Nuclear manufacturing

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Andrew Allcock visited the Nuclear AMRC ahead of the official opening this year. Supply chain development and manufacturing process development are key (extended version)

The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) building, located on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) between Sheffield and Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was completed and possession taken last October, with the official opening due to take place this summer. Overall, the 8,000 m2 facility's task is to help develop a supply chain of internationally competitive UK engineering companies that can not only help build the UK's new capacity, but subsequently supply the numerous other nuclear power plant projects around the world. Such companies are likely to number in the 50-100, suggests Nuclear AMRC programme manager Steve Clements, who emphasises that companies that get engaged in the UK new build will have advantages, as this country's plans and progress are ahead of other countries' efforts. "The ultimate prize is the global market," he says. Image: Inside the Nuclear AMRC, multi-level offices can be seen behind the Mori Seiki NT6600 mill-turn centre NUCLEAR ISLANDS AND MORE Associated with every nuclear power station is what is called the 'nuclear island', the steam generation sets and the 'balance of plant' elements. The latter two constitute standard kit and have no nuclear-specific requirements, although companies will be required to be "top drawer", in terms of quality and health and safety, because, says Mr Clements: "You need that nuclear safety culture running through the whole project – that's absolutely key." So, apart from nuclear reactor components for the nuclear island, there are many opportunities for companies that supply into these other areas. Nuclear AMRC helps companies considering supplying into any of these areas position themselves for nuclear projects – those that already have some nuclear industry exposure and those that are new to it. For the UK's new nuclear build, a figure of 70-80% overall local content has been bandied around as potentially realisable. Why get involved now, when there is not even a decision to build the first new nuclear power station? Because, Mr Clements, explains, Areva and Westinghouse (see box 1) have already started to compile their supply chain lists, with Areva stating that some 40-odd companies have already prequalified to bid for mechanical and electrical components, so companies need to start now to make sure they are ready. As an initial step, companies can undertake the Nuclear AMRC's online Fit for Nuclear analysis (F4N), launched in July of last year. This poses 60-odd questions in six sections. One such company is Koso Kent Introl (KKI), a specialist valve manufacturer, based in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. The company started looking at the nuclear industry some three years ago, in fact, but with no previous experience, it had assumed that it would require a nuclear industry standard accreditation, such as the ASME N-stamp. The company undertook the Fit for Nuclear online and, following initial feedback, received a visit from the Nuclear-AMRC's lead assessor, Dave Roberts, to undertake a more detailed assessment and advise the company on further steps. One of the key messages he gave the company is that it did not require ASME N-Stamp status for the particular components it could supply. Says Mr Roberts: "Nuclear quality is a confusing area, even for established manufacturers, and demystifying the requirements is a significant part of our work." USEFUL EXPERIENCE Speaking for KKI, the company's managing director, Denis Westcott, says: "Even though we had a limited amount of experience in nuclear, it was a very useful programme to talk to someone about what we need to do. If we'd carried on as we were, we'd have gone after N-Stamp, which would have been unnecessary." The F4N analysis did highlight areas of the business where KKI could improve its performance and operations, however. The model for comparison used by F4N is a business excellence model, defined with the help of the Nuclear AMRC's Tier 1 partners (see box 2). Delivery partners such as the Manufacturing Advisory Service could become involved in helping firms improve their business operations and manufacturing processes, while Nuclear AMRC might help out with more advanced process development, such as switch to one-hit processes. So far, some 60 companies have undertaken F4N, two-thirds new to the nuclear industry. The Nuclear AMRC has a target of some 300-400 companies over a three-to-four- year period, reveals Mr Clements, with this expected to deliver an anticipated 100-odd significant internationally competitive UK firms that can exploit global nuclear build. This work will stretch many years into the future. This supply chain underpins the Nuclear AMRC's mission to enhance the capabilities and competitiveness of UK manufactures. However, its core focus is on research and development. Here, the organisation is working on developing manufacturing processes in the area of what is called Manufacturing Readiness Level 4-8. The organisation's academic