Small heat exchangers present big welding challenge

The Nuclear AMRC has worked with heat exchanger specialist Thornhill Group to demonstrate a new welding method for small tube-to-tubesheet assemblies which could halve cycle time.

The project called on the Nuclear AMRC’s powerful disk laser welding cell, more often used on large components of up to three metre diameter. Using the laser on tubes measuring just 8mm diameter presented numerous challenges to the centre’s engineers, who successfully demonstrated that large-capacity welding machines can be used for nuclear components of all sizes.

Thornhill Group is the only UK provider of the complete cycle of heat exchanger services encompassing design, engineering, installation, repairs and servicing for clients in power generation, oil & gas, chemical and other demanding industries. Headquartered in Yorkshire, Thornhill employs around 150 people across its three sites.

One of Thornhill’s customers in the nuclear sector was looking to implement a tube-to-tubesheet joint within a restricted space, and asked the company to investigate how this could be designed and manufactured. To complement their own expertise in heat exchanger development and fabrication, the Thornhill team called on the Nuclear AMRC to help determine the feasibility of the customer’s design.

The study for Thornhill was one of the first commercial projects for the Nuclear AMRC’s disk laser welding cell, which was commissioned in early 2018. The cell was designed to develop high-speed welding techniques for large assemblies such as 3m3 nuclear waste containers, but is also capable of very fine narrow welds thanks to the high power density of the laser beam and fast travel speed of its gantry-mounted robot.

“Thornhill’s heat exchanger was much smaller than the assemblies we usually work with, and right at the limit of what our robot and welding head can handle,” says Dr Will Kyffin, head of the Nuclear AMRC’s welding team. “The size and inertial mass of the robot meant that programming it to perform an accurate circumferential weld of just 8mm diameter was extremely challenging, especially as this was a new facility and the team were still finding out what it could really do.”

The welding head had to be customised for the job, with the large gas nozzle and shield removed in favour of a separate gas shielding nozzle, and laser power was reduced to just 2kW from its maximum 16kW. Ensuring a high quality weld meant considering a host of factors, from angle and position of the weld head, to reducing the gas flow to avoid turbulence in the molten metal.

Initial trials showed that small tube-to-tubesheet welds could be successfully completed, with welding taking just over one second for each join. Allowing for movement time, a full tubesheet could be welded in a matter of minutes.

The project proved that a robotic laser welding cell can successfully join small tube-to-tubesheet assemblies, and the customer’s design can be manufactured to requirements.

Thornhill presented their full manufacturing proposal to their customer, secure in the knowledge that it had been practically tried and tested.

“While our heat exchanger design and manufacturing expertise has been proven over many years in the nuclear industry as well as other industry sectors, this project presented unique challenges,” says Sean Murphy, Thornhill’s business development director. “Sourcing independent, authoritative data from the Nuclear AMRC, one of the world’s leading research bodies in the nuclear field, on its feasibility was invaluable in presenting our solution to the customer.”

Nuclear Innovation UK

2–3 July, Sheffield.

The Nuclear AMRC and NNL present a major conference covering research supported by the government-funded Nuclear Innovation Programme.

The UK government is investing in an ambitious multi-year research and development programme to develop the next generation of nuclear technologies. The Nuclear Innovation Programme covers a host of technology areas which will provide real commercial opportunities to companies in the supply chain for nuclear and other high-value sectors.

Join the Nuclear AMRC, National Nuclear Laboratory and international industry experts in nuclear, digital manufacturing and R&D to discover the research so far, and learn more about the opportunities to come.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dr Tim Stone, Nuclear Industry Association
  • Allan Cook, High Value Manufacturing Catapult
  • Adriènne Kelbie, Office for Nuclear Regulation
  • Dr Fiona Rayment & Steve Napier, NIRO
  • Damitha Adikaari & Si Dilks, BEIS
  • Professor Ian Chapman, UKAEA
  • Jamie Reed, Sellafield Ltd
  • Andrew Storer & Adam Bond, Nuclear AMRC
  • Paul Howarth & Professor Andrew Sherry, NNL
  • Plus project leaders for all parts of the Nuclear Innovation Programme

For the latest information and registration, visit the Nuclear Innovation UK conference microsite.

