Building an award winning submarine

3 min read

Design projects are a fantastic way for universities to give their engineering students real world experience of the challenges they will face in their professional lives. They’re also great for inspiring the next generation to take up engineering. FAST investigates

This year Warwick University took part in a design project, encouraging eight of its most promising young engineers to build a human powered submarine to take part in the International Submarine Race in the USA.

The challenge was simple enough, though the execution was anything but. The Warwick Sub team must design and manufacture a submarine capable of racing along a 100m course using nothing but human power. The team would be competing against entrants from all over the world, many of whom had been entering the competition for years. To make matters even harder, the university awarded the team a budget of just £1,600; ensuring that they had to emulate real world conditions where sourcing and controlling the budget is equally as important as perfecting the design.

Rupert Barnard, one of the student engineers on the team, commented: “We were all extremely happy to have been picked for the project, but we knew that we had our work cut out for us. We had just 10 weeks to finalise our design in order to leave enough time for the build before we had to take the finished submarine over to America for the competition. With a tight deadline and limited budget it was obvious that we would have to source sponsorship opportunities so we started looking for potential partners at industry exhibitions.”

It was at Autosport International that the Warwick Sub team first made contact with WDS Component Parts, which had already worked with the university’s Formula Student team and was keen to support such an ambitious and interesting project.

Phil Holyome was the main point of contact for the project at WDS: “As a company we are always keen to get involved in projects that show off the fun side of engineering,” he commented. “Whether it’s the Bloodhound Team’s multi-million pound land speed record attempt or a university project with no budget to speak of at all, we love to work with dedicated engineers who are competing on a world stage to prove that British engineering is still something to be proud of.

“As soon as we heard about this project we wanted to be involved for a number of reasons. Obviously it’s important to support the next generation of engineers as they come to the end of their education and enter into the professional world as our colleagues, but also we saw the underwater application as an excellent testing ground for the quality of our products.”

In order to keep the transportation costs to a minimum the team decided to build the submarine in a flat-pack design. This meant that the chassis had to be easily detachable from the submarine body and that both components had to be collapsible to fit within the storage case. WDS worked with the team to specify a selection of fastening components which would allow the team to quickly re-construct the submarine.

The final result of the project was a storage footprint that was significantly smaller than that of the next smallest competitor and less than 50% of the average entrant. This was one of the key contributing factors which led to the team winning the award for innovation at the competition.

Rupert continues: “When we first started designing the submarine we knew that in our first year of competing we were unlikely to win the race outright. Instead we set ourselves a target of putting together a design that future teams could develop into a winning vessel and that would offer something new to the competition. Winning the innovation award was a fantastic achievement, one which I feel shows we met our target.

“The fact is that we would never have even made it to America, let alone won the award, if it wasn’t for the support of businesses like WDS.”

Thanks to companies like WDS Component Parts providing sponsorship, the team was able to build a working submarine and win the competition’s innovation award.

WDS claims to be the UK’s leading manufacturer of standard parts for use in machine build components, standard parts, jigs & fixtures, and consumer products. The range of products available grows daily and so has the methods available to designers and engineers for identifying, specifying and purchasing any of the 15,000 or more parts currently held in stock.