Subsea Expo

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Advancements in Illuminated Umbilical Technology

09 September 2009

A new energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) fibre illumination technology for lighting up to 100 metres of fibre optic cables is to be trialled by subsea divers at The Underwater Centre in Fort William later this month.

Developed by PhotoSynergy, a limited company formed by the University of St Andrews, the PSL-3000-M is an LED fibre illuminator that will supply a continuous line of light for 100 metres at subsea level. Designed to enhance subsea diver, ROV and tethered operations by offering a permanent light source for subsea navigation, the fibre illuminator cable is visible at depths of up to 150 metres.

The technology is being trialled by divers at The Underwater Centre in Fort William, the world's leading commercial diver and ROV training centre and will be tested at various depths. An energy efficient alternative to traditional light sources, the PSL-3000-M LED fibre illuminator can use as little as seven watts of power, making it one of the most energy efficient fibre illuminators on the market.

With the control box remaining on the surface or housed in a diving bell or ROV, there is no actual power in the side-emitting fibre optic cable. This means it can provide a safe, continuous and flexible light source for subsea divers. This first industry trial of the technology at The Underwater Centre will involve the fibre optic cable being attached to two diver umbilicals as they perform a diver rescue. Operating close to the Centre's private pier, at depths starting at 20 metres, the cable will undergo full trials and depth testing.

Steve Ham, general manager of The Underwater Centre explained:

“Our centre offers unique testing conditions that are second to none across the world. We also have some highly experienced divers and ROV pilots on our training team, which is a great backup for any company undertaking trials.

“We are delighted that PhotoSynergy has chosen The Underwater Centre for testing its LED fibre illuminator – a technology that has the potential to offer the subsea sector a valuable but simple solution to navigational problems, thereby increasing safety and operational efficiency.

“It's an exciting trial for PhotoSynergy as the company will be able to determine the effectiveness of the technology at a range of depths and receive feedback from subsea divers as to the advantages of the technology. “

As part of the trial, two of The Underwater Centre's ROVs will also be used - one to perform diver observation of the rescue and the other to monitor the ROV observing the divers.

Small and lightweight, the PSL-3000-M can operate on mains or direct current (DC) with battery back-up or singular battery power, offering flexibility for any given application. The unique optical system designed by PhotoSynergy ensures that optimum light output is channelled down the fibre with maximum power efficiency. The core product produces a green light, the colour proven to be nearest the peak eye response for optimal visibility in low light or darkness. Operating mode is switchable between steady illuminations or flashing on/off, the latter of which could be used as an emergency signal in the event of an incident.

PhotoSynergy is a developer and supplier of advanced and energy efficient light sources for optical fibre. Managing director, Don Walker, said:

“The PSL-3000-M is the output of many years of work on laser based systems and we are encouraged by initial discussions with manufacturers and users of umbilicals within the subsea industry.

“As with any new innovation, it's important to subject the technology to real life trials, ensuring it meets the challenges that are faced in the offshore environment. We chose The Underwater Centre because of its world-class facilities and the significant support on offer from the experienced subsea team at the Centre – who we are certain, will be able to make a valuable contribution to the production and further development of this new technology.”

The Underwater Centre's unique environment means that it is able to offer highly realistic and industry relevant conditions for testing and trialling a range of subsea technologies.

The Centre is based on the shores of Loch Linnhe where water depths plummet to 150 metres, which is deeper than most parts of the North Sea. Located at the foot of Ben Nevis, its sheltered position means testing can be carried out 12 months of the year even in the most extreme weather conditions.

Both The Underwater Centre and PhotoSynergy are exhibiting at this week's Offshore Europe exhibition. The Underwater Centre is on the North of Scotland Industries Group stand 307/15. PhotoSynergy is on Stand 924 alongside SMRU Ltd.