Quality assurance requirements for nuclear facilities

24 June, Birchwood; 25 June, Sheffield; 27 June, Cumbria.

Swagelok Manchester presents an introduction to quality assurance requirements and regulatory commitments at nuclear facilities – a great opportunity for Fit For Nuclear participants to learn the essentials of nuclear quality.

Delegates will learn about general quality assurance requirements, and Swagelok’s top tips on how they can be applied to nuclear facilities:

  • Basic quality requirements – training and qualification, design, material traceability, continuous improvement.
  • ONR regulations and guides: categorisation of safety functions and SSCs, integrity of metal components and
    structures, safety systems.
  • Codes and standards: ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code Section III, AFCEN RCC-M.
  • Quality requirements at specific sites: operating reactors such as Sizewell B, Torness, and Hinkley B; decommissioning sites such as Wylfa Newydd and Oldbury; non-power-producing sites such as Sellafield.

Companies can register for two free places at one of the three locations.

For more information, download the flyer or email

Wood to lead digital reactor research

Engineering group Wood is to lead the next phase of research into digital reactor design.

The research is backed by around £3.3 million from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy as part of the Nuclear Innovation Programme. The funding will allow experts from industry and academia to use collaborative virtual engineering and high-performance computing to demonstrate significant cost savings in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power reactors.

The Nuclear AMRC is part of the Digital Reactor Design Partnership led by Wood, and will integrate manufacturing data into digital models to better understand performance over the life of the reactor.

Other partners include EDF Energy, Rolls-Royce, National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre.

The first phase of the Digital Reactor Design programme successfully demonstrated a proof of concept, by developing a computer-simulated design and management platform covering the whole nuclear life cycle.

The new second phase will focus on implementing digital tools in a software framework, using real project applications to demonstrate improved efficiency, enable supply chain collaboration, and deliver cultural change across the industry.

“This project has already been highly successful in proving the concept for a new and better way of designing and building nuclear power reactors,” said Bob MacDonald, CEO of Wood’s Specialist Technical Solutions business. “We’re looking forward to working with BEIS on the next stage and taking a very significant step towards achieving the cost reduction targets proposed by the UK Nuclear Sector Deal.”

Results from the first phase will be shared at the Nuclear Innovation UK conference in July. Organised by the Nuclear AMRC and NNL, the two-day conference will include technical presentations from the full range of projects supported by the Nuclear Innovation Programme, plus key speakers from industry and government.

Andrew Stephenson, the UK’s minister for nuclear, commented: “Using state-of-the-art virtual engineering and computing technology to design and build the next generation of nuclear reactors will position the UK at the cutting-edge of low-carbon energy innovation.

“Making simulations in a virtual world allows designers to take virtual risks, reducing design times and demonstrating cost savings across the nuclear life cycle, from design through to decommissioning. This is key to achieving the cost reduction targets in the Nuclear Sector Deal and part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Wood, which acquired Amec Foster Wheeler in 2017, also recently won a major contract to provide engineering design services to Sellafield Ltd over the next 20 years. The company was selected as design and engineering partner as part of Sellafield’s new Programme and Project Partners procurement model.

Government advisors urge investment in advanced nuclear technologies

The UK government’s nuclear innovation advisors are recommending a £1 billion, five-year investment in advanced nuclear technologies to help meet the country’s clean energy commitments.

The recommendation comes in an annual report from the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (Nirab), its first since being reconvened in 2018.  Nirab brings together around 40 leading nuclear professionals from industry and academia to advise government on publicly-funded research, and is chaired by fomer Nuclear AMRC chief executive Mike Tynan.

To meet the requirements of the UK’s 2017 Clean Energy Strategy, the report urges government to work with industry to define a roadmap for future nuclear new build. A sustained cost-competitive programme of new reactors – including current Gen III+ designs as well as new kinds of advanced modular reactor (AMR) and small modular reactor (SMR) – is needed to meet legal targets for decarbonisation, and early involvement will create significant opportunities for job creation and economic growth for the UK.

Government support for demonstrating advanced reactors is essential for attracting and enabling the necessary level of private investment, the report notes, and government should invest alongside industry to facilitate an advanced nuclear technologies build programme capable of delivering an operational reactor by 2030.

