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
“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.
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.
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.”
Head of R&D
Jay joined Valeport in 1992 after having spent 9 months previously as part of his sandwich degree course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Having spent much of his early career working on many of the company’s highly successful products. Most recently, he was a major contributor to the company’s highly successful SWiFT product range. Jay now heads a team of 14 highly skilled Engineers. He is also very much involved in the firmware development of a number new products.
Outside of work, Jay enjoys competing in Triathlons locally in Devon and Cornwall as well as anything Engineering based from old Land Rovers to DIY.
Jim is a Research Scientist at Valeport Ltd. He holds an MSc Applied Marine Science and a BSc (Hons) in Ocean Science – both from Plymouth University – and he is a Chartered Marine Scientist (IMarEST). Jim started his career as an Oceanographic Analyst at UKHO before joining Valeport as Product Manager in 2008. In 2017, he then moved into a more R&D focused role as a Research Scientist, developing, testing and trialling new sensing technologies.
Head of Business Development
Nick joined the company in February 2014. As Head of Business Development he is responsible for formulating the forward direction of the company with respect to instrument and sensor development and to see the process through from the original idea to delivering a solution to the customer. With input from all sections of the company it is truly satisfying to see a new addition to the company's range of products.
Head of Sales
Kevin joined Valeport in October 1978 as a trainee and worked in the product assembly department until an opening for a Sales Engineer became available in 1986.
He now heads up a great Sales & Logistics team that is responsible for all of Valeport's worldwide sales activities including distributor performance and export control compliance.
Kevin thinks our industry is quite unique and friendly, with many challenges. Having been in the business for over 40 years, not much phases or shocks Kevin in terms of customer needs and technical solutions and those “next day deliveries”.
He appreciates working for an industry respected and independent family company, whilst being able to travel the world from a beautiful part of the UK.
Kevin appreciates a healthy work/life balance and especially enjoys watching Rugby Union.
Senior Sales Manager
Darren is Senior Sales Manager at Valeport and is skilled in Physical Oceanography, Hydrography, Metrology and ocean chemistry. He joined Valeport in 1996 fulfilling various roles within Production, Service and Support before joining the Sales team.
Darren has a BSc Hons in Oceanography and Environmental Science and Post Graduate Studies in Estuarine Monitoring.
Outside of Valeport Darren’s interests centre around his two dogs and following the local professional rugby and cricket teams.
Neal supports direct sales to our global customer and distributor network for all their Hydrometric, Hydrographic & Oceanographic instrumentation requirements.
He has been with Valeport for 17 years, starting his career as an Electronics Engineering Apprentice before taking the responsibility of Production Assembly Manager to lead a skilled team of 18 professionals. He joined the Sales team in 2018.
Neal holds numerous engineering and management educational accolades and is a member of the Chartered Management Institute.
Away from the office Neal enjoys spending time with his young family and is always keen for a challenge, competing regularly in Obstacle Course Races, Triathlons, Marathons and other endurance sports events. Recently representing the UK in the European and World OCR championships.
How Valeport has adapted to coronavirus to continue supporting our customers
Overnight the world changed.
Schools closed, events were cancelled and staying safe meant keeping our distance. Coronavirus has meant different challenges for different organisations. For Valeport, the goal has been to keep its people safe, while continuing to support its customers.