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NSWC Panama City laboratory expands capabilities, modernizing functionality

By Katherine Mapp | NSWC PCD Public Affairs | Aug. 20, 2019

PANAMA CITY, Fla. —

A test facility at Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) recently underwent modernization to expand research and development (R&D) capabilities. 

The Hydrospace Laboratory (HSL) uses hyperbaric and hypobaric technologies to simulate conditions without the use of human subjects.

The lab tests various diving and life support equipment by varying pressure, temperature, salinity, and breathing loop controls, while gathering data on inspired carbon dioxide, oxygen control, breathing resistance, and breathing temperature, among other factors.

While the HSL is primarily used to test diving equipment such as helmets, facemasks, rebreathers, and regulators – the lab also tests other equipment used by the fleet, such as batteries, battery canisters, minesweeping tow cables, canisters, seabed detection equipment, and even transport vessels.

Dr. Chris Musto, HSL manager at NSWC PCD, said he and his team have upgraded and automated systems that regulate hyperbaric chamber pressure by using Arduino and Raspberry Python Interpreter, or Pi, systems. Additionally, they have integrated touch-screen controls and easy to use graphics, which can run dive profiles automatically. These include multi-cycle testing of fleet systems and custom pressure testing of diving and life support equipment.

“This automation takes the mundane and variable tasking out of the hands of our engineers and technicians, allowing for a more consistent and less labor-based testing platform,” said Musto. “Modernization will free up engineers to perform more suitable tasking and relieve them of the unnecessary manual operation of supply and relief valves.”

Musto said the HSL is a self-service to full-service facility.

“We are happy to let engineers come in and use the facility for a fee. If those engineers have shown a demonstration of capability, they can use the chambers, data acquisition systems, and other tools in the lab,” said Musto. “If a customer would rather drop off the item at the door and pick it up when testing is complete, we can do that too! “

Musto added that he and his team welcome new work opportunities to demonstrate the updated features to the lab.

“The amount of foot traffic in the laboratory has recently increased because of our expanded functionality,” said Musto. “We often get phone calls or even knocks on the laboratory doors with new work. Word of mouth advertising has gone a long way and our recent upgrades have paid off tremendously.”

According to Musto, the recent modernization of the HSL benefits lab users and warfighters because it demonstrates the ability to perform automated pressure testing rather than the highly variable method of individual human testers.

“The automation of chamber pressures, time at depth, and data collection removes the variability of manual chamber operation. This, in turn, produces a more reliable product to the fleet,” said Musto. “In the near future, we hope to extend this technology to running real-life simulations in our R&D chamber – turning a three-person operation into a single-person task.”

Musto said by allowing subject matter experts to choose available hardware and software, they have developed a state-of-the-art, modular testing platform based on LabVIEW software and National Instruments hardware. Further improvements to sensors and analyzers and highly resolved flow-control has aided in HSL’s ability to collect and process data more quickly, while improving the accuracy of the data.