UConn professor finds new way to test submarine parts for vibration

It goes without saying that being able to move around quietly is key to a submarine's stealth.

The Navy has continued to develop ways to make submarines more stealthy such as quieter machinery and a new hull coating to better absorb sound. And now, a University of Connecticut professor and his graduate students have found a way to do vibration testing on submarine parts sooner in the design process.

Rich Christenson, a professor in the University of Connecticut's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and his graduate students have adapted a method used by earthquake engineers to use shake tables to simulate how parts like a submarine motor, for example, will vibrate on a ship at sea. The shake tables are connected to computers, which tell the tables to move as the part would if it were sitting in water. The computers also run a mathematical model to see how the parts will respond when they are part of a larger system.

"What it allows us to do is to test in a lab a component on a ship for vibrations and to simulate the behavior of the rest of the structure and the system," said Christenson, who is also co-director of the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology headquartered at the college's Avery Point campus in Groton.

Currently, system-level testing is done after a submarine is designed and built. At that point, it's usually too late to figure out if an expensive piece of equipment meant to make a ship quieter isn't necessary or whether a less expensive alternative might work, according to Christenson.

"It provides more certainty in the design and in the components you're using earlier in the design process," he said of the technology he developed. "If something isn't going to work, you can identify that earlier and fix it through the initial design, or change and use a different component if need be."

It could allow for more testing of off the shelf components to see how they might perform in the system, he added.

This work has been going on for about seven years now. The research and specialized equipment used for testing is funded by several Navy grants totaling $1.6 million. Electric Boat engineers were involved in the development of the technology, and the submarine builder is interested in implementing the technology, Christenson said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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