Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jewel of the South:
University's Towing Tank Gets a Face Lift

The University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) is the only one of its kind in the Gulf Coast region and one of the few in the nation. Established in 1980 at the request of the local shipbuilding industry, the program produces well-prepared graduates while supporting the field through applied research. 

NAME students and faculty — and shipbuilders from around the region — test their designs in the University's state-of-the-art-towing tank, which this spring received a face lift.

The UNO towing tank is a multi-use simulated ocean environment that is used by engineers and engineering students to analyze the performance of scale-model ships and offshore structures. The data gathered is used to predict the performance of full scale-vessels on the ocean.

"When they're doing tests on this, the walls have to be completely smooth," says restoration project manager Jason O'Rourke. "The wave maker can't have any rough surfaces. If a wave hits a rough wall, the rough spots cause little eddies, so you're not getting a true wave."

The towing tank is sealed with a specialized rubberized paint made for marine or underwater applications, says Warren Davis, a facility services administrator, who described the special paint as a rubberized finish stretched over a surface with giant rollers.

The UNO towing tank is 120-feet long and 15-feet wide with a variable water depth up to 7 feet and when kept at a typical depth of 6 feet, contains over 80,000 gallons of fresh water. The water is chemically treated to prevent algae and manage pH, and a filter keeps the water clear.

Installed at one end of the tank is a computer-controlled wave maker that can produce regular waves and a variety of random waves that can be tuned to simulate conditions in practically any of the world's oceans. Specially designed pumps generate currents. Engineers measure the waves using wave probes and other instrumentation, including a variety of motion sensors located on the tank. Opposite the wave maker, a wave-absorbing "beach" prolongs testing and reduces wave reflections.

A towing carriage driven by cables at speeds up to 10-feet per second is used to tow models through the tank at carefully controlled speeds, says George Morrissey, facilities director for NAME. The model ships are attached to the carriage though a device that measures the force applied to move the model. Position sensors measure trim and draft. Other equipment allows for improvements and repairs.

"We recently purchased a 3D laser PIV system that can precisely measure the flow of water around our models in three dimensions," says Morrissey. "We have a model shop with computer-controlled cutters to produce models and parts of models from computer drawings. Also we have a rapid prototyping machine that can 'print' plastic parts for use in model construction."

Last fall, UNO President Peter J. Fos and the Office of External Affairs highlighted the towing tank in a letter to state legislators, asking them to pass HB 671, which would allow the University to increase student fees and apply proceeds to much-needed maintenance around campus. The new law, proposed by La. Rep. Frank Foil of Baton Rouge and championed by Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie, enabled the University to collect from the state approximately $762,000 in deferred maintenance funds. Some of that money went to resurfacing, repainting and repairing the University's towing tank — and already NAME engineers are saying the changes will help to improve designs.


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M.S. in Engineering (Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Concentration)
B.S. in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering