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ACRYLIC PLASTIC AS STRUCTURAL MATERIAL FOR UNDERWATER VEHICLES

Dr. Jerry D.Stachiw, P.E. Fellow ASME Stachiw Associates 505 Copano Ridge Road Rockport, TX 78382 USA j.stachiw@hydroports.com

Abstrocl-Underwater manned vehicles and remotely operated unmanned vehicles require for their construction materials that do not corrode in the marine environment, and do not contribute significantly to the weight of the structures. One of such materials is acrylic (polymethyl methacrylate) that, in addition to' the above amibutes is also transparent. It allows the occupants of the submersible or underwater observatories to observe and study hydrospace, in the same manner as it allows the visitors to the aquaria 10 study the denizens of the sea in safety and comfort enveloped by acrylic barriers. Historically, the primary application of acrylic was in the construction of viewports in opaque pressure hulls of submersibles, ROV's and hyperbaric chambers. However, its application does not end with viewports. Whole pressure hulls of acrylic for submersibles, underwater observatories, ROV's and hyperbaric chambers have been fabricated and successfully operated. Today acrylic submersibles operate to depths of 1000 meters (10 MPa). Depths ofup to 2438 meters (24.5 MPa) can be achieved economically by acrylic submersibles with proper hull design, and there is no depth limit for designs of viewpons with acrylic windows. Acrylic has been found, also, to be an ideal structural material for construction of transparent walls and tunnels in land-based aquaria and shore-based underwater walkways, hotels, and laboratories where the occupants can, in comfort, observe sea life beyond the acrylic walls of the structure. Acrylic has also successfully replaced metals as construction materials for medical hyperbaric chambers utilized for pressurization of patients with oxygen The acrylic enclosures prevent attacks of claustrophobia in patients and allow unobstructed observation of the patients by the doctor while undergoing oxygen pressurization treatments This paper summarizes the proven approaches to the design of acrylic viewports and acrylic pressure vessels utilizing the empirical procedures of ASME PVHO-I Safety Standard for Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy (hereafter referred to as the Standard). It also presents for the first time the recommended analytical procedures for design of acrylic structural components

and whole acrylic structures outside the scope of the Standard which currently is limited to components of enclosed pressure vessels for human occupancy under differential pressure loading.

1.

Structural Materials for Pressure Vessels

Pressure hulls of submersibles, remotely operated vehicles

(ROV)and housings of oceanographic instnunentation packages


must be constructed of materials that not only provide structural resistance to hydrostatic pressure but are also resistant to seawater corrosion. For some, like steel which corrodes rapidly in seawater, the protection against corrosion is provided by paint overlays,. Some of the typical structural materials are listed on Table 1. There are some applications, however, where the. structural material utilized in construction of the pressure hulls must also be transparent to provide visibility far the occupants of the submersible, diving bell, observatory, underwater habitat, hyperbaric chamber or diver's hardsuit. Many transparent materials have, over the yean, been utilized in the construction of pressure resistant windows in viewports, but only two have found wide application: glass and acrylic plastic. Of these two materials, actylic has almost totally displaced glass because of its lower cost, higher reliability, availability in large sizes and thick cross-sections, and the ability to be joined by adhesive bonds whose tensile strength approaches that of the parent materials. Although the physical properties of acrylic (Table 2) do not approach those of typical structural materials (Table I) used in construction of pressure resistant vessels, they are adequate for viewports in vessels in 0 to 20,000 psi (138 MPa) and for complete pressure hulls in the 4 5 0 0 to +2l7 psi (-31 to 1.5 MPa) pressure range.

1 1 .

Viewports

The primary focus for the application of acrylic to pressure resistant vessels such as submersibles or hyperbaric chambers is windows in viewports. Since the introduction of acrylic to the construction of viewports in submersibles by Dr. Piccard in the

0-7803-8541-1/04/$20.00 @004 IEEE.

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1930s they have dominated the construction of pressure resistant viewports. Because of their wide application in many diverse pressure vessels operating in different pressure ranges, the need arose to standardize their design so that even engineen not well acquainted with the time dependent srmctural behavior of acrylic could design rapidly and reliably safe viewports. The results of these efiorts was the publication by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1977 of the first design guide for the acrylic pressure resistant viewports (Reference I ) Because its design criteria were well substantiated by extensive test data generated by the U S Navy, it was immediately adopted as a Federal Safety Standard by the US. Coast Guard, American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyds Ship Register, Det Norske Veritas, Germanischer Lloyd and other classification societies. The Standard, although conceived to serve primarily as a design guide has been adopted by jurisdictional authorities also as a safety standard. Because of this double function, the design criteria contained in the Standard serve also as rules enforceable by the appropriate jurisdictional authorities. It is because of this other function as a safety standard that the Standard limits the choices that a designer has at his disposal in selecting the shape of the viewport. Only the standard window configurations listed in the Standard (Figure 1) are acceptable without an extensive test program that needs to be conducted for any new window configuration to qualify for inclusion in the Standard. Because of these stringent test program requirements calling for extensive testing of proposed window specimens, new viewport wnfigurations have not been incorporated into the Standard since its first edition in 1977. There is, however, one advantage to the qualification test requirements for non standard window designs specified by the Standard. They describe clearly not only the test parameters, but also the character of test results the must be met in order to qualify. If the specified test values are met, the new viewport configuration is considered to have met the requirements of the Standard and no funher testing can be requested by the jurisdictional authority. This eliminates the factor of personal judgment by the inspector on the acceptability of test results. This feature alone makes it feasible to estimate accurately the extent, and thus the cost of the test program for qualification of the new window configuration which generally does not exceed 5100,000. U.S. Utilizing the standard viewport shapes defined by the Standard (Figure 1) scientific and tourist submersibles equipped with such windows have been built and successfUlly operated to depths of up to 11,000 m (36,000A) depth. Those submersibles incorporate for their pressure hulls opaque metallic spheres and cylinden, and for their viewports acrylic flat discs, spherical sectors, conical hushlms, hemispheres, and hyperhemispherical windows. By the imaginative incorporation of standard viewport shapes (Figure 1) submersibles of almost any configuration can be designed, fabricated, and qualified for service by the jurisdictional authorities without further testing of acrylic components. Since the Standard doer not place any restrictions on the size of standard viewports, the size of the submersibles is not restricted by the Standard. It is to the advantage of the designer to select only standard acrylic viewport configurations approved by the Standard and vary only their arrangement on the submersible and their attachment to the framework of the pressure hull, This does not mean that the designer cannot select a viewport configuration outside the confines of the Standard, but if he does, the cost of the

required testing may ovenhadow the operational advantage gained by the incorporation of the non standard viewport configuration on the pressure vessel.

111.

Pressure Vessels

The Standard applies only to acrylic windows in viewports located in a pressure vessel that a human being within its pressure boundary while it is under differential pressure that exceeds 2 psi (0.0138 MPa). By definition this excludes structural acrylic components under hydrostatic loading in aquaria, semi submerged ships, shore-based underwater walkways, and buildings whose interior is open to atmospheric pressure. This does not mean that engineering criteria do not exist for governing their design to prevent catastrophic failure resulting in sudden flooding and associated fatalities in these facilities. These engineering criteria, however, differ in character from the structural criteria employed by the Standard for the design of acrylic windows in viewportJ mounted on enclosed pressure vessels for human occupancy. The Standard relies in its design criteria on empirically derived conversion factors (CF) that relate the experimentally derived short-term critical pressures (STCP) of windows to their maximum safe working pressures (MWP) under long-term and cyclic service. Because of this empirical approach to sizing of acrylic windows for viewpom, stress analysis of the windows is not required. Instead one needs only the short-term critical pressure data that must be obtained by pressure testing of window specimens of the same configuration as the windows selected for installation in the pressure vessels. Since the STCP of all standard window configurations have already been generated by the U.S. Navy and are presented in the Standard in the form of empirical graphs, the designer only needs to refer to the figures in the Standard for obtaining the STCP of the desired window configuration. Subsequently the STCP is discounted by the appropriate CF specified by the Standard to arrive at the windows maximum working pressure (MWP). This approach to design of acrylic viewport windows and pressure hulls is rapid, reliable, and low cost, provided the selected window configuration is standard (Figure 1). For this reason, standard window configurations are preferred shapes of windows and of pressure hulls assembled from spherical sectors and/or cylinden

IV.

Structures Under Hydrostatic Loading

The situation is totally different for design of acrylic components in hydrostatically loadcd structures that are riot considered to be enclosed pressure vessels, and, thus, outside the scope of the Standard. As a good example can serve a walkthrough aquaria that may incorporate flat or c w e d acrylic panels, submerged tunnels, domes, tubes and other configurations of acrylic components. The tunnels, themselves, may be cylindrical or oval, only partially or fully made of acrylic. Another good example is a semi submerged platform or ship structure whose interior is open to the atmosphere and is totally or partially fabricated from acrylic. Since these structures are not included in the scope of the Standard, the design of pressure resistant envelopes and viewports mounted on them do not have to wnform to the design procedure of the Standard. Instead, the design procedure here relies on the application of safe working stresses to a stress analysis of the acrylic component in the pressure envelope, or of the whole acrylic pressure envelope. In

