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.