels. They are critical to the safe and successful installation, testing, commissioning and maintenance of subsea production facilities.
The Subsea ROV Demo Unit team's goal was to create an ROV with increased mobility that could access smaller spaces and remain stationary while performing the following necessary functions:
•          Taking pictures
•          Maintaining positions and sending GPS location
•          Opening and closing valves
•          Using a torque tool
•          Operating hydraulic equipment using a hotstab
•          Leading an object to the desired location
Senior Darce Markowsky served as the team captain, and other team members included Connor Barnes, Ahsan Waseem, Abbey Weyand, Sebastian Villa Cuellar and Abigail Ridder.
"We were interested in this project because we could work as a team with diverse backgrounds to achieve a single goal," said Markowsky. "It gave us the experience of dealing with a client and learning how the industry customer-focused environment works."
This capstone design project was suggested by their instructor, Dr. Andrew Conkey '07, an instructional assistant professor in multidisciplinary engineering. The sponsors included Don Wells '76 from the Subsea Tieback Foundation, Ron Smith '80 from JUMA Energy and Ron Ledbetter '69, '76, director of the subsea engineering master’s degree program and professor of practice in multidisciplinary engineering at Texas A&M.
"This project represents the collaboration between multidisciplinary programs (subsea engineering and interdisciplinary engineering), industry consortiums (Subsea Tieback Foundation) and alumni looking to share their expertise with students," Conkey said. "The project's multifaceted scope ensured a variety of design areas that accommodated the interdisciplinary engineering students' diverse backgrounds."
The most surprising development for the team was watching their abstract sketch evolve into a more tangible product. In the fall semester, during their planning period, however, they faced the challenge of trying to innovate with a limited budget and timeline.
Initially, the team hoped to build their design and present a physical prototype at the spring presentation. However, they quickly realized that the project's scope was more extensive than they could complete in two semesters. Instead of succumbing to disappointment, the team rose above the unexpected challenge and switched to developing a robust ROV design framework that future capstone design teams could build upon and continue.
"Capstone projects teach students techniques, procedures and collaborative skills in an environment that simulates the corporate world," Wells shared. "In addition to working as a team of varied disciplines and personalities, they encountered a real-world example of a project that proved to be larger than originally predicted. Rather than growing frustrated or delivering incomplete work, the team re-evaluated and proposed dividing the project into phases."
The team chose 6061, a low-cost precipitation-hardened aluminum alloy, as their common metal for the ROV. 6061 is machinable and ductile and is uniform corrosion against marine environments. The team used the same metals to avoid galvanic corrosion, which occurs with two dissimilar metals. They also performed a buoyancy analysis to ensure that the final design would allow the ROV to stay in a particular position while performing tasks. Finally, to ensure the ROV's optimal maneuverability and motion underwater, they designed strong thrusters to provide propulsion.
The team's prototype design reduced the estimated time the ROV would spend in the water and created an easier user experience. Reducing time spent underwater could decrease the total time offshore and the daily costs of using vessels offshore. Therefore, this prototype ROV design could complete subsea installment projects more quickly and under budget.
"It's not only our privilege but our obligation to provide a compass heading and guidance to subsea engineering students, particularly capstone project teams," said Smith. "We shared that guidance with the Subsea ROV Demo Unit team. I'm confident they have a bright future in the deepwater, oil and gas, and renewable energy industry.
The team has high hopes for the longevity of this capstone project. As they prepare to move out of student life and into a professional one, they leave behind their own legacy in setting up the following year's team for success.
"We planned with our sponsors to reframe this as a three-year project," Ridder shared. "In this first year, we focused on observing and going through the physical design process. We still have those functional requirements, which we will pass on to future years. The best option for year two is refining our physical design for an observational ROV and testing a prototype. Then in year three, the third team can build a working ROV, where they can design and attach the manipulators to carry out all necessary functions."