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5 Ways Engineers ‘Changed the Rules’ to Meet Their Goals

5 Ways Engineers ‘Changed the Rules’ to Meet Their Goals

Engineers meet challenges with often simple, but unconventional solutions like the heavy cargo transportation hybrid airship that can move wind turbines without adding emissions.
Using trains, planes, and trucks, most manufacturers are able to get their products to their global customers. But what if the product is big? What if it is dangerous when moved, or the need to service it becomes a necessary consideration? 

Here are five times where engineers suggest creative solutions to recognized and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

1.    Delivering Turbines

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, “the volume of annual offshore wind installations is expected to quadruple from 6.1 GW in 2020 to 23.9 GW in 2025, bringing its share of global new installations from today’s 6.5% to 21% by 2025.” That’s a lot of wind turbines that need to get to where they are needed. 

The size of a wind turbine can be 100 meters or more, and the nacelle (75 tons), tower (24 tons), and blade (9 tons) are heavy. To ship them, manufacturers move components using traditional modes of transport and according to Lockheed Martin in “Solving the Challenge of Transporting Wind Turbine Blades,” a 150 megawatt wind farm can require as many as 650 truckloads, 140 railcars, and eight ships to transport. 

To make the challenge even worse, the heavy loads are often destined for remote or inaccessible areas. To answer this problem Lockheed Martin engineers suggested its heavy cargo transportation hybrid airship. Recently acquired by AT2 Aerospace, reportedly the 300-foot-long, 21-ton vehicle can haul more than 40,000 pounds of cargo, equipment, and personnel. The solution also answers the problem of transporting green-energy components create emissions. This airship is carbon neutral running on hydrogen. 

2.    Roman Space Shuttle

This week’s musing concerning the Roman Empire takes the shape of two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank of the Space Shuttle. These were solid rocket boosters, or SRBs made by Thiokol at its factory in Utah.

The story goes that engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them larger, but they had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. 

So how did Roman engineering determine the size of shuttle rockets? The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track and the width of the railroad track can be mapped back to Rome. Wheel spacing of chariots were consistent and the standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches was derived from the original specifications for an imperial Roman war chariot that need to accommodate two war horses standing side-by-side.  

3.    Smallish Aircraft Carriers

At 1,504 feet long and 225 feet wide, the Seawise Giant is the biggest ship in history. This supertanker (decommissioned in 2010) put in 30 years of service but was so big that it wasn’t able to pass through some of the world’s most important passages, such as the Suez Canal and the English Channel.

Keeping these limitations in mind, aircraft carriers are small in comparison. The USS Enterprise (the longest aircraft carrier in the world with a length of 1,122 feet/342 meters) was about 25 percent shorter than the supertanker. And the newest American aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is even 17 feet shorter than USS Enterprise. 

Maneuverability and speed are two considerations, with shorter and lighter ships being able to change direction easier and move faster. But more than that, docking and depth of port are bigger considerations for service of the ship. And don’t forget the need to get to any point on the Earth and pass tight waterways such as the Suez and Panama Canals.

4.    Getting Your Single-Wide 

On a basic level, the dimensions of a mobile home are limited by what can be safely transported on roads and highways. So, manufactured homes are generally not built above 13 feet 6 inches due to bridge clearances, and double- and triple-wide manufactured homes must be transported in sections and assembled at the home site. In fact, the Champion Homes Avalanche 7694B is a 2774 sq ft, 4 bed, 3 bath, behemoth. It can only be taken for delivery in Nevada, California, and Colorado in multiple sections. It has a full-size soaker tub, slider doors, and walk-in pantry. 

The now defunct Sears, Roebuck & Co. (Sears) sold kit homes, sold by catalog and shipped in railroad. From 1908 to 1942, the Chicago-based operation sold around 75,000 homes in 400 different styles. The kits contained elements like balloon framing to simplify the building process. Sears also standardized the use of asphalt shingles and drywall to drive down construction costs for buyers.

5.    Hydrogen Pipes

As of December 2020, there were 1,608 miles of hydrogen pipeline in the United States, located primarily along the Gulf Coast. Although nearly all hydrogen pipeline shipment occurs in dedicated hydrogen infrastructure, some U.S. operators have initiated projects to blend hydrogen and methane in natural gas pipelines. Analysts assert that 20 percent hydrogen concentrations by volume may be the maximum blend before significant pipeline upgrades are required. In addition, the end-use equipment in power plants and industrial facilities may not tolerate higher hydrogen concentrations without modification.

The pipeline industry has long identified technological challenges to developing a national network of dedicated hydrogen pipelines. To address these challenges, many experts favor a significant federal role in hydrogen pipeline research and development (R&D). Consistent with this view, under a series of agency initiatives and energy statutes the federal government has funded hydrogen pipeline-related R&D since the 1960s supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, DOE, DOT, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). At various times, their research has examined basic materials science, hydrogen pipeline safety, pipeline economics, hydrogen markets, and pipeline network modeling, among other topics. 

Cathy Cecere is membership content program manager.

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