D341: Porcupine Abyssal Plain cruise 2009


 D341



Cruise blog

Sunday 2 August 2009

How did I end up in the middle of the Atlantic with a bunch of crazy Oceanographers??? by Sam Ward

I work for USL (Underwater Systems Laboratory) as a Mechanical Design Technician. The main reason I am here is to support my boss Kevin in the deployment and safe recovery of the PELAGRA drifting sediment traps (the other reason me and my boss are here is because the scientists have been known to deploy and not recover the PELAGRAs!). 

How did I become a Mechanical Design Technician?
I went to college and did a NVQ level 2 (National Vocational Qualification). This led me to doing a Modern Apprenticeship in Mechanical Engineering, NVQ level 3 in Marine Design and a B-TEC National Certificate. This was a great career route for me as it was “hands on” learning and at the time University wasn’t my cup of tea. By doing a Modern Apprenticeship I also gained a full time job with USL and avoided leaving college in debt. Since finishing my apprenticeship I have also completed a HNC (Higher National Certificate) in Mechanical Engineering which has allowed me to a register as a Mechanical Engineering Technician with the engineering council.

So what does my job involve when I’m not on the ship?
My job is to supply the science community with the technology they need to carry out Oceanography i.e. designing, making and testing oceanographic equipment. A great example of what type of equipment USL has produced is the PELAGRA sediment traps which my boss Kevin Saw designed.

A scientist will come to us with a specification for an oceanographic project. This is normally a piece of equipment which will allow them to carry out their research. We then have to break down and simplify their ideas because there’s only so much that’s physically possible (this point is sometimes very hard to get through to some scientists!). I will then start the design process using INVENTOR which is a CAD (Computer Aided Design) system. INVENTOR allows me to create working assemblies on my computer of the parts needed for the proposed equipment. By creating a working assembly using CAD technology it saves a lot of time and money as I can ensure the design is working correctly before the parts and components are made. It also allows me to show a working assembly to the scientists to see if they are happy with the design (Scientists are very hard people to please!!!).

Once the scientists have given the thumbs-up I can then get all the parts made. This is normally done by our highly skilled machinists in the USL machine workshop but we also give local engineering companies parts to make as we are normally busy working on more than one project at a time. Once the parts are made I can then begin assembling the equipment in the fitting workshop. When I have assembled the equipment I can then begin the testing to ensure the equipment will work before it is handed over to the scientists to start using at sea for their research. In USL we have a pressure testing chamber which allows us to test our equipment to depths of up to 6000 meters below the sea’s surface. We put the equipment in the pressure testing chamber to see if anything leaks or implodes. We also have a test tank in the workshop which we can use to trial our equipment in.

Once we are happy that the equipment is ready to be used we will then either hand it over to the scientists (if we think its user friendly enough for them to handle) or take it to sea on one of our research ships for testing. This ensures that we have fulfilled the scientist’s ever increasing high expectations.

My Conclusion of D341 so far...
This is my first cruise on the Discovery and even though the weather hasn’t been great for this time of year the crazed scientists and crew have made working life on board in these “extreme” conditions so much easier. I think in different circumstances these last few weeks could have dragged but time has flown by and it’s been quality seeing what goes on day and night on the Disco. It’s certainly been a learning experience!

Pelagra trap being deployed...

...and after deployment

Zooplankton nets

Sam at rest!


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