Just a minor progress update. I’ve been adjusting the CAD design and working on some additional parts. A snapshot below….
I also finished grooving the prototype bulkhead ring. It wasn’t super easy, and I’ll need to experiment with feeds and speed some more to get nicer cuts. I’ve also had a plastic order come in, so I’ve done a test fit of the bulkhead into an extra piece of acrylic tube. It’s a tight, but good fit! I just need to machine the remaining bulkheads and anodize them before I start pressure testing.
I’ve also been working away on the nosecone plug — Adding layers, then machining it down to get it smooth — Once it’s in the right shape, I’ll manually sand it smooth and start the process of sealing with epoxy. This is a pretty messy operation, as the spackle turns to dust, so I typically do the machining with the vacuum hose right beside to suck it all up.
In the photo below, you’ll also notice the standoff I made to mount the toolposts higher in order to machine large diameter parts — Here I’ve got two spacers mounted to get over 6″ swing over the bed with the Sherline lathe. Since it’s a very soft material, I think it’s okay, but this would be quite non-ideal for machining anything harder. (To do the outside of the bulkhead rings, I just mount a single spacer and use the smaller toolpost. Still not as rigid as I’d like, but it’ll do for this small job. I do wish I had room for a bigger machine, though…)
While designing the thrust/steering module for the AUV, I figured I should determine how much torque the rudder will require (for motor selection) and what forces it will result (for eventual control development). The rudder itself is a fairly simple plane with an airfoil type profile, with the rotational axis a quarter of the way from the front to the rear, making it what’s known as a balanced rudder. More on this later.
I set up an Open Foam case to calculate the forces and torque, and made a script to run it through 0 to 50-degree steering in 5-degree increments. I opted to just use an isolated rudder for the initial tests, although in reality there will be interaction between the body and the rudder, especially since the rudders will be located in the region where flow is beginning to separate from the AUV hull. Note that in earlier CAD models, I had shown the rudder being only a portion of a fin — in order to simplify things, and balance the rudder, I opted to make the rudder consist of the entire fin.
The simulated results I got are shown in the chart below. I only ran simulations up to 2 m/s, as I don’t expect the AUV to go much faster than that operationally.
Although there appears to be an outlier at 30 degrees deflection (Either due to some real hydrodynamic effect or errors in the simulation), this result is actually what’s expected for a balanced (or partially balanced) rudder. If the rotational axis was at the front edge of the rudder, all the forces would be acting on one side of the rotational axis which would result in significant torque requirements to move the rudder. By locating the pivot point near the rudder foil’s center of pressure, the forces in front of and behind the rotational axis negate each other resulting in reduced torque requirements.
With the balanced rudder, the forces start off minimal while the flow is laminar. Once the rudder’s foil begins to stall, the torque will actually invert and go the other direction. To illustrate this, some renderings of the results from Open Foam are shown below. Note that the streamline colours represent particle velocity, but the colour scales are slightly different between all images.
In the first case above, with 10 degrees deflection, the flow is still smooth around the rudder’s foil. While the torque value at this point is very low (hence why it’s “balanced”), using the right-hand rule to interpret the torque around the Z-axis, it appears that the torque is actually wanting the rudder to keep deflecting!
At 20-degrees separation, per the plotted results, the rudder foil is around the stall point. At this point, the torque around the rotational axis is neutral. Any further deflection wants to push the rudder back towards the forward position.
Throwing the rudder even further, to 40-degrees, we can see that it’s now clearly stalled. You can see the turbulent flow behind the rudder. The streamlines make for a really cool graphic!
For curiosity’s sake, I ran a couple of extra simulations, varying the location of the rudder’s pivot axis 4mm forward and 4mm back from the 1/4 chord position (this turned out to be 6.6% of the mean chord). A plot of the results below. I still have some optimization to do in terms of rudder profile and mounting point, but these give me a good order of magnitude understanding of the rudder torque for initial design work.
In terms of motors to drive the rudders, I’m currently planning a geared down brushless motors, as I want to have fairly fine and smooth control over the mechanism (reduce noise, vibrations, improve fine control over hobby servos).
The AUV’s nosecone will be a free-flooded chamber but needs hold its form for hydrodynamic purposes. I had originally planned to make the nose cone have a spherical form at the front with a radius something smaller than the AUV’s diameter, then blending into the body. The purpose of that was to eventually be able to put a phased-array forward-looking sonar in the nose for mapping and obstacle avoidance, and the spherical form looking forward would reduce the refractive effects of the water-fiberglass-water transition.
However, given the magnitude of the scope of building an AUV and a side looking Synthetic Aperture Sonar, any kind of additional forward-looking sonar would be so far down the road that I opted for a simpler, more hydrodynamic and more aesthetically pleasing elliptical nose-cone form instead.