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this design procedure, the most important step is the finite element or analytical stress analysis of the structure. If the peak working stress at working pressure loading of the acrylic component does not exceed the recommended maximum design stress level, the acrylic component or structure can be considered safe for the working pressure. This design procedure does not differ from the standard design procedure used in the design of structures fabricated from metallic, concrete or some other s t ~ c h l r a lmaterial with well defined design stress levels that are based on their yield strength discounted by an appropriate safety factor (SF). The problem with the design procedure utilizing Stress analysis coupled with safe design stress values in sizing of acrylic srmctural components is that the magnitude of the safe design stress for acrylic has not yet been codified by any technical society for easy reference by the designer. Instead, he must derive himself the value of design stress h m the published data in technical papers and repom generated over the last 50 years since the introduction of the higher temperature resistant acrylic grade Plexiglas I1 (MIL-P5425) for aircraft glazing that has been selected by the Standard for construction of acrylic components in pressure resistant structures. To reduce the effort of searching for technical papers and reports containing mechanical test data on acrylic materials and structures on which a safe design stress can be based, a technical handbook (Reference 2) has been published summarizing this data and a website (Reference 3) has been created listing the appropriate individual reports. Tables 3 t h 6 introduce the designer to the design stresses and effective moduli of elasticity discussed in more detail in the Handbook. The structural performance of acrylic components designed on the basis of these design stresses has been found to be satisfactory. No structural failure to date of acrylic components designed on the basis of stress analysis and design stress values on Table 3 has been reported. The key features of the design process for acrylic structural components and whole structures outside the scope of the Standard
are:

Because of the complexity of the design process relying on the combination of design stresses and stress analysis designers frequently dissect a complex acrylic structure into diverse standard configuration elements supported in a metallic framework. In this manner the design of the structure is simplified, as the design of any individual standard elements (for example cylinder, spherical sectors, hyperhemispheres, and plane discs) is accomplished rapidly by application of STCP graphs and CF factors from the Standard, and the design of metallic framework is performed by applying ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) design rules. In conclusion, one p i n t must be reiterated for clarification of the design for acrylic viewports. Viewports in closed pressure vessels containing humans must be designed by the empirical procedure of the Standard. Viewports in pressure envelopes open to the atmosphere (for example tunnels in aquaria), on the other hand, may be designed either by the empirical procedure of the Standard, or by the engineering analysis, whichever is less time consuming.

V.

Summary

Definition of the maximum temperature and working pressure loading encountered during the service life of the structure. Seleetlon ofthe design stress. Its magnitude should not exceed the maximum stress values on Table 3. It is recommended to select the design stress at B lower value than the maximum values shown on Table 3. For acrylic material under tensile strain, the maximum tensile design stress on Table 3 will provide resistance to crazing in most environments for IO years. To extend further the resistance to crazing, the tensile design stress should be decreased below the maximum stress values of Table 3. For example, the material on most of the acrylic pressure resistant aquaria envelopes in modem aquaria were designed at 800 psi maximum peak tensile stress value to keep the acrylic surfaces from crazing for at least 20 years. For acrylic material under compressive strain, lowering the design stress on Table 3 will increase its static fatigue life. But regardless ofthe compressive design stress chosen, the resistance to creep buckling (static fatigue) of the structure must be calculated separately utilizing the Effective Moduli of Elasticity from Table 4 or 5. Design of structural components to satisfy the requirements of operational function. Stress malysls of the designed acrylic components. Finite stress analysis is preferable for calculation of maximum tensile and compressive stresses in complex acrylic shapes. Analytical calculation for determination of maximum stress is adequate in simple shapes.

Acrylic plastic, because ofits mechanical, chemical and optical properties, is an ideal structural material for construction of transparent structures for visual exploration of coastal waterspace and continental shelf ocean floor by means of undemater habitats, submersibles, underwater promenades, and semi submerged boats and platforms. In addition, because of its resistance to corrosion, its longevity in seawater exceeds that of other materials used in the construction of these structures. Acrylic is also the choice material for construction of windows in viewports rated for depths to 11,000 m (36,000 A). Such viewports find application in pressure vessels of opaque materials. Their configurations and design procedures have been standardized and presented in the Standard. Deviation from the standard configurations carries a large penalty in additional testing specified by the Standard for non standard configurations. The transparency of acrylic also made it the preferred construction material of medical chambers for pressurization of patients with oxygen. Unlimited visibility through the chamber wall allows the doctors to observe the patients undergoing pressurization. Design of pressure resistant structures andlor structural components that because of their function are oufside the scope of the Standard is accomplished by applying stress analysis and design stresses of experimentally validated magnitude. A discussion of the origin of design stresses and effective moduli of elasticity (Tables 3thm 6) can be found in Reference 2. Utilizing a stress analysis and these design stresses and effective moduli of elasticity, any hydrostatically loaded acrylic structures outside the scope ofthe Standard can be designed for safe service. The presentation of information on the magnitude oftensile and compressive design stresses and their time dependent effective moduli of elasticity for acrylic in this paper goes a long way to alleviating the paucity of published information on this subject. The designer wishing to understand the relationship behueen static shortterm fatigue life, static long-term fatigue life, cyclic fatigue life and magnitude of design stresses is referred to Reference 2.

