Do you dream of combining your passion with your work? If you’re studying IT or engineering, you can find exciting roles in the most unlikely of places. The tech sector is booming, which means there are some ground-breaking companies out there looking for talent. We speak to chartered engineer Paul Gliddon about how he got his dream job at BAR Technologies, a pioneering boat design firm.
Growing up, Paul loved nothing more than messing about in boats. An avid windsurfer and Moth sailor (high-speed foiling racing dinghies that appear to hover above the waves), for him, the perfect day was one on the water.
Luckily for him, it still is. Three years ago, he landed a job as an engineer and naval architect at BAR Technologies in Portsmouth, home to Olympic star sailor Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup campaign and the focal point of development in sailing technology and hull design. He recalls his first day in the role:
“I remember walking into the building and thinking it was where I belonged. I could wander down to the boat shed where the hulls and foils of the America’s Cup boats were being developed. I get to spend the whole day thinking about boats. I am now using what I learn in my day job and pouring it into my dinghy sailing, which remains a big passion.”
Tech-powered Boat Design
The sort of work Paul is doing today at BAR technologies did not exist when he first started studying engineering at Southampton University. He picked his course (Master of Engineering, Ship Science with Naval Architecture) because of his love of the water. However, it was not until the advent of tech, specifically artificial intelligence, that his job got interesting.
His current projects include an eco-friendly crew transfer vessel for taking engineers out to offshore wind farms; so-called ‘wind wings’ for cargo ships to make them more efficient; and even a stealth boat that can transform into a submarine, designed for the special forces. It’s all very James Bond.
How Ai Has Transformed Shipbuilding
Traditionally, boats are designed by naval architects and engineers using data from tank tests. The hulls are designed, then built and tested in large tanks, which takes time and a huge amount of resources. It can therefore take years for changes in hull shape to work themselves into the design process.
Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has changed all that. This is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical analysis and data structures to analyse and solve problems that involve fluid flows. High-powered computers can perform the complex calculations required to simulate the free-stream flow of the fluid, and the interaction of the fluid with surfaces. Artificial intelligence is then used to learn the trends in the CFD data.
What this means is that a designer can put different hull shapes into the computer and test them much more quickly. This has inevitably led to an explosion in boat design, which is why racing yachts such as the America’s Cups boats have evolved so dramatically in recent years.
One of Paul’s first tasks, when he started at BAR Technologies, was to learn python, a computer programming language, which just goes to show how times have changed.
“There is nothing else like what we’re doing out there in the world of boat design; we’re very much at the forefront of our field, which is such an exciting place to be, especially when you consider the potential for making our industry more sustainable.”
Using Tech To Reduce Carbon Footprints
Tiny changes in hull shape can radically reduce drag, thus increasing speed. It wasn’t long before the likes of Ben Ainslie and others in the sailing community realised the tech that was being developed for yacht racing could help the maritime industry reduce its impact on the environment.
“BAR Technologies was originally formed to exploit the wealth of design knowledge, technical skills and resources built up through BAR’s involvement in the America’s Cup. If you think about the effect that a 25% reduction in drag can have on costs and fuel consumption, it suddenly becomes a very compelling concept for commercial ships and boats.”
With industry players under pressure to reduce carbon footprints, it is clear that any technological developments that enable them to do so will be welcome. More efficient hull shapes, designed using AI, will lead to fuel savings, reduce CO2 emissions and encourage the use of smaller and lighter engines, which will be cheaper to run.
This doesn’t mean that the traditional methods of design are redundant. Paul’s expertise as an engineer and naval architect is a vital part of the boat design process. He has to make sure the hull shapes being considered are going to be safe and won’t compromise the integrity of the boat. But there is no denying that computer technology has sped up the process and made it much more efficient.
“It’s opened my eyes to the potential of boat design, I can’t imagine going back to traditional methods now.”
Advice For Tech And Engineering Students
“Honestly, I would just follow what you’re passionate about. There have been a few jobs in my career that have been a bit mundane, but I am now in a role that is ever-changing and very exciting,”
Who knows what the engineering and tech students of today will be designing in a decade. It’s up to you to shape that future.