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Words
Donna Black

Photography
Tony Cobley & Dan Bruce

The story of SWiFT

From Belgium to Brazil, one of Valeport’s most successful profiling instruments is delivering results across the globe. But where did SWiFT start and how did it develop? Jay Nicholson, Head of Research and Development gives a glimpse behind-the-scenes at Valeport.

“SWiFT’s origin lies with the needs of Valeport’s customers. Our brief was to develop an instrument for sound velocity, temperature and depth profiling. Crucially the instrument needed to do three things that our customers wanted. First GPS positioning and accurate time stamping; secondly, be powered by a long-lasting rechargeable battery; and finally have the ability to easily download data,” says Jay Nicholson.

A year of development

Development work started in 2012. “Our engineers had several challenges to overcome,” explains Jay. “We had to think about how to fit GPS into the instrument, along with a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth functionality. We also put a lot of work into the switching mechanism.”

A year of development by Valeport’s Research & Development department led to the creation of an end cap for SWiFT that allows users to easily operate the instrument by turning the switching ring. The success of this solution lies in its simplicity.

“Our starting point was thinking about how SWiFT would be used. It had to be easy to use with cold hands while at sea. The switching ring we developed has a very positive feel about it. It turns through 90 degrees and you can feel it click into position.

“We needed the action of the switching ring to feel right. We couldn’t use springs because the instrument is used under water. We didn’t want to use screws in the assembly as we needed to avoid the risk of users opening up the instrument. Screws also use up valuable mechanical space. Our solution was to use nylon to lock the end cap into place. The next challenge was to get the tension just right – not too loose or too tight,” explains Jay.

The end cap features lights to show when the instrument is switched on, when the Bluetooth is on and connected and to indicate the battery’s level of charge.

“The inclusion of light-up icons on the end cap offered up another difficult mechanical challenge that required clever assembly,” says Jay. “When you pick up the product the first thing you notice is the switch ring and lights, so a lot of thought went into getting this right during our development phase.”

“When you end up with a successful product it can be easy to forget the challenges we overcame in that first year of development.” - Jay Nicholson - Head of Research and Development

Overcoming challenges

“When you end up with a successful product it can be easy to forget the challenges we overcame in that first year of development,” says Jay. “We needed to change our initial design for the end cap to ensure the battery worked properly. Getting the software right to enable Bluetooth download to iPhone or iPad also took a lot of work to resolve.”

However, overcoming challenges is what Valeport’s engineers excel at. “Our R&D team enjoy problem solving and being creative. Often the most frustrating points of the development of a new product are followed by a breakthrough and the amazing feeling of getting it right.”

The result of the year of development was SWiFT SVP, a simple to use instrument that can measure sound velocity, depth and temperature in water up to 100m deep, with battery endurance of up to a week and easy charging via USB. Bluetooth connectivity to iPhone or iPad allows users to download data while on a boat or set it up to automatically connect, extract the data and send to a PC elsewhere. SWiFT can be used with automated winches and on unmanned surface vessels, as well as being operated manually.

SWiFT SVP

Evolution of SWiFT

One of the first developments was to increase the depth of operation to 200m. In 2018 this increased further with the introduction of a higher specification pressure transducer to allow a deeper range of 500m across the full SWiFT range.

Demand from the dredging sector for easy to use, reliable instruments to measure how much silt is disturbed during dredging led to the introduction of SWiFTplus Turbidity – an instrument with the sound velocity, depth and temperature profiling capabilities of Valeport’s original SWiFT design, with the addition of optics to measure turbidity. SWiFTplus Fluorometer, a profiler which can be supplied with either a Chlorophyll, Fluorescein, Rhodamine or Phycocyanin sensor was also developed.

“The development of our SWiFTplus range and introduction of optics into the instrument required careful thought from the R&D team and the creation of new circuit boards,” says Jay.

SWiFTplus Turbidity

International success

Hundreds of SWiFT SVP and SWiFTplus models are now in operation across the globe, in 40 countries from Europe to Australasia.

Used by customers in a range of sectors, including dredging, oceanographic and scientific, the instrument is prized for its ease of use and reliability.

For Jay Nicholson and his team, the success of SWiFT is a source of pride. “There are 15 of us in the Research & Development team and all of us have been involved in some way with the development of SWiFT. A lot of hard work went into creating it, so it feels good to know customers all over the world are using the instrument.”

Evolution and innovation

The latest development in the SWiFT story is the launch of the SWiFT CTD profiler in January 2021.

“Some of our customers were asking for an instrument with the accuracy and versatility of SWiFT, which could also give them measured conductivity, temperature and depth readings. Our response was to develop the SWiFT CTD,” says Valeport’s Head of Marketing Guy Frankland. “It is perfect if you need precise CTD data for scientific applications.”

SWiFT CTD

The introduction of a conductivity probe into the design posed a challenge, as it was crucial that it was protected and could withstand deployment in harsh conditions. Valeport’s inhouse R&D team rose to the challenge again, and their solution is a new acetal sensor guard. The design has been thoroughly tested at Valeport’s state of the art facility in Devon.

Measured CTD with all the benefits of SWiFT

In addition to measured CTD, the new instrument calculates computed salinity, density and sound velocity.

SWiFT CTD also includes Bluetooth and a rechargeable battery. The battery is charged by USB and has an operational battery life of five days.

Ease of use was at the heart of the development of the new instrument. Guy explains: “The development of our magnetic switch ring has been very well received by customers who tell us it is easy to use even with cold or gloved hands, so we knew that had to be part of this new instrument. The SWiFT CTD also features easy to read LED status indications on its end cap, so users can quickly see the status of the battery, GPS and communications.”

New sensors and software

Accuracy is of paramount importance and the latest version of SWiFT features a new fast response temperature probe, which provides faster and more accurate temperature information.

Data can be downloaded quickly and easily using wireless technology and Valeport’s new Ocean software for IOS, android and PC platforms. The data transfer process is fully automated and does not require user input.

Staying safe during the pandemic

The development of the SWiFT CTD is set against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, with Valeport’s teams often working remotely and with new social distancing and safety measures for team members working on-site.

Guy Frankland adds: “The safety of our people and the wider community has been our paramount concern and it is testament to how our team have all pulled together in this challenging time that we’ve been able to continue with the development of this new instrument and launch it during the pandemic.”

Taking SWiFT to new depths

So what does the future hold for SWiFT?

“We are working on several other exciting new developments including a model with an oil sensor SWiFT CTD plus.” says Jay. “The R&D team is also very excited about working on a solution to allow the instrument to reach depths of up to 6,000m. Watch this space – the evolution of SWiFT to meet our customers’ needs will continue.”

Valeport team