The North East’s world-leading maritime training centre has been awarded the UK’s highest further and higher education honour for its ground-breaking innovation in advanced 3D modelling.
Tyne Coast College’s South Shields Marine School has won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its expertise in creating high-tech under and above water digital scenarios that allow naval architects to design and safely implement multi-million-pound real-world projects.
Awarded by The Queen every two years, the award recognises outstanding work by colleges and universities which deliver real benefit to the wider world and public through education and training.
The marine school established its reputation with award judges for a key project supporting Tengizchevroil (TCO), Kazakhstan’s state oil company.
Its team helped TCO develop a port and waterway on the Caspian Sea to serve the major expansion of the giant Tenzig oilfield, one of the world’s largest such facilities.
Judges learnt how its role was crucial to TCO successfully achieving one of the most delicately implemented but skilled sea-based engineering projects of modern times.
The marine school’s work in developing computer simulations which ensured Britain’s two new aircraft carriers could safely reach sea from their berth on the Firth of Forth in 2017, also featured in its nomination.
Its 3D modelling expertise means the UK is strongly represented in an arena whose importance is now recognised by shipping companies and associated bodies.
In turn, this is strengthening the country’s position in a sector with high levels of potential for further growth and global prestige.
It also makes the school unique in the UK and one of only a handful of institutions globally for the breadth of its 3D skills and the level of project challenge it is able to undertake.
Marine school representatives will receive the award in early 2020 from senior members of the Royal Family at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Principal John Roach said: “Over many years, the marine school’s reputation has grown and grown, and to receive the Queen’s Anniversary Prize is exceptional.
“It is, in many ways, an historic achievement and one of which everyone associated with our work is extraordinarily proud.
“Our 3D modelling team is in a field of its own in the UK in the expertise it has developed over the past two decades, and its achievements should be celebrated.
“We are known throughout the world for the strength of our maritime training, but this award gives us the global recognition we deserve in another field entirely.”
Dr Lindsey Whiterod CBE, Chief Executive of Tyne Coast College, of which the marine school is part, said: “The North East, and indeed the whole country, should be immensely proud of this fine achievement.
“The outstanding work the marine school does in all aspects of its work brings great prestige to this region and really puts it on the map in all four corners of the world.
“It may well come as a surprise to people who know of its exceptional provision for the training of Merchant mariners to discover it also has world-leading expertise in another prestigious arena.
“The 3D team, and the marine school as a whole, are fully deserving of this wonderful award.”
The marine school, which has supported the training of Merchant Navy mariners through sector leading programmes since 1861, took its first steps in to the fledgling field of 3D modelling in 1998.
The technology was introduced as a training tool so maritime professionals could use the marine school’s computer simulators to replicate views of the ports where they worked.
Its first commission was the mapping of the ‘above’ and ‘below’ surface contours of Tees port so that its Pilots could be better trained in the ways of its waters.
Success led to matching work in Orkney, the vast Humber estuary, the entrance to the Tyne and even support which ensured the giant 301m-long Bonga FPSO vessel could exit the river safely, as it did in 2005.
Simulation and modelling allows for investigation and assessment of port developments including berth and jetty alignment.
The marine school’s experts also investigate new ship design, carry out navigational impact studies, and examine new bridge construction and ship handling of specific vessels in constrained waters.
They can also overview towage by vessels including conventional tugs of barges with various loads and hull sections - and are even involved in accident investigations.
By projecting the 3D graphics they create on computers through the school’s advanced simulators, they can test project design scenarios.
This ensures multi-million-pound development of shipping areas can be confidently predicted and implemented, limiting room for costly error.
The school also develops bespoke training and professional development of the maritime personnel who will work on the completed projects, meeting the needs of industries, companies and individuals.
To map a location, its team develops database modelling from port surveys, independent sources and paper drawings, and takes soundings, compiles tide and light data, inputs depth and radar files, and takes photographs.
The information is imported into 3D digital applications which generate the landform and superimposes the drawings, allowing for the exact positioning of structures.
3D models are also developed of specific structures such as buildings, cranes and jetties which are added to the overall created port model.
These allow designers and their companies to assess the navigational impact of their projects, both during the construction phase and when built.
For the Caspian Sea project, the marine school created modelling that allowed TCO to build plant modules for its production plant off site and transport them into the Caspian Sea from the Black Sea via Russian waterways.
To get to Tenzig, the modules were transported on barges up to 110m-long and 25m-wide across part of the northern Caspian Sea where its waters are at their shallowest.
A navigable marine access channel, around 45 miles long but just 63m wide at bottom width and around 100m at surface, and at points just 4.8m deep, was created.
The marine school was approached to support TCO in its overall project planning, bringing a level of assurance to the scheme that would otherwise not have existed.
It also highlighted individual strands of the project so that a complete picture of likely success could be established.