Intelligent robots tackle the hard grind

Nuclear AMRC engineers have successfully demonstrated automated grinding techniques for nuclear components, as part of a European collaboration to develop intelligent robot technologies.

The centre’s robotic and metrology engineers developed automated techniques for grinding out welds on a nuclear fuel rack base, and for deburring tube structures, using a variety of technologies developed through the Coroma project.

The three-year Coroma project brought together companies and research institutions from across Europe to develop cognitively-enhanced modular industrial robots which can perform a range of manufacturing tasks with minimal input from human operators. The applications developed by the Nuclear AMRC team were identified by one of the industrial partners, Spanish nuclear manufacturer Ensa, as a test of the Coroma technologies in a real workshop environment.

Weld grinding of the fuel rack base is currently done manually, a task taking around 80 hours, with prolonged use of hand-held grinders putting operators’ health at risk from harmful vibrations. Ensa’s challenge to the Coroma consortium was to automate the process to minimise human involvement.

The Nuclear AMRC team developed a full-scale technology demonstrator, integrating a variety of innovative digital manufacturing technologies developed by the other Coroma partners integrated with a large Staübli robotic arm. These technologies include visual scanning and analysis to map where grinding is required – a challenging task when the actual fabrication doesn’t precisely match the CAD model. The Coroma partners developed a novel scanning technology which could also be deployed for processes such as welding and additive manufacturing.

Other innovations include optimisation software to determine the most efficient way to remove the excess material, and location monitoring techniques to ensure the robot remains correctly and accurately positioned relative to the workpiece.

All of these physical and digital technologies had to be integrated into a single system. “You have lots of different hardware and software trying to talk to each other,” explains research engineer Ozan Gurdal. “What we wanted to develop was a versatile, flexible system so that you can do the integration with one click.”

The team were also challenged to deliver a cost-effective solution which will make economic sense for smaller businesses.

“What’s making it cost-effective is the engineering effort we put in,” Gurdal says. “It’s important that it’s robot independent – if you take the end effector out and put it on another robot, it’s a one-click integration. That gives you the ability to use it in different environments.”

Compared with conventional robot programming, the Coroma approach demonstrated time savings of more than 70 per cent for each pocket in the rack base – saving more than 40 hours for the complete assembly.

The second industrial use case developed by the Nuclear AMRC involved deburring of metal matrix composite tubes used in nuclear fuel assemblies. The current process takes around 85 minutes on a machine tool, followed by four hours of manual grinding.

Using a robot avoids the cost of an expensive machine tool while matching its quality, and also minimises risks to human operators. Exploiting the Coroma scanning and analysis techniques also allowed the team to streamline the process. “We completely eliminated the CAM stage, so the robot can work straight from the scan data,” Gurdal notes.

A third nuclear industry demonstrator, led by Spanish research group IK4–Ideko and the UK’s Shadow Robot Company, focused on automated ultrasonic inspection of steam generator nozzles for fault detection.

The Nuclear AMRC also worked with its sister centre, the University of Sheffield AMRC, to integrate a small robot arm onto its large Soraluce machine tool platform. The arm provides intelligent support for thin-walled parts during machining, successfully demonstrating collaborative working between the two technologies.

While all the technologies will require further development before they can be commercialised, the Coroma consortium are now looking to connect with manufacturers who are interested in putting them into production.

The €6 million Coroma project ran from 2016–19 and was funded through the European Horizon 2020 programme. The Coroma consortium includes 16 international partners from seven countries, led by IK4–Ideko.

Advanced cooling with CO2 and MQL

Tuesday 11 February 2020, Rotherham.

In its fourth annual cooling seminar, the Nuclear AMRC invites you to explore the state of the art in supercritical carbon dioxide coolant in advanced machining for the most demanding industries and applications.

The Nuclear AMRC is leading research into supercritical CO2 cooling for challenging machining tasks, and combining it with minimum quantity lubricant (MQL) techniques for optimum performance.

The technology has been shown to reduce tool wear compared to traditional oil-based coolants, but needs further R&D to optimise cutting conditions for the most demanding tasks.

This one-day forum will bring together industrial users with researchers to discuss the opportunities and challenges of CO2 coolants, and share the latest research and best practice. Confirmed speakers come from the Nuclear AMRC, University of Ljubljana and Nuclear Energy Components Ltd, with more to be announced.

Places are limited, so register today at advancedcooling4.eventbrite.co.uk

Initial funding confirmed for UK SMR

The UK SMR consortium has received match funding to support the early development of a new type of nuclear power station.

The initial investment of £18 million from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) will be matched by the consortium of nuclear, civil engineering construction and manufacturing industry firms, who have been working on the preliminary design for four years.

The power station is a compact design, the components for which will be manufactured in sections in regional UK factories, before being transported to existing nuclear sites for rapid assembly inside a weatherproof canopy. This cuts costs by avoiding weather disruptions and secures gradual efficiency savings by using streamlined and standardised manufacturing processes for its components.

By 2050, a full UK programme of up to 16 of these power stations could create up to 40,000 jobs, £52 billion of value to the UK economy, and £250 billion of exports.

