Student to turn bridge concept into a reality

AN ENGINEERING student from Strathclyde University has developed an innovative gangway that could help save the offshore wind industry millions of pounds each year.

Robbie Macdonald, 23, from North Connel, near Oban, has come up with a flexible bridge system to get technicians more quickly and safely to turbines in need of repair.

The plan is to commercialise the device.

Under the current system, he says this work can be done only when waves are below 1.5m, often leading to costly delays.

Mr Macdonald has come up with a gangway system which could be mounted on to windfarm transfer vessels and would fit almost all types of turbine.

His design, named SolidSeaTransfer, would double the maximum wave height for safe transfer to 3m and minimise the risk of crossing to the base of the turbine, “potentially making huge savings for the industry each year and increasing production by up to 35%”.

If the claim stands up to scrutiny, then SolidSeaTransfer is capable of operating in poorer sea conditions than the system developed by Fabricom with input from Amec. That system, in its initial form, could handle seas up to 2.5m.

Mr MacDonald started to develop his initial idea in September 2010, and has been working on it since then. It has been tested in a wave tank using a scale prototype.

He said: “I did a placement involving wind energy which stimulated my interest in the industry. I have noticed that a fixed point of access from the vessel to the turbine could be a way of increasing safety.

“My system could increase the wave height where it’s safe to do work on turbines and raise the number of days it can be done on from 50% to 85%.

“This project is something I plan to take forward towards commercialisation. It’s much more than a university project for me; it’s something I want to take beyond studying and turn into a reality.”

Mr MacDonald is being supported in his project by Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network (SEN), a free service which provides funding and support to help the university’s students, staff and alumni commercialise their ideas and set up new companies.

Through SEN, Robbie was asked to present at the Strathclyde 100 event in May, giving him valuable contacts in the industry. He is now in talks with an established company with a view to potential collaboration.

The Carnon Trust has granted an award that will enable research and development work to continue.