The first step in making the nose cone was to build a plug, to be used to make a mold. Using 0.75″ blue insulation foam, I cut out profiles using the CNC machine. The profiles were slightly oversized to compensate for any slop in the assembly and cutting, with the excess to be sanded down to the correct dimensions.
The pieces were then glued together, onto a wooden dowel which served to keep everything aligned and to give something for the lathe chuck to bit onto. To keep things tight, I used the mill itself to act as a “clamp”. The joy of working with foam is that you can get away with doing things you shouldn’t do with harder materials…
I cut out another profile, and lined the inside with sandpaper — This was used to help sand the foam to the right shape. Once in the spackle stage, the form was used to help evenly spread the spackle. It would have been better to use a more rigid material for the form, like wood, but I didn’t have any kicking around, so opted to work with what I had.
The first sanding step was to sand the foam past the target dimensions, and then build up a layer of spackling filler – The spackling will help give a smoother, stronger finish than is achievable with foam, which is essential for a good fiberglass mold, and hydrodynamic surface. I used quick-dry spackle to speed up working time, although since it off-gases quite a bit as it dries, I had to use it outside and the cold weather slowed the dry time back down to a crawl. The quick-dry spackle does shrink somewhat as it dries, causing cracking in thick layers, but that’s okay as the cracks are filled in over subsequent, finer applications.
Once a decent layer of spackle was built up over top of the foam, I used the CNC lathe to bring the plug to the correct dimensions and symmetry. To create the G-Code, I used e-Cam running in my Windows VM. Since I didn’t have to rough away all the material from a full cylinder, I created a DXF file with offset profiles from the final shape, starting at 0.25mm and building up to 1mm steps. Importing these, I created a series of “finishing” profiles, which resulted in tracing the final lines.
Normally the Sherline lathe can’t handle very large diameters, but using riser blocks and some custom made tool risers (Another thing I worked on over the break, which I’ll need to finish other AUV parts) I managed to swing the large diameter part. Luckily, the plaster is relatively soft and easy to work with. I’ve run it through the CNC program once, and then added some extra plaster to fill in some gaps where it wasn’t thick enough and will run it through again once that’s dry.
Next steps will be to seal the surface with epoxy resin, polish smooth and wax to perfection — The more time spent working on the plug, the better the end result will be. Since I don’t have a suitable indoor workshop for curing resin (fumes), I’ll need to use a resin formulated to cure at temperatures near freezing so that I can do the epoxy/fiberglass work on the patio. Winter in my neck of the woods is more akin to spring in the rest of Canada and doesn’t go below freezing very often. Unfortunately, this year winter has been a bit colder than usual, so it may be a while before it warms up enough for fiberglass work…
Otherwise, AUV design is slowly progressing. I’ve been taking some more test cuts and refining the CNC programs to generate the universal rings. I’ve been putting more thought into the electronics and control of the AUV, but will leave that as a topic for a future post.
A quick update on some design work I’ve been picking away at recently. I’ve managed to roughly place all the parts for the drivetrain in the thrust module and started work on the control fin motor/gear layout. Still all subject to change, but it looks like I’ll be able to fit everything I need in the tail cone.
Next step of this design is to figure how to seal the control surface shafts. Ideally, those will be magnetic couplers as well, but I have to analyze how much torque will be required, and how much I can transmit with a small magnetic coupler. Failing that, I’ll design it to use Ikelite glands — I have an Ikelite camera case which uses these, and the performance seems good.
I found a source for BLDC gear motors that run off 24 volts and aren’t insanely expensive, which I’m hoping to use for the control surfaces. Standard hobby servos run of much lower voltages, and I was hoping to implement my own control scheme for the motors — More on that later, as I’ve ordered one motor to test out to verify it will actually be suitable.
One of the goals I’ve had for most of my AUV project was to make it as modular as possible, which would allow future upgrades and change of mission in the future — Want to take video? Swap out the sonar with a video module. Need better control in the water column for inspecting things? Add lateral thruster modules. Want to take water quality samples? Swap out the sonar module for a water quality sensor module… And the list goes on.
To achieve this, years ago I came up with an idea for a universal bulkhead design, which would allow each module to plug into any other, provided that the electrical interfaces matched through the bulkheads. The design would also allow mix-and-matching of flooded and non-flooded compartments, depending on the payload and mission configuration.
The design is fairly simple, each bulkhead essentially consists of two identical rings with a flat plate bulkhead sandwiched in between them. The bulkheads are screwed together and O-rings keep everything sealed up nice and tight. The compartment tubes are held into place by a series of radial screws (not properly shown in the photo above) which don’t clamp down on the tube (causing stress points in the material) but rather act as pins to prevent the tube from sliding out.
