On November 23, 2015 the University of Maine unveiled a $13.8 million laboratory that will allow companies to test designs for offshore wind turbines, underwater turbines and ships against the toughest ocean conditions.

The lab features a 16-foot-deep wave pool with a massive wind machine. It’s meant to test scale models against waves up to 2½ feet, or 125 feet when scaled up, and the scale equivalent of hurricane-force winds. At one end of the pool, 16 large “paddles” push the water to create the waves of varying sizes and frequencies to see how models hold up to the rarest and most severe storm conditions.

The W2 Ocean Engineering & Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory is unique in that it can combine wind and wave in any combination of direction and strength. The lab can create the equivalent of a 500 year storm. The research and development will support the growth of ocean economies and shipbuilding sectors in Maine and across the nation. In addition to student research, the lab’s mission is to focus on wind and tidal power generation, coastal protection research and ship hull design.

The fans are all controlled by individual Rockwell Automation VFD’s, which are tied back to a CompactLogix PLC and a PanelView, all via Ethernet. A Horizon Solutions Automation Specialist worked closely with the team from the University of Maine in the design and control strategy for the project. Rockwell Automation and other key Horizon Solutions partners provided products through their Higher Education Automation Programs.

In the very near future an adjustable depth floor, designed and built by the University’s own Advanced Structures Engineering team will be installed. In addition to adjustable floor, a trolley system is planed that will allow the Fan unit to rotate around the perimeter of the pool.

The laboratory offers its services to energy companies, shipbuilders and others who want to test small-scale designs to determine, at a lower cost, how well the full-scale versions would perform in rough seas.

For example, if a shipbuilder wanted to test a model, it could send the design schematics to the composites center, which would print the model on a 3-D printer. That model could be ready for testing in the pool the next week. In that pool, it could face off against wave conditions so severe that they’re only seen once a century in a given section of ocean.

Another research facility attached to the W2 laboratory is expected to open in the summer of 2016. That lab will feature robotics and other equipment to study and develop thermoplastic composites.

Learn more about the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering & Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories.

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