New projects tackle challenges of large-scale manufacturing

The Nuclear AMRC is leading two new R&D projects to address fundamental challenges in nuclear manufacturing.

The Inform and Simple projects, backed by government funding of almost £2.5 million, will investigate two contrasting approaches to producing large-scale nuclear components. Inform aims to improve the process of moving large parts between multiple machines, while Simple aims to do more operations on a single platform.

Professor Steve Jones, chief technology officer of the Nuclear AMRC, says: “Simple and Inform are based on the two different philosophies of manufacturing large high-value components – taking the part to the machine, and taking the machine to the part. Both projects aim to provide significant improvements to UK productivity, potentially cutting manufacturing time and cost by half for a variety of large nuclear components.

“By developing innovative approaches to the fundamental challenges of manufacturing, these projects will help the UK’s nuclear supply chain to compete globally. These technologies could also provide major benefits to other high-value manufacturing sectors, such as offshore renewables or oil & gas.”

The Inform project (intelligent fixtures for optimised and radical manufacture) will develop an adaptive fixturing system to ease the movement of large parts around a factory, and ensure precision throughout forging, machining, welding, inspection and assembly.

The project will develop a through-life fixture which can hold large components while they undergo a range of operations, and facilitate movement between tools. With sensors linked to actuators and manipulators, the fixture will automatically adjust its grip to minimise distortion during movement and manufacturing.

The fixturing technology will be demonstrated on large cylindrical parts representing a two-thirds scale replica of a mid-range reactor pressure vessel.

The Nuclear AMRC is leading the project, backed by around £1.1 million project funding, with partners include fixturing specialist MetLase, Sheffield Forgemasters, Cambridge Vacuum Engineering, NPL and TWI.

The funding will support collaborative R&D over 20 months, and follows an initial three-month feasibility study by the Nuclear AMRC. Ultimately, the project aims to cut cost and time for manufacturing large complex nuclear components on a series of dedicated platforms by at least 50 per cent.

Moving more efficiently between platforms isn’t the only answer to the challenges of large-scale manufacturing, however.

Simple platform concept

The second project, Simple (single manufacturing platform environment), aims to integrate a range of manufacturing operations onto a single machining platform. Supported by £1.35 million project funding, the Nuclear AMRC will lead a research consortium including two of its sister centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the Advanced Forming Research Centre and AMRC with Boeing, as well as the University of Sheffield physics department, TWI and Peak NDT.

In the first phase, the partners will develop an integrated welding and monitoring system which combines a range of sensors and testing tools with an automated arc welding head. This will allow automated in-process inspection of welds, improving quality and reducing the risk of weld failure leading to costly scrapping or rework.

Further development could then integrate this tool with a comprehensive selection of machining, cladding and inspection heads on a single large manufacturing platform. By combining conventional and advanced techniques onto a single platform, the project aims to achieve cost and time savings of at least 50 per cent for a range of complex fabrications.

Simple will focus on large components measuring at least two metres such as pressure vessel sections, large valve casings and decommissioning waste containers.

The Simple and Inform projects are funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy (BEIS) through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) managed by Innovate UK.

Both projects are supported by a range of nuclear industry partners – including reactor developers and operators, and decommissioning site owners – who will ensure the research is addressing industry challenges. The results will be shared with UK industry, including the Fit For Nuclear network of companies from along the supply chain.

Either of the two approaches may prove more beneficial for different components, and elements from both projects could be combined for specific applications to maximise productivity.