Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering


College of Engineering


Andrew Davol

Advisor Department

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


This project had two primary goals: (1) to explore opportunities to further a deep-ocean vehicle’s reach using alternative pressure spheres, and (2) to implement an existing deep-ocean vehicle (lander) in active scientific research.

I gained a greater understanding of the limitations and design choices made for existing pressure spheres using Finite Element Analysis (FEA). My simplified FEA model predicted sphere failure for the existing 30% Fiber Glass 70% Nylon injection molded spheres at an external pressure of 3,954psi or 2,690m ocean-depth (only a 7.38% error compared to the tested minimum failure depth), so I determined it a valid model. I also explored alternative designs and materials that could be used for pressure spheres in deep-sea applications. Existing pressure sphere models filled with an incompressible fluid failed at 12,670psi or 8,621m ocean-depth - over three times the depth of the same sphere filled with air. Next, I varied the sphere thickness of existing spheres to determine its impact on depth rating. While the increased thickness did provide an increase in depth rating, there were diminishing returns as the sphere was made thicker. I deemed both of these design options infeasible for our application.

To consider the use of laminated composite spheres, the addition of an equatorial ring was required to manufacture O-ring seals safely and reliably. A simple cylindrical equatorial ring model using a stainless-steel ring had a predicted failure at 3,017psi or 2,053m ocean-depth. While this model predicted failure at 637m shallower than the sphere without the ring, it was the only ring material tested to reach the rated depth for the existing pressure spheres (2km), so I concluded stainless-steel is the best ring material. A spherical stainless-steel equatorial ring design was then analyzed which predicted failure at 3,915psi or 2,664m ocean-depth – only 8.3% less than the original sphere with no ring. Because of its successful performance and near identical results to the original model, I determined a stainless-steel spherical equatorial ring is the best option for laminated composite sphere sealing.

Finally, I analyzed three different kinds of laminated composite pressure spheres: two carbon fiber and one fiber glass. Each laminate was designed to be quasi-isotropic and as close to 0.8” thick as possible to keep it consistent with the original sphere design. The sphere made of 584 Carbon Fiber with a lay-up of: [[-45/45/0/90]6]s was found to predict failure at 10,000psi or 6,804m ocean-depth, more than 2.5 times that of the original sphere. Next, a model made of 282 Carbon Fiber with a lay-up of: [[-45/45/0/90]11]s predicted failure at 9,242psi or 6,289m ocean-depth – more than 2.3 times as deep as the original pressure spheres. Lastly, a sphere of 7781 Fiber Glass with a lay-up of: [[-45/45/0/90]11]s predicted failure at 6,630psi or 4,511m ocean-depth – about two-thirds the depth of the 584 Carbon Fiber composite, but more than 1.6 times the depth of the original sphere. While real-life applications of these materials would include design modifications and manufacturing imperfections which would lower their maximum depth rating, these results are highly encouraging and show that all three materials could be viable options for future production.

Additionally, through partnership with Dr. Crow White and his marine science undergraduate students, I completed numerous deployments for a Before and After Controlled Impact (BACI) study on the area of the proposed windfarm off the coast of Morro Bay, CA. Many modifications were made to the existing lander which enabled it to successfully be implemented in these studies including a new bait containment unit, light color filters, a GPS tracking device, and a large vessel recovery device. A total of 5 pier deployments and 3 boat deployments were conducted by my team over the course of 6-months. Planning for these deployments included accounting for budgeting, weather, permitting, and multi-organizational logistics while working with both NOAA and the Cal Poly marine operations staff.