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Kaman Industrial Technologies Enables Unmanned Sub to Explore Ocean Depths


Deep Sea Research Vehicles

Remotely operated deep sea research vehicle about to be lowered into the Pacific Ocean. Kaman Industrial Technologies has sunk to new depths to serve a very unique customer – but it's all for a good cause says Gary Trafford, who manages Kaman's Nanaimo, British Columbia Branch.

When the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Victoria, British Columbia, wanted to enable its small, deep sea remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore greater ocean depths, General Manager Keith Shepherd turned to Kaman for help.

"They decided 3,800 meters (12,540 feet) wasn't far enough down for them," says Trafford. "They wanted to go down to 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), but their cable wasn't long enough, and the system they had wouldn't let them add more."

"We do work for scientific institutions around the world," says Shepherd. "We go everywhere. Last summer we were in the Aleutian Trench off Alaska and on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the coast of Canada and the U.S. Later this year we'll be in the Arctic and the South Pacific." The Institute is a not-for-profit company that works closely with the Canadian government.

"They own the ROV. We operate and maintain it," says Shepherd. "we lower the ROV to the ocean floor to pick up samples or take pictures or video – and bring them back to the surface for analysis," says Shepherd.

"The ROV has two manipulators that can be fitted with either a clam-shell-shaped sampler or a vacuum, which we control from the surface using a joy stick."

The ROV is linked to its host ship by an armored, fiber optic cable, wrapped around a massive winch drum. "We mount the winch on the stern of the ship," says Shepherd. In deep water the ROV operates from a special cage or "garage," connected by 300 meters (990 feet) of tether. In shallow water – 350 meters (1155 feet) – the vehicle "live boats," operates without the cage.

Remotely Operated Deep Sea Research Vehicle

Remotely operated deep sea research vehicle about to be lowered into the Pacific Ocean.

"The problem was the gear reducer which controls the speed of the winch," says Shepherd. "The old Italian gear reducer we were using could not handle the added weight of another 1,200 meters (3,960 feet) of cable. We had to go to a bigger reducer, a Neptune planetary reduction gearbox, to accept the higher load.

"Kaman was the only supplier able to meet our extremely tight schedule," says Shepherd. "They had everything they needed to assemble the gearbox in stock."

Shepherd says, "We rebuilt the entire winch – it was ready to fail on us – including the gearbox and chain drive, which Kaman supplied, and the drum which holds the cable."

Says Trafford, "They only gave us two or three weeks. We got the order because we were able to do it in the time limit we were given." He says, "We went to a bigger reducer to handle the heavier loads. We supplied the adapter for the hydraulic system, the gear reducer and the output sprocket chain to drive the winch. They were able to use the motor. We put it all together as a package for them. All they had to do was connect it all up."

"This was a first for us," says Trafford.

"We build these gearboxes all the time. That's why we were able to make their deadline. But most of our customers are in the wood industry – sawmills, pulp and paper, logging."

Although the new gear reducer supplied by Kaman did its job, making it possible for the ROV to reach 5,000 meters, the summer ended on an unhappy note when the Institute lost the ROV itself during a storm on its last voyage. "The vehicle was operating off a U.S. research ship investigating how hot vents form on the ocean floor – how they change and the impact they have on animal life," says Shepherd. "At the end of our second dive, we got caught in a big storm. The ship lost all its propulsion and the sub broke lose. We are now building a new one."

Next summer, says Shepherd, a new ROV – equipped by Kaman to reach 5,000 meters – will head to the Arctic on board a German ice breaker to see what's on the ocean floor under the ice cap."

The Institute for Ocean Sciences' ROV is a remarkable vehicle. It weighs three tons and is seven-feet long, five-feet wide, and five-feet high. It is powered by a 30-horsepower electrohydraulic motor. In addition to manipulators which enable it to scoop or vacuum up samples as it scours the ocean floor, it is equipped with sonar, two video cameras (there is a third on the garage cage), and a still camera. Six spare data channels are available for additional equipment, and there's room for additional gear like chemical scanners and high-temperature probes.