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Explosive research to help build safer subs

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PhD candidate Steven De Candia is a leading example of the industry pathways training job-ready graduates to step into Australia’s ambitious multi-million dollar naval ship building program.

He is one of 10 higher degree research students and three postdoctoral fellows to undertake a combination of research and professional training in an industrial environment, as part of the Research Training Centre for Naval Design and Manufacturing (RTCNDM).

The $3.8 million, funded by the Australian Research Council, is a collaboration between the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania, the University of Wollongong and Flinders University.

With Australia set to embark on one of the largest Defence spends ever committed, the RTCNDM partners researchers with industry and Defence and aims to produce a cohort of industry-ready broadly skilled engineers and researchers, to work on projects that will boost the country’s ship building prowess.

Steven De Candia is already on that pathway. A 2015 graduate of RMIT University with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical), Mr De Candia’s PhD sees him working through the RTCNDM with AMC, the Defence Science and Technology Group in Melbourne, and Babcock Australasia in South Australia.

His research, titled “The Application of Fluid Structure Interaction Modelling for Underwater Shock to Future Submarines”, looks at what happens when an underwater explosion occurs near a submarine.

Specifically, Mr De Candia is studying the effect of the large gas bubble that forms underwater post-explosion. This bubble expands and contracts underwater and, if near a submarine, can cause it to bend back and forth in a motion known as a whipping response. This sort of vessel response may last long after the initial explosion and could potentially cause additional damage to the hull and internal equipment.

Results from an underwater explosion experiment at a DSTG facility in Victoria are used to create computer models to run multiple scenarios and analyse how the submarines withstand the explosions.

“We can also perform “what if?” scenarios that we would never be able to do on the real vessel, like ‘how much damage might occur if it takes a hit from a particular weapon, and can the vessel recover from this?’” Mr De Candia said.

It’s hoped the research work will form part of the project to build Australia’s next generation of submarines, the SEA1000 future submarines, whose construction will be Australia’s largest engineering project.

“All this information will ultimately go into producing requirements for future vessels to ensure that the vessel itself and internal equipment and crew can survive the appropriate scenarios that they may encounter,” he said.

“In short, improving the modelling capability means we can make better use of the vessels we have and improve the designs for vessels of the future.”

The academia-industry partnership provided through the RTCNDM is an opportunity Mr De Candia believes wouldn’t have been possible, if not for the collaboration.

“I probably couldn’t do what I’m doing without it, in the case of DSTG partnership they’ve provided the technical know-how and the experimental facilities, so really there is only very few places in the world that you can do this sort of work,” he said.

“I get to work directly with the Babcock designer, and find out what their requirements are, learning from what they do and seeing how they can enhance that with the data from my experimental work.”

And he’s happy to recommend the industry-based PhD pathway to others, because of the invaluable combination of research opportunities and contact with end users.

“It’s been very valuable to have sort of firsthand feel of everything from designing and running an experiment to running through all the data and finally putting it all together into something that someone can read and interpret,” he said.

Published on: 13 Dec 2017