VI.

Recommendations

Wherever feasible, select standard acrylic window configurations for viewports (Reference I ) and the empirical procedure for designing them specified by the Standard.

When operational scenarios call for non standard acrylic window configurations in pressure vessels for, human occupancy, apply the empirical design procedure of the Standard (Reference 1) for non standard window configurations. For design of acrylic components in hydrostatically loaded shllctllres outside the scope of the Standard, apply the analytical or E A procedure incorporating design stresses and effective moduli of elasticity presented in this paper and in the Handbook (Reference 2).

Referenees
[I] Safety Standard for Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy. American National StandadAmerican Society of Mechanical Engineers,PVHO-l 1977 (www.asme.org, Codes and Standards). [2] J.D. Stachiw, Handbook on Acrylics for Submersibles, Hyperbaric Chambers, and Aquaria, Best Publishing Company, Flagstaff, AZ, 2003. [3] www.hvdrooorts.com

TABLE 1 PROPERTIES OF TYPICAL MATERIALS

FOR
EXTERNAL PRESSURE VESSELS

Material

Density Ibs/in3 (gm/cm3)

Modulus

of Elasticity
Mpsi (Gpa)

Compressive Yield Kpsi (Mpa)

Specific Strength Mpsiilb/in3 (cpakdcm) 116 (29) 174


(41.5)

Specific Modulus Kpsiilb/in3 (Mpdgdcm) 40.7 (17) 74


(18)

Concrete Wood Steel HY 80 Acrylic Aluminum 6061-T6 Steel

0.086 (2.4) 0.023 (0.65) 0.283 (7.85) 0.043


(1.19)

3.5 (24) 1.7 (11.7) 29 (200) 0.45 (3.1) 10.3 (71) 29

10

(69) 4. (27)

80 (551)
15 (103)

282 (69)
349 (86) 400

102
(25.4) 10.5
(2.6)

0. I (2.77)

40 (276) 130 (896)


70

(100)
458

103 25.5) I02 (25.4) I03 (25.5) 103


(25.5) 100

HY 130
Aluminum 7075-T6 Titanium
6A14Va

,284 (7.86)
0.1

(200)
10.3 (71) 16.4 (113) 29 (200) 9 (62)

(114) 700 (174)


781

(2.77) 0.16 (4.44) 0.29 (8.0)

(482)
125 (862) 238.5
(1644)

(194)

Steel Maraging

822
(205)

(36)
1 I3 (27.5)

Glass
Ceramic Alumina

0.08 (2.23)
0.13 (3.70)

200 (1380)

2500 (618) 2692 (649)

44 (303)

350 (2413)

338
(81)

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TABLE 2 MINIMUM PHYSICAL PROPERTIES OF ACRYLIC MEETING THE


REQUIREMENTS OF THE STANDARD Specified Values
Test

Procedures
ASTM D 256 ASTM D 570 ASTM D 621

Physical Property

U . S . Customary Unit

Metric Unit

lzod notched impact strength Water absorption, 24 hr Compressive deformation at 4,000 psi (27.6 MPa), at 1 2 2 9 (50'C) 24 hr Tensile: ASTM D 638 (a) ultimate strength (b) elongation at break (c) modulus ASTM D 695 Compressive: (a) yield strength (b) modulus of elasticity Shear ultimate strength ASTM D 732 ASTM D 785 Rockwell hardness Flexural ultimate strength ASTMD 790 Specific gravity ASTM D 792 ASTM E 308 Ultraviolet (290-330 nm) light Transmittance ASTM D 696 Coefficient of linear thermal Expansion at 75'F (24%) Deflection temperame under ASTM D 648 Flexure at 264 psi (1.8 MPa) PVHO-I method, Total residual monomer: Para. 2-3.8 methyl methacrylate plus

