Students at Newcastle College’s Energy Academy are getting to grips with three new pieces of high-tech digital equipment, purchased as part of Newcastle College University Centre’s £2million investment into leading-edge STEM facilities.

The autonomous robot, industrial drone, and subsea inspection Remote Operated Vehicle will simulate the kinds of tasks that energy and engineering students might carry out on an offshore wind farm in the future.

As windfarms get bigger and further offshore, it is becoming more common practice for robots, ROVs and drones to be deployed to carry out inspections, preventing the need for engineers to climb up and carry out in-person inspections at height.

Nicola Cooke, Director of Engineering at Newcastle College, said: “This equipment will significantly enhance the learning experience of our students. Not only will they have the chance to get used to working with robots in confined spaces, but they will also learn the importance of data in monitoring and managing high value offshore wind turbines, and how to gather, evaluate and use high volumes of data. Local employers will also benefit from access to a talent pool of employees with strong vocational training in the use of advanced digital technologies.”

The decision to invest in this leading-edge equipment was made in conjunction with local industry leaders including Port of Blyth, Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, and the Subsea North East group of companies.

ORE Catapult identified that it is becoming increasingly important to use more digital technologies within the sector. Gavin Smart, Head of Analysis and Insights at ORE Catapult explains: “Robotics and autonomous systems are set to become a critical component in the safety, cost reduction and efficiency of offshore wind farm operations. They will play a key role in the safe and cost-effective operation of increased numbers of offshore wind turbines, operating in deeper waters and more challenging conditions further from shore.”

Students at Newcastle College’s Energy Academy have already begun learning to use the new equipment, giving them access to leading-edge technology and techniques and boosting their employability skills as they prepare to enter the growing energy industry, with more than 17,000 new jobs expected to be created in the sector by 2030.

Offshore Engineering and Renewable Energy student Charlie Cairns said “I’m excited to be getting real hands-on experience with this equipment. I feel like it will make me more confident when it comes to applying for jobs, and it will give me a foot in the door with employers.”

This new equipment is just one part of a wider £2million investment into STEM equipment by Newcastle College University Centre following the award of funding from the Office for Students (OfS). It comes just three years after the installation of the world’s most advanced Immersive Hybrid Reality (iHR) offshore wind training facility, securing the Energy Academy’s role as the North East’s leading training facility for offshore and subsea industry engineers.

Nicola concludes: “I’m proud to be part of bringing this investment to Newcastle College University Centre. I truly believe that this new equipment will give our students the edge they need to succeed in industry when they complete their studies.”