One of the challenged was getting the design to play nicely with standard cast acrylic tubing, with its loose tolerances. This necessitates usage of large diameter o-rings to make up for the variance in tube diameters. One option could have been to machine the acrylic tube’s inside diameter to appropriate tolerance, but I decided that the difficulty of doing so with the tools available to me outweighed the convenience of using stock cast acrylic profiles.
Although I haven’t posted anything in the past month, I have been working away at the AUV here and there between work and some much-needed vacation. I’m making some decent progress in design and setting up for manufacture. A couple of the big things I’m working on are some detailed design work on an acoustic modem, and putting some finishing touches on my CNC machines to start building some of the mechanical components for this project. I’ll post an update on those topics when I have some more substantial progress.
In the meantime, I was digging for some files and came across some earlier CFD results, specifically pertaining to the Doppler Velocity Log (DVL) and the flow of water around it. A DVL works by sending sonar pulses out at multiple off-nadir angles and measuring the doppler shift in the return signal. If the AUV is stationary, there is no Doppler shift, but if there is motion a Doppler shift is induced which can be measured to determine the motion of the AUV underwater in lieu of not being able to get a GPS lock.
Due to the relatively small diameter of the AUV, and the size of the DVL transducers, they needed to be pocketed in the hull. I ran some simulations to determine the way water would flow, and as expected there is some recirculation induced by the pockets. This not only adds drag but potentially increases flow noise on the transducer itself.
As such, I’ve modified the design slightly and will attempt to put a LDPE window to hopefully improve the flow. LDPE is a type of plastic which has an acoustic impedance fairly close to water, so should be mostly transparent to the sonar wave. Modeling the shape proved an interesting challenge, but haveing done so will enable to me to fairly easily cut out the shape from flat sheet using the CNC.
Hopefully, some more updates will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks!
Given the drag results from the CFD analysis, it became possible to begin more rigorous design work on the thrust module, namely to create detailed propeller designs, motor selection and coupling the two. I’ve done some preliminary propeller analysis using JavaProp and have been fiddling with OpenProp to get an idea of the efficiency and rpm of various propeller designs to meet the thrust requirements – Those parameters are sufficient for estimating the sustained torque on the motor. Given sustained torque and rpm, it became easier to size the motor required to drive the AUV at its design points.
One of the tradeoffs made in the AUV design is how to seal the motor from the external environment. Several options were considered, including traditional pump shaft seals, magnetic coupling, and simply running a brushless motor exposed to the elements. All are valid options depending upon the goals of one’s project, but ultimately I settled on using magnetic coupling for a number of key reasons:
Completely sealed from the external environment, with a lower probability of leakage than a rotary shaft seal. This is a bonus if pressure compensation is needed (e.g. oil filling), as that reduces the probability of environmental contamination
Likely no need for pressure compensation at design depth. (Depending upon isolation can design)
Acts as a clutch to save the drivetrain from excess torque and stalling
No friction losses as with shaft seal
Motor is protected from corrosion in ambient environment
More complicated design
Requires precision machining for precise alignment to avoid strong magnetic forces perpendicular to the shaft (the inside magnetic ring essentially sits in an unstable null)
Potential eddy-current losses in the surrounding structure and the isolation can if made of metal.
Motor needs to be cooled to ambient environment (easy)
One challenge is designing the isolation can, illustrated in dark grey above. This is the component that isolates the external environment from the internal. The isolation can needs to be as thin as possible, yet as strong as possible to support the pressures acting upon it. Metal seems to be a natural choice, but the rotating magnets will induce eddy currents resulting in reduced efficiency. I’d like to avoid this if possible. I’m thinking of using an engineering plastic such as acetal with an internal pressure design, as analysis indicates that it will stand up to the required pressures without needing pressure compensation.
Past experience with machining thin wall features in acetal indicates that I need to approach this with caution. The extrusion process used to create the stock plastic rods I buy causes a significant amount of stress within the acetal which can cause warping during machining. I will attempt to anneal the acetal prior to machining to see if that will help. Another option I’m considering is casting the isolation can with rigid polyurethane, epoxy or fiberglass composite.
Knowing the torque limits of the drivetrain, and the torque requirements of the propeller, I carried out some analysis on coupler designs using the Finite Element Magnetic Methods (FEMM) software package. The great thing about this software is that I can import DXF files straight from CAD, so I can design, simulate, tweak and update and re-simulate, allowing me to experiment with several design permutations.
