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Human powered submarine modular variable pitch propeller design for international submarine races, 2018
Group Members
Archie Marshall, Andrew Everitt, John Smith, Alex Rogers, George Ham, Larry Costick
Dr Julian Wharton
The University of Southampton Human Powered Submarine team’s 2018 entry into the 14th International Submarine Races (ISR) featured a Southampton first: a modular propeller variable pitch design featuring 3D-printed stainless steel blades. Created as an extracurricular activity from start to finish by six undergraduate engineering and physics students in under a year, the propeller was used at the ISR competition in America where it helped the submarine to successfully navigate the course and travel almost four times further than previously achieved.

Innovatively, the propeller introduced an inner module system to allow different functional modules to be used to control propeller pitch. This new system allowed all the electronics to be contained within a single interchangeable module within the propeller hub, negating the need for complex wiring. The modules introduced great flexibility, as one module could simply be swapped out for another - for example if the batteries ran flat, or if it was decided to opt for a fixed-pitch module with no electronics. This system not only provided effective backup, but also proved highly practical for removing a variable during testing and debugging.

Two types of 3D printing were used in the manufacture; Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM). SLS allowed for economic production of strong, corrosion resistant propeller blades with a complex shape, whilst also providing significant weight saving compared to conventional CNC manufacturing. FDM supported rapid prototyping to prevent costly mistakes in final production, and permitted compact, smart design choices - for example the cutting of strategic slots to allow for more effective heat dissipation.