partner, the University of Manchester, is working at the more fundamental 1-3 levels, according to this same system of definition. The manufacturing process research focuses on the machining, fabrication and assembly of components for new nuclear power stations, based on the collaborative research model of the established University of Sheffield AMRC with Boeing, which is situated next door to the Nuclear AMRC. The focus at Nuclear AMRC is on delivering faster, more accurate, reliable processes for some critical nuclear reactor parts. Research areas at the South Yorkshire facility include: large-scale welding and cladding using robotics and adaptive control; non destructive evaluation (NDE); machine tool optimisation; large-scale demonstrators to take innovative technologies and processes to pre-production level; virtual manufacturing and assembly. Image: The Mori Seiki NT6600 mill-turn centre in close up - very long thin parts a focus of attention As at Machinery's visit, the 5,000 m2 shopfloor was quite empty, save for: a Mori Seiki 5-axis vertical machining centre NMV5000 DCG: a Mori Seiki NT6600 mill-turn centre with a 1 m diameter by 6 m, 7 tonne capacity (video of similar machine; an experimental horizontal machining centre with a portable spindle (see video above), and a large fabrication system. Most of the materials processed are high grade stainless steels. The facility's three wall Virtual Reality room was also in the final throes of commissioning – functional, but requiring some minor software adjustments. (This VR facility has been used to model the Nuclear AMRC workshop and also other companies' factories, one of the more near-term commercial uses of this technology, believes Chris Freeman, virtual reality systems developer.) Image: The Nuclear AMRC's three-wall VR facility was just undergoing final commissioning - in this picture, the positioning of the Tiefbohrtechnik ML700 machine is being considered APPLIED RESEARCH The Mori Seiki NMV5000 DCG (0844 800 7650) is being used for "applied research for partner companies", while the NT6600, serviced by a Hydrafeed barfeed (01908 376331), is intended for research on large seals and valve bodies, but has a particular focus on long thin parts with a length to diameter ratio of 150:1. Complementing this machine and component will be a Tiefbohrtechnik ML700 deep hole borer for drilling the central hole in these parts from one end – 500:1 length to diameter ratio (01675 433250). The machine will be 27 m from one end to the other and be able to drill diameters between 10 and 75 mm up to 8 m in length, and it will be the largest of its kind delivered to the UK. At the moment, such parts are drilled from either end (300:1 length to diameter ratio), meeting in the middle – the new process will require real-time drill steering to achieve this. A 'green button' process offering higher accuracy, speedier processing and the avoidance of scrap is the target – "super demanding" is how Stuart Dawson, head of machining, describes this. The sheer size of some of the parts is a challenge, requiring very large machine tools. However, Nuclear AMRC is experimenting with a moveable spindle solution, with spindle unit location via indoor GPS (within 200 microns). Fine location is undertaken via local probing, for example. The set-up in the machine shop sees a Fanuc-based parallel kinematic mechanism (PFK) support a horizontal spindle (video above). Delivered as a unit by metrology specialist Nikon (01332 811349), it employs a MAG spindle unit. This spindle sits in front of a large structure, on which parts can be bolted. Image: This repositionable hexapod spindle unit is being investigated as a solution to machining large parts Italian company QDesign Srl's RoboMOVE software ( is used to program the PKM unit: this takes standard machining G-code output from any CAM system and turns it into the necessary robot data. High speed, low force machining is being tested, with Technicut Megaflute (0114 256 0036) solid carbide tooling and Nikken (01709 366306) back-ends, the focus of attention. The machining of weld preps on large structures is one target area for its application, but the machining of non-round holes in steam generator plates (used to support pipes), in place of broaching, is another longer term aim – there are 400,000 such holes required for numerous plates for a single nuclear power station. Such a machine with four spindles would cost under £1 million, versus a large single spindle standard machine's £2.5 million, Mr Dawson suggests. