In August 2015, three men were working on a maintenance platform suspended beside the Thomond Bridge in Limerick. The platform was sent underwater when the cable holding the maintenance platform failed. The three men were equipped with automatic-inflation life jackets. However, because their safety harnesses were connected to the maintenance platform by a lanyard, when their life jackets inflated, the buoyancy lifted them away from the sinking platform. Two of the three men were unable to detach their lanyards and sadly drowned. The Hydro-FLOcean (H-FLO) is a water-safety device designed in response to this tragedy. The H-FLO device connects between the harness and lanyard. In the event of the user becoming submerged underwater, the device automatically detaches the lanyard from the harness. Earlier this month, it was announced that the H-FLO device won the Irish James Dyson Award for 2016. The James Dyson Award is a national and international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers. The Award is open to current and recent design engineering students. The device was first conceived in September 2015, by a multidisciplinary student team from Cork Institute of Technology. CIT is well known for its Innovative Product Development (IPD) Laboratories modules, honoured by Engineers Ireland with the ‘Best in Class’ Engineering Education Excellence Award. The IPD Laboratories modules give students space to identify problems and develop marketable products in an action learning, student-centric environment. H-FLO was developed by a team of multidisciplinary third-year engineering and business students: Arran Coughlan (project manager), Shane O’Driscoll, Gerard O’Connell, George O’Rourke, Kelly Lane, Kacey Mealy, John Harrington and Jason Shorten.

H-FLO systematic design and technical function

[caption id="attachment_32057" align="alignright" width="213"]Irish James Dyson Award H-FLO Testing the H-FLO[/caption] The H-FLO team employed a systematic design approach to conceive, develop and optimise the design. The process utilised brainstorming sessions and focus groups as a platform for developing diverse design concepts. The H-FLO team applied design tools including cause and effect diagrams, morphological charts and a weighted objectives table to lead to the final optimised design. The H-FLO prototype, designed on Autodesk’s Inventor, was manufactured in CIT’s workshop by the student team. H-FLO uses the same technology currently used in automatic inflatable life jackets. A stainless steel cylinder protects H-FLO’s inner workings. At either end of this cylinder are semi-circular bars, to which the harness and lanyard connect. It is composed of two segments designed to automatically separate when under water. H-FLO uses male and female shafts coupled together with a pin. When H-FLO is submerged in water, a gas canister is pierced and the gas is directed at high pressure on to the face of the pin. This drives the pin from the coupled connection, allowing the two sides to separate, and enabling the user to get to safety. The H-FLO device triggers disengagement from the harness in less than five seconds. Testing of the device has been central and crucial to the iterative development of the H-FLO. Tests carried out include a ‘proof of concept’ water-submersion test, structural-tensile test, ergonomic field test and the full-scale tank testing with the Mark 1 prototype fully assembled. Initial ‘proof of concept’ water-submersion testing of H-FLO proved successful. Structural-tensile testing on the pin and coupled shaft assembly validated the mathematical calculations and the finite element models and proved the critical structural components could handle the associated forces. Ergonomic field-testing of the H-FLO in the marine environment has been successful, yielding positive feedback. Testing has been carried out in diverse weather conditions and the H-FLO did not disengage. Full-scale functionality tank testing of the fully assembled Mark 1 prototype found that when submerged, the device successfully separated within five seconds – a key milestone in the H-FLO journey.

What’s next for H-FLO?

[caption id="attachment_32058" align="alignright" width="204"]H-FLO Irish james Dyson Award The H-FLO device[/caption] The H-FLO team has developed a comprehensive business plan, indicating significant commercialisation potential for the product. The H-FLO team has carried out extensive patent searches and, to the best of the team’s knowledge, nothing like the H-FLO exists. The achievement by H-FLO of the Most Technically Innovative Award at the CIT Prize for Innovation in April and the Cruickshank Intellectual Property Attorneys Award at the Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur Finals (from over 600 entries nationally) in Limerick in June further points to significant intellectual property and patenting potential. Further advanced development and testing of H-FLO, ideally with the help of an experienced partner, is planned. Further applications for the mechanism are also being explored in areas such as the automotive industry and the maritime field. The H-FLO team is seeking national and international strategic partners in the advanced development and commercialisation of the water safety device. H-FLO’s success in winning the Irish James Dyson Award 2016 and the further global exposure as H-FLO advances to the international stages of the James Dyson Award will be crucial in the journey towards national and international strategic partnerships. H-FLO is one of 110 shortlisted finalists in the James Dyson Awards 2016, along with four Irish runners-up. These finalists were selected from over 1,100 entries from 22 countries. The shortlist of 110 will be reduced further to 20 international finalists on September 29. James Dyson will announce the international winner (with a prize find of $45,000 plus $7,500 for their college/university) and two international runners-up (with a prize fund of $7,500) on October 27.