On the 9th of March 2021 a group of us from the Explosive Effects on Structures module embarked on a trip to Alford Technologies in Wells. Alford Technologies specialises in developing explosive tools to support Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Breaching/Explosive Method of Entry and Explosive Engineering communities – so a great place to partake in our first face to face practical of the year. So far that week we had learnt about how blast effects different structures and materials, and it was now time to see some of that theory in action.

When we had arrived and received the safety briefings, including the inevitable COVID precautions, it was time to get hands on with the explosives to fill different shaped charges. Throughout this session we also got to learn about the different types of shape charges and what they might be used for in both commercial and military environments. It was definitely great to finally be able to get the chance to see everything we had learnt about in a practical environment.

Once we had finished preparing the charges, we headed down into the quarry to see them in action. We had a number of charges and an array of materials to use them on, including wooden posts, concrete blocks, steel bars and steel slabs, each of which we would use around 250g of explosive on. There were also big screens available in the bunker, so we were all able to watch the explosions happen in real time. Afterwards we then moved back outside to see the results. It was interesting to see how the placement, or the shape of the charge, effected the damage that was caused to the material, and then how this could lead to specific tasks being undertaken. For example, Alfords had engineered a special device which was designed specifically to cleanly cut a steel bar by focusing the energy of blast on to a specific point around outside of the metal. We had also got the opportunity to see effects such as spalling first-hand on the concrete slab. Finally, there was the opportunity to have a look at all the products Alfords had designed and learn about their function.

We also had the added bonus of having two of our lecturers, Mike and Rachael, with us on the trip. They both brought a wealth of knowledge and helped us with understanding the effects the blast waves were having on the materials. They also kept us thinking on our feet by getting us to predict the effect the charge would have on the material in question.

Overall, this trip was an amazing experience, and definitely nothing any of us had had the chance to do before. Not only was it great to experience our first practical session but seeing all my course mates and lecturers face to face for the first time was great. As a first foray into the explosive’s world, this was definitely a great way to do it and it certainly helped us visualise and understand a lot of what we had learnt in the classroom.

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