Case Study

Destination Titanic: OceanGate Designs Carbon Fiber Subs for Adventure Travel

Submersible vehicle manufacturer credits Onshape’s remote CAD collaboration tools for keeping its development timetable on schedule during pandemic

The Challenge

OceanGate is the developer of manned submersible vehicles for research and adventure travel, including a 2021 Titanic Expedition for “citizen explorers.” The Seattle-based startup, which has partnered with NASA to develop its carbon fiber pressurized hull, was seeking to reduce its IT infrastructure costs, streamline its data management process and improve collaboration between its core engineering team and remote out-of-state contractors.

Results

  • Estimated savings of $60,000 to $70,000/yr in reduced IT overhead for managing CAD and PDM.
  • Using Onshape’s remote cloud CAD collaboration tools, OceanGate’s product development team was able to keep making its project deadlines when engineers were forced to work from home during the pandemic.
  • Onshape’s built-in data management ensures everyone is always working on the latest version of a design, facilitating quicker design reviews with executives and colleagues.
Daniel Scoville headshot
Daniel ScovilleDirector of Engineering and Marine OperationsOceanGate
OceanGate logo

"Onshape has the best version control system I’ve ever used on a CAD package. It’s extremely simple to use and will streamline your workflow. It will increase collaboration and decrease the need for IT support and infrastructure."

It’s not a stretch to say that Dan Scoville, Director of Engineering and Operations at OceanGate, was born to design subs.

In addition to his extensive background as a subsea engineer in the oil and gas industry – solving mechanical problems 10,000 feet below the surface – he’s also a lifelong adventure diver who has found more than two dozen shipwrecks that were previously undiscovered.

OceanGate is a Seattle-based developer of manned submersible vehicles for scientific research, documentary films and adventure travel. (The main difference between a “submarine” and a “submersible” is that a submersible needs to be recharged and supported by a surface vessel, while a submarine is fully autonomous with a renewable power source onboard.) The company is collaborating with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to  develop and manufacture a new aerospace-grade carbon fiber hull for its subs.

In the summer of 2021, OceanGate launched its inaugural Titanic Survey Expedition for “citizen explorers” to visit and observe the historic wreck site 380 nautical miles south of Newfoundland, Canada.

“It’s important to provide access to ordinary citizens to the subsea world because many people don’t really appreciate the resources we have out there in the ocean,” says Scoville.

The (Forced) Challenge of Remote Collaboration

researcher looking out submerged port hole OceanGate enables deep ocean exploration for ordinary nature and travel enthusiasts, offering an experience usually only accessible to marine researchers and scientists.

OceanGate currently has eight CAD users, four of which are out-of-state contractors who have always contributed remotely. But for the core design team, working from home during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was a brand new experience.

“I've never been a work-from-home guy. Well, at least not for teams,” says Scoville. “In my past lives at previous companies, we've never had that as an option. My sense of it was that being remote makes it harder to collaborate – that the team is better than the sum of its parts when everyone is face-to-face.”

“So the big thing that I’ve learned through this process is that our engineering team can be productive at home, especially if we're all remote and maintaining regular communications throughout the day. We use Microsoft Teams for conferences, but Onshape helps us tremendously to collaborate on the mechanical front,“ he adds.

For the OceanGate production team on the shop floor, duplicating the same tasks remotely is a tougher challenge, Scoville acknowledges, but reflects that the time was used to write procedures and “really up our game on the paperwork and documentation side.”

Real-Time Data Management for Remote Engineering Teams

OceanGate submersible vehicle CAD model in Onshape Onshape's cloud-native product development platform enables remote teams to easily collaborate in real time.

To design its carbon fiber aerospace-grade submersible vehicles, OceanGate chose PTC’s cloud-based Onshape product development platform that allows multiple engineers to simultaneously work on the same CAD model remotely online from any computer, tablet or phone. Whenever one engineer makes a design change, everyone else on the team instantly sees it.

A comprehensive Edit History tracks who made which design change and when – and teams can also instantly share CAD models with colleagues or external partners with varying levels of editing/viewing access.

“Onshape has the best version control system I’ve ever used on a CAD package. It’s extremely simple to use and will streamline your workflow. It will increase collaboration and decrease the need for IT support and infrastructure,” Scoville says. “I’d estimate that Onshape probably saves us $60,000 to $70,000 a year because we don’t need a dedicated IT person to support a PDM package and a CAD package.”

“The greatest part about Onshape is that I can always see everything that my team is doing. And I don’t need to have a specific licensed computer, use a VPN, or have a separate PDM system. I can just quickly login online and see what they are working on,” he adds. “It’s also valuable for getting quick feedback from our CEO. We can both be in the model and he can say what he likes, what he doesn’t like, bring up issues and offer suggestions.”

Onshape Helps OceanGate Keep its Titanic Expedition on Schedule

Titanic underwater wreck site In the summer of 2021, OceanGate conducted its Titanic Survey Expedition, bringing researchers and citizen explorers to the historical wreck site in the North Atlantic. (Image source: OceanGate.com. Illustration copyright Andrea Gatti, inspired by Ken Marschall.)

OceanGate’s inaugural Titanic Survey Expedition in the summer of 2021 consisted of a series of week-long missions aboard the Titan submersible. Each mission carried 40 people including 9 tourists or “citizen explorers,” alongside researchers, crew and historical experts. The citizen explorers assisted the crew in roles such as communication, navigation, sonar operation, photography and dive planning.

The submersible can be navigated by a video game controller, allowing tourists to take turns piloting without any knowledge of traditional submarine gauges and instrumentation.

“More people have walked on the moon than have been to the Titanic,” notes Scoville. “So it's pretty rare for anyone to be at those kinds of depths in the ocean. It’s a really exciting opportunity.”

Speaking of outer space, one of the expedition experts onboard for the first Titanic mission was former NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski, a U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inductee and certified sub pilot.

Scott Parazynski headshot The inaugural "citizen explorers" on OceanGate's Titanic Survey Expedition experienced the dive alongside historical and scientific experts.

Scoville credits Onshape for helping his team continue to make its deadlines despite all the pandemic-related workplace interruptions: “This hiccup slowed us down a bit, but I’m pretty happy that we were able to stay on track.”

When the business sector in Washington state fully returns to “normal” again, might OceanGate have a more flexible approach to remote work?

“I’m definitely more open to it now because I can see that it is working,” says Scoville. “I’m very curious how this might change the entire engineering industry. I think many more companies will adopt this work-from-home mindset now that we’ve been forced to learn it, worked our way through it and proved we can still be productive.”

“It all comes down to productivity,” he adds. “There are definitely guys who I feel confident in already who are going to get more done at home than they would have at the office because there are less distractions, and fewer people interrupting them throughout the day.”