Tech savvy Navy apprentices demonstrate design skills

Young engineer apprentices on board a Royal Navy warship have researched, designed and implemented equipment that could solve a number of issues experienced by ships at sea.

The project, which coincides with National Apprenticeship Week, was designed to test their initiative and build upon their technical skills.

Three teams of four technicians built a small boat that can sail around the ship to capture video and environmental data, produced a CCTV system and investigated delivering Wi-Fi when at sea and in harbour.

The challenge was set by HMS Argyll’s Weapon Engineering Officer Lieutenant Commander Ian Bailey to inspire the newly-qualified sailors, who all undertake an apprenticeship in Performing Engineering Operations. 

The idea was to apply the skills they have learnt on course to create a practical solution to the challenges of engineering in a sea-going warship..

He said: “I came up with the idea because I wanted to inspire our junior technicians and allow them the opportunity to deliver a project that gives all the benefits of working in a team on an engineering project.  

"All three teams really grasped the challenge, it gave them a chance to be really enthusiastic about engineering, and all showed an improved understanding of their subject area afterwards. 

"It is important for our freshly qualified engineering technicians to be given this type of support – to fire their enthusiasm and make sure we make the most of their talent and technical ability.”

I found it a really interesting project. Engineering is about coming up with solutions and problem-solving so this really played to our strengths.

Engineering Technician Shaun Murray, one of the project team leaders

The CCTV system was designed to constantly monitor equipment held on parts of the ship that are inaccessible in rough weather. 

The equipment is usually checked hourly by a member of the Weapon Engineering team on board but it can be difficult to access in rough weather. 

The sailors came up with a system that adhered to the safety regulations on board, and used pre-existing connections to reduce extra costs.

For the small boat the team had to come up with a design that would allow monitoring of the ship’s hull and environment without the need to launch the ship’s boats. 

The team researched all the different components for the design and are currently conducting trials and continuing to improve the system..

“This was a really ambitious project” explained Ian. “Yet the group thoroughly researched all the hardware, applications and sample software needed and came up with a brilliant design and prototype. 

"The Navy has monies specifically allocated to developing its apprentices and we were granted funds to purchase the boat and other design components.”

The final team had the task of putting in Wi-Fi zones on the ship to provide internet access when alongside in foreign ports. 

Many pre-existing capabilities are unreliable or over-subscribed when descended on by a ship’s company – proving to be frustrating when attempting to access emails and internet sites. 

The sailors explored a number of options before recommending using 3G Wireless Routers and pre-existing equipment to run it across the ship. 

Engineering Technician Shaun Murray, one of the project team leaders said: “I was the leader of the team looking at a remote controlled boat to survey the ship’s hull and sea surface temperature. 

"I found it a really interesting project. Engineering is about coming up with solutions and problem-solving so this really played to our strengths. 

"It was challenging when looking at these projects in a naval environment, with security and safety major factors that we had to consider and I am really proud of our progress so far.”  

All members of HMS Argyll teams are junior technicians and the projects are concurrent with a much broader reinvigoration of the engineering branches in the Royal Navy called Project Faraday. 

The opportunities for top line technical training, quick recognition of achievement and potential for quick promotion remain very much a part of Naval Engineering.