The consortium is led by Rolls-Royce, with Assystem, BAM Nuttall, Laing O’Rourke, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), Atkins, Wood, The Welding Institute (TWI) and the Nuclear AMRC.

Paul Stein, Chief Technology Officer for Rolls-Royce, said: “Tackling climate change requires collaboration across industries and governments to find effective, affordable and sustainable ways of achieving net zero by 2050.

“The consortium’s work with the government shows that action is being taken to decarbonise our economy and meet our society’s vital and growing power needs. This is a very positive step forward to this next phase of the programme.”

The target cost for each station is £1.8 billion by the time five have been built, with further savings possible. Each power station will be able to operate for 60 years and provide 440MW of electricity, enough to power a city the size of Leeds.

The shared initial investment will be used to progress the significant opportunities presented by the programme; prepare it for the UK’s regulatory Generic Design Assessment process; and make final decisions on which innovations to pursue and realise. It will also generate valuable confidence that the supply chain needs to begin to prepare for a programme that could create around £52 billion of value for the UK economy.

When licensed and supported by the required enabling legislation and siting processes, the power station could provide reliable low carbon energy from the early 2030s.

The Government’s intent to support the programme was announced in July 2019.

DIT Civil Nuclear Showcase 2020

3–4 March 2020, London.

The Department for International Trade presents its Civil Nuclear Showcase, the leading event for linking the UK supply chain with the global market.

The Civil Nuclear Showcase is a unique opportunity for representatives of the international nuclear industry to meet, network and discuss the latest developments in the civil nuclear market. Senior delegates are expected from the UK and across the globe, including Canada, Central Europe, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Confirmed speakers include Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson of EDF Energy, Zheng Dongshan of CGN UK, Gwen Parry Jones of Magnox, Boiris Schucht of Urenco, and Professor Ian Chapman of UKAEA. The two-day event is facilitated by Tom Greatrex of the Nuclear Industry Association.

Taking place at a critical time for the industry, this flagship event is not to be missed.

For more information and to register, visit the DIT Civil Nuclear Showcase event page.

NIA Nuclear 2019

5 December 2019, London.

The Nuclear Industry Association presents the UK industry’s leading annual nuclear conference.

 

Now in its 19th year, the event will bring together speakers from across all parts of the nuclear industry to update and discuss key developments in 2019 and look ahead to 2020. The event will cover decommissioning, nuclear new build, export opportunities, skills and much more.

For the latest information and registration, visit the NIA Nuclear 2019 event page.

Brexit readiness seminars

25 October, Warrington & 28 October, Bristol.

This free Brexit Readiness seminar hosted by the Nuclear Industry Association aims to inform and engage with the nuclear industry and its supply chain on preparing for a potential no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

Speakers will discuss nuclear specific issues, such as safeguarding, and non-nuclear specific topics, such as immigration. This event will provide a forum to delegates to discuss issues important to them in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU, with plenty of opportunity to engage with the experts and government representatives.

Fit For Nuclear advisors from the Nuclear AMRC will offer one-to-one assessments to companies with concerns about their operations as a result of no-deal Brexit. Each session will last 10 minutes and there are a limited number available.

For more information and to book your place, follow the appropriate link below:

£220 million for fusion power development

The government has confirmed continuing funding for early development of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), the UK’s bid to build the world’s first commercial fusion power station.

The investment totalling £220 million will allow the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and partners to complete the conceptual design of STEP by 2024, with the aim of constructing a power plant by 2040. An initial £20 million funding was announced in 2018.

The STEP programme will directly create 300 jobs, with more in the UK supply chain. It builds on UKAEA’s expertise in developing spherical tokamaks – compact and efficient fusion devices that could offer an economical route to commercial fusion power. The new MAST Upgrade spherical tokamak experiment is due to start operations at Culham early in 2020, and will play a key role in the STEP design.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “This is a bold and ambitious investment in the energy technology of the future. Nuclear fusion has the potential to be an unlimited clean, safe and carbon-free energy source and we want the first commercially viable machine to be in the UK.

“This long-term investment will build on the UK’s scientific leadership, driving advancements in materials science, plasma physics and robotics to support new hi-tech jobs and exports.”

Professor Ian Chapman, CEO of UKAEA, added: “The UK has a proud heritage of pioneering developments in fusion research. This announcement demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to translating that R&D leadership into a working fusion reactor. We are excited to work with our partners to take the next step towards a fusion-powered future.”

The investment follows the £86 million National Fusion Technology Platform, announced last year as part of the Nuclear Sector Deal, which includes the new UKAEA testing facility now being constructed alongside the Nuclear AMRC on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham.

The centre will also work with UKAEA to develop the UK supply chain for fusion projects in the UK and abroad. In January, the Nuclear AMRC hosted the first STEP information event for industry and researchers. UKAEA has now released initial information on STEP procurement opportunities.

EIC Cross-Sector Decommissioning Showcase

29 October 2019, Sheffield.

Following the success of last year’s Nuclear Decommissioning Showcase, the Energy Industries Council (EIC) launches the Cross-Sector Decommissioning Showcase.

