Doing things differently

The two-year timeframe for the execution of the project has been another leap forward for the nuclear decommissioning industry. In the past, new equipment for deployment in an active nuclear environment has taken many years to develop and deliver. However, by applying RED’s proven recipe for accelerated innovation from the Oil & Gas sector, we’ve been able to significantly reduce both the duration and the cost of the project.

This was only made possible by Sellafield’s willingness to take a new approach in the way they are thinking and working in partnership with ‘intelligent suppliers’ like RED. Sellafield is breaking out of the old linear process and encouraging a far more agile, fast-track approach that produces better results in a fraction of the time. This is a perfect fit with RED’s approach, and the success of DPaCC is our best demonstration that it works.

Making robots think

Mark Stobo is a RED Principal Engineer and the engineering lead for the DPaCC project. A passionate advocate for robotic engineering, he’s been the driving force behind our success in adapting an ‘off-the-shelf’ robot arm to function at a far more sophisticated level.

Most industrial robots are programmed to carry out exactly the same repetitive task, over and over again. But for this project we needed a robot with the flexibility to respond to variations in the condition of the product it will be handling and adapt its actions accordingly.

Huge credit for achieving this goes to Mark and our programming expert, Tim Newsome, and also to our control system partner MJR Automation. Together they have developed a control system that combines pre-defined sub routines with operator inputs to provide the intelligence and flexibility required and enable the robot to vary its response in real time.

Getting it done

Even in normal conditions the scope, complexity and timescale of this project would have been challenging enough, but completing it through the restrictions of the COVID crisis is a testimony to the skill and dedication of our team led by Will Hopps, who took on the role of Project Manager in April last year.

The assembly and testing of DPaCC has involved marshalling the input of more than 100 supply chain partners, managing the testing and training programme with Sellafield’s own engineers and operatives here at our test facility and working closely with the client to finalise the details of the system in preparation for deployment on site.

Engineering the future

In these uncertain and challenging times, driving this project through to a successful conclusion has been an enormously positive confirmation of our ability to think outside the box – or in this case to put a robot in a box – and  make a real difference to our clients. We feel confident that this key innovation has the potential to be applied to the automation of many other processes in similarly hazardous environments.

In this new digital age of the Industrial revolution, smart machines, robotics, automation and AI are already playing a major and growing part in many areas of business and industry. We’re delighted that Sellafield has trusted us to show that RED can help lead the way in engineering and applying this technology to make even the most hazardous environment safer and healthier for those who work in it.

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