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The University of Southampton

Final milestone in sight for first UK towing tank to be built in over 50 years

Published: 22 May 2020
Towing tank

The UK’s largest university towing tank is just weeks from completion for engineering students, researchers and commercial clients when contractors return to Southampton’s Boldrewood Innovation Campus.

Final drive system tuning and testing will be completed at the University of Southampton’s Boldrewood Towing Tank when COVID-19 restrictions are eased across the nation, marking the last milestone of the first facility of its kind to be built in the UK since the late 1960s.

This world-class facility is one of the largest university towing tanks in Europe at 138m long, 6m wide and 3.5m deep, corresponding to around 3,000m3 of freshwater. Its carriage can achieve a maximum speed of 12m/s and models up to around 6m in length can be accommodated, making it suitable not just for conventional ship model testing but across the aerospace, energy, and transportation sectors.

The towing tank is already extensively used for University teaching, particularly in Southampton’s Ship Science courses. Approximately twice the size of similar university facilities in the UK, students use the tank for lab work as well as third year Individual Projects, fourth year Group Design Projects and MSc projects.

Towing tank

A number of cutting-edge research projects will also share the facility on its commission, including ship research, wave and wind energy devices, fundamental fluid dynamics and autonomous vehicles.

Bertrand Malas, Towing Tank Manager, says: “The commissioning of the fully operational facility will mark a significant moment for marine teaching, research and enterprise in the UK. Several tanks have closed in the UK in recent decades, including the GKN facility on the Isle of Wight, however scale model experiments continue to have a major role to play in the marine industry.

“The Boldrewood towing tank has been designed with flexibility in mind, so that a wide range of experiments in various domains can be performed in addition to conventional towing experiments. This can include the assessment of wave or tidal energy devices, autonomous vehicles tests, sports engineering or various wave experiments.”

Towing Tank

Computational Fluids Dynamics (CFD) has emerged as an effective tool for early stage design and hullform optimisation but its accuracy is limited when it comes to absolute power predictions. More complex problems like propulsion, manoeuvring or seakeeping must be treated with even more care, as they still present a number of challenges for CFD.

“This facility is a great asset to allow students to have exposure to physical experiments and their associated procedures,” Bertrand says. “At a time when engineers spend most of their time working on computers, it is very important for students to acquire practical knowledge and to understand the importance of validation data for any numerical simulations they may undertake.”

The tank’s 12 paddle HR Wallingford wavemaker is capable of generating regular and irregular waves with a maximum height of 0.70m and a significant wave height of 0.37m respectively. The wavemaker is also capable of generating rogue waves or user calculated seastates.

The waves are damped between runs with a set of 60 side beach panels along the South wall. These allow for a higher productivity.

The University has installed two Qualisys motion capture systems at the tank for analysing above water, under water and hybrid measurements. An underwater Particle Imagery Velocimetry (PIV) system is also in place consisting of two cameras housed in a torpedo and a laser sheet. The tank is seeded with small particles and the PIV system measures 3D flow within the laser sheet.

Prospective industry partners can access expertise from the towing tank through the University’s Wolfson Unit consultants or contact the Towing Tank Manager to hire the facility.

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