>0.25 ft-lblin-min
<0.25%

<I.O%
>9,000 psi 22% 2400,000 psi
t15,000 psi

<0.25% <1.0%

213.3 Jlm

262 MPa >2% >2,760 MPa 2103 MPa 22,760 MPa >55 MPa >M scale 90 >97 MPa 1.19 55% 75.6510' ( m " 'C)

4%

>400,000psi > ~ , O Opsi O 2M scale 90 214,000 psi 0.043 lbsiin'

4 2 5 1 0 ' (idin OF)


2185OF

<1.6%

51.6%

TABLE 3 MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE WORKING STRESS LEVELS FOR ACRYLIC UNDER LONG-TERM LOADING Maximum Allowable WorGng Stress Level, psi
Temperature, O F PC) Tension (Column A)
I900 1800

Compression (Column B)
6600 6300 5600 5000 4300 3800 3200 2400
I Rnn

40 (4)

50 (IO) 75 (25)

100 (38)

125 (52) 140 (60) 158 (70) 175 (80) I 94 (wn


NOlW

1500 1200 I100


1000

800 600

?no

I psi = 0.00689 MPa = 6.88 KPB = 6890 Pa Acrylic castings per MIL-PJ425/ASME PVHO-I

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TABLE 4 EFFECTIVE MODULI OF ELASTICITY FOR ACRYLIC UNDER MAXIMUM ALLOWABLE LONG-TERM TENSILE WORKING STRESS IN THE 40 TO 194'F (4 TO 90%) RANGE
Temperature

Duration of Loading, Days

40
50

10 24
38

75

I W
125
150

52
66

70 80 90
Noles:

158 175

194

430,000 395,000 360,000 330,000 310,000 278,000 270,OM) 240,000 198,000

390,000 350,000 310,000 275,000 245,000 209,000 194,000 165,000 110,000

373,000 322,000 272,000 229,090 193,000


155,000

140,000 110,000
60,000

331,000 282,000 237,000 190,000 153,000 116,000 103,500 77,000 33,000

I.
2.

These effective moduli of elasticity apply only to Column A design stress values s h o w on Table 3. At stress above A level, the magnitude of effective modulus of elasticity decreases significantly. The effective modulus of elasticity ( E t ) is dcfined as the applied suess divided by thc total slmin after specified duration of sustained stress
application.

TABLE 5 EFFECTIVE MODULUI OF ELASTICITY FOR ACRYLIC UNDER LONG-TERM LOADING AT 70F (24%) Stress Psi
5500
5000

1
242,000 256,000 281,000 308,000 333,000 353,000 357,000 364,000 375,000 385,000 394,000

10
197,000 213,000 243,000 272,000 291,000 316,000 336,500 339,500 342,000 345,000 357,000

Duration of Loading, Hours 100 1000


157,000 175,000 195,000 235,000 259,000 273,000 294,000 298,000 300,000 303,000 333,000 110,000 139,000 173,000 190,000 200,000 240,000 250,000 267,000 272,000

10000
73,000 100,000 128,000 148,000 155,500 182,000 200,000 210,000 215,000

4500 4000 3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 IO00 500

286,000
294,000

222,000
250,000

TABLE 6 EFFECTIVE MODULI OF ELASTICITY FOR ACRYLIC UNDER LONGTERM LOADING AT 1OO'F (38'C)
Stress psi

1 59,000 67,000 87,000 111,000 182,000 385,000

IO
53,000 64,000
80,000 100,000 167,000 333,000

Duration of Loading, Hours 100

1000
36,000 45,000 54,000 74,000 111,000 227,000

10000

3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500

45,000 56,000 69,000 91,000 143,000 286,000

27,000 32,000 40,000 53,000 80,000 166,000

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FIGURE 1 STANDARD WINDOW SHAPES


FLAT DISC WINDOW

> 12.5 mm (0.5 in.) voo > 0.125

a D
CONICAL FRUSTUM WINDOW

'.'

- a

I D , > 0.125 a >BW

> 12.5 mm 10.5 in.)

DOUBLE BEVELED DISC WLNDOW

17-

SPHERICAL SECTOR WINDOW WITH CONICAL EDGE

SPHERICALSECTOR WINDOW WITH SQUARE EDGE


t

Z 12.5 mm 10.5 in.) 3(P < a G 150'


UR, D, 0,

j.o.03

Ro

--

2Ri s i n d 2 2R. rind2 Rj+ t t sin (eo"- 421

HYPERHEMISPHERICAL WINDOW

I
NEMO WINDOW
I

rf12.5mmIO.5lnchsrl 0.035 d R i l 0 . 1 5

HEMISPHERICAL WINDOW WITH EOUATORIAL FLANGE


Rm

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