The rough configuration I’m considering is shown in the simulation results above. The magnets are arranged in an alternating north-south configuration (i.e. each magnet is polarized opposite to its neighbour). This was done so that as the delta angle between the inside and outside increases with applied torque, the opposite polarized adjacent magnet would provide a repelling force, preventing free rotation. I ran through a series of different angles, and the peak torque occurred when the delta angle between the inner and outer elements was half the angular separation of the magnets. (22.5 degrees for magnets spaced at 45 degrees). The chart below shows the resulting torque vs angle curve for a similar design to that depicted above
Another key parameter is that the outside of the outer ring should be magnetic steel. As shown in the simulation, this keeps the magnetic field contained (which should reduce eddy currents in the aluminum tail cone) and actually increases torque in the coupler
Some final tweaks need to be made to the design to match the peak torque of the coupler to that of the motor and gears — As long as the coupler torque is higher than the propulsion service torque and below the max torque of the motor/gears, it should act as failsafe clutch.
With the rough size of the coupler set, now I can put some more effort into designing the rest of the thruster module, to see how I can fit everything I need inside of it — The main motor, the 4x rudder motors and drive electronics.
This post is jumping into the middle of things, as a huge amount of work has gone into getting the AUV design this far, with several revisions of the design and some background work on the sonar to determine how much AUV I’ll actually need to carry it.
A very preliminary design choice was the dimensions of the AUV. The length will be driven by module and payload lengths, leaving the diameter as something needing a tradeoff between how much I could compact the module electronics vs what I could build. I settled on an outside diameter of 5.5 inches, driven largely by the size parts I can realistically make on my small lathe. I would have preferred a larger diameter, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Interestingly, with a 5 inch ID (0.25-inch wall thickness), I can just fit 8x 15AH LiFePO4 cells for a 24 volt, 360 Watt-hour battery.
Why imperial units for the diameter when most of the rest of the design is metric? That’s driven by the availability of stock acrylic and aluminum tubing to be used as the main pressure hull body components. (Flooded modules will likely just be fiberglass). Mixing imperial and metric is just a necessary part of life up in Canada. Sometimes with poor results.
Knowing the basic dimensions, I’ve been working on detailed 3D CAD models of the entire AUV design, refining the shape and design of the critical components including the Doppler Velocity Log (DVL), drive section, and the universal bulkhead rings (more on those later). The end result is a rough shape of what the AUV will look like in the end. This design will be refined significantly, but is good enough as a starting point, and is shown above. (Note that the antenna on the top wasn’t exported into the flow simulations)
I set up some simulations in OpenFOAM to estimate the drag and flow around the AUV — The goal being to determine enough information to optimize the propulsion design. I’ve been experimenting with both the simpleFoam and pimpleFoam solver. The computational requirements to get a fine enough mesh to resolve the features properly proved difficult on my home laptop, so I stood up a server on AWS to handle the simulations — After much experimentation with setting up OpenFOAM cases, the AUV hull design, boundary conditions, and meshing, I finally got things set up well enough to run at a high level of detail with a configuration I felt I could trust. 48 hours later, I had a result. I probably could have introduced larger timesteps into the pimpleFoam solver (the maximum Courant number was set to 25), so I’ll experiment with that on future runs.
The plot above shows the flow over the stern of the AUV. The Reynolds number is fairly high in this design, leading to turbulent flow, and some strange flow along the stern, where you can see it circulating near the surface. The drag pressures appear to settle within 0.4 or so seconds, with a total simulation time of 1 second. The time-steps were dynamic, so prior to settling were very short to avoid the solution diverging. Curiously, the viscous drag remains steady, but the pressure drag is somewhat unsteady.
Previous results had already led me to reduce the tail angle in an attempt to reduce the wake, but ultimately I think this will have to do as narrowing the tail angle too much will result in other design challenges in terms of length of the thrust module.
Apart from estimating the drag on the hull, the really cool thing is I can determine the inflow velocity at the propeller disc. Since the hull inevitably has a negative impact on the water speed, designing a propeller for a water flow equal to the vehicle velocity won’t produce an optimal design. The simulation allowed me to extract the velocity profile, which I can feed into propeller design to further optimize the design. If time allows I may optimize the nozzle (it’s currently a vanilla Kort nozzle). However, the purpose of the nozzle in this design isn’t just to attempt to improve the performance, but also to provide a safety guard to protect wildlife and support divers during testing, as well as to reduce the probability of entanglement.
From the results, the hull has a significant impact on the inflow. The Kort nozzle does increase the speed a bit around the propeller tips, but closing into the propeller hub the velocity drops sharply.
Interestingly, the horizontal tangential (y-axis) velocity is low but produces an interesting plot showing that the flow is not perfectly axial, but slightly canted inwards. Note that the scale of this image is different than above. This is mostly included because I believed it was a cool picture.
Of course, I’m not a CFD expert and am learning things as I go, so I need to take these results with a grain of salt. The results seem to be within the order of magnitude of what I can find in literature, so they’re good enough for the next steps in the design process.
Next steps in the CFD work will be verifying the control surface size is sufficient enough to provide good control authority, and to size the motors required to turn them. So far the control surfaces have just been eyeballed, so I’ll have to do some initial calculations to determine what’s required, adjust the design, and simulate.