The one-day event is hosted at the Advanced Manufacturing Park Technology Centre, and will include presentations from Atkins, Sellafield Ltd, Wood, Xodus Group and the Nuclear AMRC.

The decommissioning industry forms a vital component of the global energy industry and supply chain. In the UK alone, the offshore oil and gas decommissioning sector will be worth around £15 billion over the next decade within the UK continental shelf. Globally, this figure increases to over £64 billion over the next 10 years.

In the nuclear sector, Europe is set to become the world’s largest nuclear decommissioning market by the middle of the next decade, with over half of the region’s 223 reactors scheduled to close. And decommissioning strategies for the wind industry continue to develop.

This showcase will focus on the key energy markets of the decommissioning industry, highlighting specific new business opportunities in the oil & gas, nuclear and wind sectors. This event will also draw attention to cross-sector themes between the industries that can provide synergy such as regulations, skills, collaboration and technology transfer.

For more information, visit the EIC Cross-Sector Decommissioning Showcase event page.

Nuclear AMRC welcomes new UKAEA facility

The Nuclear AMRC has welcomed a new £22 million fusion energy research facility to be built at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham.

The facility will see the  UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) working with industrial partners to put the UK in a strong position to commercialise nuclear fusion as a major source of low-carbon electricity.

Located at the heart of the UK’s advanced manufacturing region, the UKAEA base will bring 40 highly-skilled jobs to South Yorkshire. It will foster increased collaboration with research organisations including the Nuclear AMRC and its sister centre, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), both of which are based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park.

Andrew Storer, Chief Executive Officer of the Nuclear AMRC, said: “We’re delighted to welcome UKAEA to the Advanced Manufacturing Park, and to the Sheffield region’s world-leading cluster of applied innovation. We look forward to working with UKAEA at their new facility to develop manufacturing techniques for fusion power plants and help UK manufacturers win work in this growing global market.

“This development has the potential to create many jobs in the local supply chain as fusion technology matures. This is a huge deal for Sheffield and the North, and we are really pleased to have played a part in this and to be working with UKAEA.”

 

When it opens in autumn 2020, the 2,500 sq m facility will develop and test joining technologies for fusion materials and components, including novel metals and ceramics. These will then be tested and evaluated under the conditions experienced inside of a fusion reactor including high heat flux, vacuum and strong magnetic fields.

The development will help UK companies win contracts as part of Iter, the international fusion project being built in the south of France. Further ahead, it will enable technology development for the first nuclear fusion power plants which are now being designed.

The facility will require regular supplies of specialist metals and materials, providing further opportunities for UK companies.

Colin Walters, Director of the National Fusion Technology Platform at UKAEA, said: “Momentum is growing in fusion research and we believe the opening of this facility in South Yorkshire represents a practical step towards developing power plants.

“This facility will provide fantastic opportunities for UK businesses to win contracts and put UKAEA in a great position to help deliver the necessary expertise for the first nuclear fusion power stations.”

The facility is funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy as part of the Nuclear Sector Deal launched last year. An additional £2 million of investment is coming from Sheffield City Region’s Local Growth Fund.

Dan Jarvis MP, Mayor for the Sheffield City Region, said: “The Sheffield City Region is a growing hub of innovation, expertise, and knowledge. These qualities are among the reasons why the UKAEA have chosen to open a new facility in Rotherham, supported by Local Growth funding from the Sheffield City Region.

“As well as creating new skilled jobs and opportunities for collaboration with the nearby research centres, this facility will create opportunities for other businesses as specialist suppliers, boosting the region’s economy and highlighting our world-leading specialisms in advanced manufacturing.”

Professor Koen Lamberts, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, added: “This is a hugely significant and transformative announcement for our city, region and the north of England. Researchers at the University and our Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are looking forward to working with UKAEA on cutting edge research into fusion energy – a potentially world-changing future source of low-carbon electricity, which could be critical in responding to the climate emergency.”

The UKAEA facility will also complement the University of Sheffield’s new Energy Institute, which brings together capabilities from across the university to develop an affordable and clean energy future that is safe, secure and sustainable.

Nuclear South West Conference 2019

2–3 October 2019, Bridgwater.

The Nuclear South West partnership hosts an event to help companies connect with existing opportunities in the UK nuclear sector, showcase your capabilities to potential customers, and learn about the future direction of nuclear in the UK.

There continue to be huge opportunities for UK and international companies that want to be part of the UK nuclear supply chain. Many of these opportunities are in the South West of England – including the UK’s first new build in a generation at Hinkley Point C, four decommissioning sites, submarine decommissioning, as well as potential development of new technologies for small modular reactors.

With a theme of bringing innovation to nuclear, this two-day showcase and conference highlights current and future opportunities in new build, decommissioning, defence and new technologies including SMRs. Speakers include Tom Greatrex of the Nuclear Industry Association, Alan Cumming of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Andrew Storer of the Nuclear AMRC, and Professor Tom Scott of the South West Nuclear Hub.

For full details and to register, go to nsw2019.eventbrite.co.uk