While many may not think about nuclear power as one of the many industries making use of 3D printing, the technology’s ability to save time and money, and offer design freedom, is actually a perfect fit for nuclear power plants. The Rosatom nuclear energy corporation developed Russia’s first industrial metal 3D printer for the nuclear industry last summer, less than a year before Siemens completed the first successful commercial installation of a 3D printed part in a nuclear power plant.
Canada’s Pickering Nuclear Station is the latest to incorporate advanced technologies, such as 3D printing and virtual reality, to save on costs, increase and promote innovation, and make money for the Ontario Power Generation (OPG).
“They’re doing crazy innovations,” Jason Wight, Director of Station Engineering at the Pickering station, said about Amazon and Google, both of which have innovation centers. “We took that concept and use it in the nuclear space and think differently of the work we do.”
Wight started the X-Lab Innovation Centre at the station earlier this year, which employs six to seven permanent staff and 35 to 40 part time employees across OPG, in an effort to increase innovation at the company.
Wight said, “We’ve got an incredibly talented workforce. We need to leverage the community.”
The goal of X-Lab, which already has three of its own patents, is to think outside the box in order to create beneficial innovations and solutions for OPG.
“The beauty in it is if you’ve got a great idea, other people will work on it with you and it will grow. It’s very organic,” said Clive Bands, a Front Line Manager of Radiation Control at Pickering who is involved full-time with the X-Lab.
“We’re working on various innovative projects and building on ideas we’ve received from employees and supervisors who manage the plant. We’re working to improve efficiencies in various areas.”
Wight says the lab itself, which also has space at the University of Ontario’s Institute of Technology innovation center, works across all OPG platforms and sites.
“We really need to take advantage of the world’s technology,” Wight said at a joint meeting of the community advisory councils of Pickering and Darlington.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in the 3D printing realm.”
OPG will soon launch a new innovation portal on its website, so users can see just what the X-Lab is up to in terms of innovation. For example, the lab used 3D printing to manufacture a specific part, which was able to save OPG $2 million by reducing an outage by four days.
“It’s an opportunity to replace parts a lot faster and a lot cheaper,” Wight said. “A lot of this is understanding what’s around us.”
In addition to developing a new product with its own integrated chip, X-Lab also uses advanced, easy-to-use Google Glass technology to help OPG workers stay within safe dose areas. The lab also attached a Bluetooth wireless device to Google glasses, so “you can always know doses and where you are,” according to Wight.
Because of the possibility of running into unforeseen issues, it can be daunting to be the first in an industry to try something new, but the payout can potentially be great. For instance, X-Lab developed a virtual reality radiation test, which OPG workers can use to simulate modifying a real pump; according to Wight, the US nuclear industry is now interested in X-Lab’s VR test.
Construction errors can be reduced if workers are able to virtually practice tasks ahead of time, and X-Lab also uses VR for an air lock.
“It’s great familiarization on how to use an air lock,” Wight explained. “They can learn before getting in there.”
Not only does X-Lab create helpful innovations for its workers, the lab is also a business opportunity, which can help the company grow. He noted that X-Lab is “just getting started” with artificial intelligence, due to data security.
“The hardest job I have right now is convincing someone to try it. We’re fully supportive from the CEO down,” Wight explained.
“We’re pushing this hard. I love a company that innovates. If you’re not innovating, you’re dying.”
Now, thanks to X-Lab, OPG is moving upward and onward with its innovations.
“There were whole areas we couldn’t do things. Now we can,” Wight said. “The technology is really enabling us to get there. If you can Google it, we are going to try it. The nuclear industry in general isn’t like this. It’s hard for a nuclear station to be innovative.”
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[Source: Durham Region / Images: Jason Liebregts, Metroland]