While space is touted as the final frontier, more people have visited space than the depths of the ocean. Stockton Rush and his company OceanGate are determined to change that. Using Smartsheet to coordinate OceanGate’s inventive plans for building deep-sea submersibles and University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab resources to turn the design prototypes into market-ready reality, they’re saving time, improving communication, and getting to market as fast as possible.

Diving to New Depths
Meet Stockton Rush, Co-Founder and CEO of OceanGate, a deep-sea exploration organization that builds, owns and operates manned and unmanned submersibles and promotes marine environment education.   Rush and team have spent years designing two submersible prototypes that will revolutionize the world of deep-sea exploration and research.  

According to Rush, the prototypes are more powerful than any submersible currently in existence: “They are multi-person, multi-purpose vehicles that can take up to five people 3,000 meters deep, for up to three straight days.” They will be able to take researchers and passengers alike to explore 50 percent of the ocean, unlocking a world that up until now has existed outside of our reach.

Online Collaboration Helps Bring a Concept to Life
With the business strategy firmly in place, Rush knew he needed management tools to turn it into reality, but was hesitant to use traditional project management software. 

“In the past, managing projects with Microsoft Project and Excel seemed to cause more problems than they solved,” he said. “And I only ended up using them for about 10% of my project. I needed a tool that could keep up with the speed that my teams work.”   

When Rush discovered Smartsheet, he found it met his top requirements. ”Smartsheet is a very powerful planning tool that’s simple to use and online, so it’s always available,” said Rush.  The familiar spreadsheet feel, coupled with the ability to access the information and collaborate with others - whether they were on a different coast or down at the dock, simplified and streamlined the design management process. 

Less time managing the tool and training others how to use it meant more time to actually do the work.

A Partnership Forms
With designs in hand, Rush approached the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab (APL) to form a partnership that would help transform his innovative ideas into reality. Through collaboration with the APL, a $200 million grant was secured for Rush’s submersible project, the largest federal grant that has been awarded to date.

Rush approached the APL with his submersible design at an opportune time. APL had recently established a new department known as the Collaboratorium, which serves as a shared resource for independent researchers. Its role is to help researchers, like Rush, put technology and marketing behind their concepts to help launch products, sustain momentum and secure the necessary funding to bring it all to market.

“Rush came in with the dream and we’re helping him turn it into a reality,” said Dave Dyer, Senior Engineer at the APL. “When he insisted we use Smartsheet for managing and collaborating on the project, I was skeptical that one product could really do what he said it could. ”

Building the Submersibles
Once Dyer tried Smartsheet, it didn’t take long before the tool was embraced by the APL team to manage not only the OceanGate project, but many other Collaboratorium projects as well. 

Smartsheet fit the needs of the APL team because it offers:

  • Ease of access: To create the submersibles over the course of the next 18 months, the lab will be working with hundreds of contributors, including vendors and departments in the University of Washington. “Many of our contributors – multiple vendors and departments – to the projects aren’t in this building… or even in this state. Having access wherever we are helps us communicate more efficiently,” said Dyer.
  • Flexibility:  Smartsheet enables the large team to communicate schedules, track major milestones, and set automated reminders about deadlines during every step of this project. “Some clients need marketing resources, others need help accessing funding, and others need us to construct and test models and prototypes. Smartsheet can help all those scenarios.”
  • Organized file sharing: “We view Smartsheet as a vault that lets us keep all of our documents and our entire team up to date,” said Dyer.  For instance, when working on the pressure vessel design or the weight/balance testing, the team attaches documents to specific tasks, such as design specs, buoyancy tables and images from analysis. “It’s extremely convenient. Everything we need is right there.”

As a result of these features and more, communication within the Lab is happening 25-50% faster than ever before.

Dyer adds, “Overall, Smartsheet offers unique capabilities beyond tools I have tried before –and I’ve tried almost every project tool out there. I love having automatic updates and the ability to see if Rush has logged in and updated anything. I don’t need to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes.”  

There are many eager to see the submersibles get to market. “Giving consumers the opportunity to do these deep water exploratory and educational dives is a big priority,” adds Rush. “Additionally, researchers eyes’ light up when they learn the visibility and depth clearance they’ll have in the vessels. The oil and gas industry is also interested in replacing ROVs with manned submersibles for repair and research efforts.” 

“Relying on tools like Smartsheet, along with the expertise of the university’s APL team, we’re opening up a whole new world. And that’s beyond exciting.”