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION The application of iGPS to coarse locate manufacturing technology within the whole 5,000 m2 facility, thus avoiding the need to move large and heavy parts, is a related goal in all of this – a 3 by 5 m part is currently being modelled, for example, Machinery was told. Not in the workshop, but in a one nearby, is a StarragHeckert horizontal machining centre, an HEC 1600 Athletic, which can support 8 tonnes, while a larger HEC 1800 is set to arrive this summer. This new machine will have a novel planetary turn-mill head – the first of its kind outside of StarrageHeckert. This unit has an ID scope of 530 to 1,790 mm and OD capability of 270 to 1,530 mm diameter – a conventional facing head can be used for smaller IDs. It additionally has 200 bar coolant to support deep hole drilling, while its 1,800 by 1,600 mm pallets will have a 200 rpm capability to support turning. One-hit machining of parts such as pumps and valves is a target, whose sealing surfaces cannot have a milled but instead must have a the 'scroll-type' turned finish. Much of this research will be applied to current nuclear reactor parts (generation 3+), but not all, explains Mr Dawson. For example, the machining of holes in steam generator plates will probably not be applied to the current generation, whose design is sealed, but may be for the next generation for those systems that will start to come on stream in 2025. Clearly, the Nuclear AMRC is laying UK manufacturing foundations for years to come. Extended article from here [] New nuclear so far [] Funding and income [] Nuclear manufacturing training Box item 1 New nuclear so far Three consortia have acquired five sites, all adjacent to existing nuclear generation facilities, all of which will have two or three nuclear reactors. The price of this investment is put at up to £50 billion, while build time for a nuclear power station is put at five to six years. The first to be built, although there's no final go-ahead, will be EDF Energy's Hinckley Point C, Somerset. The nuclear plant design chosen is France's Areva's 1.6 GW system. The competing system is the Westinghouse AP1000 (1.1 GW) – no consortia have yet chosen this design, although it is this one that potentially holds out the highest potential for UK content. Areva's system has an established French supply chain, although UK companies will be encouraged to work alongside French companies over the long term. However, for Hinckley Point C, all the big forgings have already been ordered in France and Japan, for example. In presentations, Westinghouse representatives have been promoting the company's 'buy where we build' message, as it has no European supply chain. Box item 2 Nuclear AMRC – funding and income The Nuclear AMRC will, like the AMRC, ultimately draw its revenue from three main sources: government funding (including from High Value Manufacturing Catapult funding); membership and member research; plus external research. This is expected to be split equally three ways. Initially, its creation was primarily supported by a £15 million grant from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and £7 million from the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward (now defunct). The European Regional Development Fund also supported the development of the centre's permanent home on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP), South Yorkshire. BIS and the Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) invested a further £8 million to expand the nuclear research laboratories at the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute. Tier 1 members – Areva; Carpenter; Dassault Systemes; Hermle; Hexagon Metrology; ITW Welding Products Group; Mori Seiki; Nuclear Engineering Services; Nikon Metrology; Rolls-Royce; Sandvik Coromant; Sheffield Forgemasters; Starragheckert; TATA Steel; and Westinghouse. These companies pay £200,000/year to be members, or contribute products or services to the value. Tier 2 companies contribute £30,000/year and these include companies such as: heavy engineering subcontractors DavyMarkham and Newburgh Engineering; cutting oils company Houghton; CNC post-processing and simulation software firm Intelligent Machining Solutions; workholding and tooling supplier Nikken Kosakusho; deep hole boring specialist Tiefbohrtechnik; cutting tool supplier Technicut; and surface finishing firm Wheelabrator. Currently with a headcount of around 40, Nuclear AMRC will ultimately have up to 120 individuals located at the facility. Box item 3> Nuclear manufacturing training A new Advanced Manufacturing Institute Training Centre, to be built close to the Nuclear AMRC, will help close the skills gap in the UK nuclear manufacturing supply chain. The AMI Training Centre will provide training in the practical and academic skills that manufacturing companies need to compete globally, from high-level apprenticeships through to Doctorate and MBA level. To be ready in autumn 2013, over 200 apprentices will enter the AMI Training Centre each year, where they will receive nine to 12 months of intensive skills training. The training schedule will be guided by the AMI's industrial partners (including Nuclear AMRC member companies) and participating companies. But life-long learning is a focus, where individuals can undertake specialised technician training, part-time undergraduate and masters study, to executive MBA and engineering doctorate study, all within the same institution. Sheffield Hallam University will deliver part-time BEng programme, while the University of Sheffield will deliver part-time MSc, MBA, Executive MBA and EngD programmes. The training centre will play a key role in the Nuclear AMRC's training and skills programme. It is also working with the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and SEMTA to create a dedicated Manufacturing Skills for Nuclear hub on the Advanced Manufacturing Park. First published in Machinery, February 2012