The government is currently investing in new nuclear technologies through the Nuclear Innovation Programme, with £180 million committed from 2016–21. The report highlights some case studies from the current phase of the Nuclear Innovation Programme, including the Simple and Inform projects led by the Nuclear AMRC.

Over the following five years, Nirab recommends that the government invest around £1 billion in key programmes: around £600 million in advanced nuclear technology demonstration; £300 million in research to develop key UK capabilities and align the supply chain to market opportunities; and £100 million in critical infrastructure to support prototyping and demonstration of new reactor concepts.

International collaboration is vital for the UK to play a significant role in commercialising advanced nuclear technologies, the report notes. Nirab recommends that the government establishes an effective international strategy, and reviews the impact of Brexit on UK nuclear programmes once the new arrangements become clear.

To share the latest results and projects from the Nuclear Innovation Programme, the Nuclear AMRC and NNL are hosting a major two-day conference in the summer. Nuclear Innovation UK takes place on 2–3 July in Sheffield, and will feature presentations on current projects as well as discussions on future opportunities.

New robot cell focuses on innovative welding

Nuclear AMRC welding engineers are using a new robotic welding cell to investigate an arc technique which promises to cut cycle time while reducing the risk of distortion.

Cold metal transfer is a new kind of gas metal arc welding (GMAW) which can join and clad with much lower heat input than conventional methods. Standard MAG techniques usually require a continuous feed of wire into the weld pool, creating a continuous arc which rapidly builds up heat.

The trick lies in the welding head, developed by Fronius, which moves the wire backwards and forwards several times a second, breaking the arc as soon as it forms. Allowing the weld to cool between each drop reduces the risk of component distortion. The technique can also eliminate spatter, reducing the need for post-weld clean-up or providing a high-quality clad finish.

“CMT offers low dilution and a high deposition rate – compared to laser or TIG welding, it’s more efficient and economic, and can easily be automated,” says Xiaoying Honey, Nuclear AMRC welding engineer.

The CMT process was initially developed for welding thin sheets in the automotive industry, but is now finding new applications. It is ideal for steels, including stainless, as well as aluminium and galvanised sheets, and offers travel speeds of 400–500mm/min, compared with 100mm/min for TIG.

The Nuclear AMRC cell combines a Fronius TPS 400i welding system with CMT capabilities with an ABB six-axis robot arm and two-axis workpiece positioner.

The team have now completed initial cladding trials using CMT, and are now working on capability development projects alongside commercial research projects for nuclear and oil & gas applications.

The researchers will use the cell to develop automated welding techniques for high-volume products such as decommissioning waste containers. Other welding technologies, including plasma and keyhole TIG, will be added to the cell to provide a comprehensive suite of automated arc capabilities.

“This will be a multi-arc function cell,” Honey says. “We already have TIG and plasma on a column and boom for large components, but if you want to do smaller trials then you want them on the robot cell.”

The team will also develop tools for real-time weld process monitoring, including laser seam tracking, to improve weld quality, and investigate arc-based additive manufacturing techniques.

Nuclear New Build 2019

11–12 June, London.

The Nuclear Industry Association hosts the UK’s leading new build conference and exhibition.

The UK is leading the way in creating the landscape for nuclear new build, and this conference will demonstrate and celebrate progress made, building confidence in successful delivery of new nuclear build projects in the UK.

The biennial conference is set to attract delegates from across the nuclear sector from both home and abroad, and this year will have a special focus on the international market.

NNB2019 will provide a forum to hear from developers and the supply chain, establish links across the industry and unrivalled networking opportunities.

The event includes a panel discussion on the nuclear sector deal and what it means for industry, featuring Nuclear AMRC chief executive Andrew Storer.

For full details and registration, go to:


30 April – 1 May, Manchester.

TotalDecom is the UK’s premier event focusing on decommissioning challenges across all sectors – including nuclear, oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, renewables and defence.

The event includes an international decom conference on Tuesday 30 April and an integrated waste management conference in partnership with LLW Repository on Wednesday 1 May; plus a two-day expo including supply chain exhibition, presentations, one-to-ones, workshops and seminars. There’s also a grand networking dinner on the evening of 29 April.

The Nuclear AMRC will be exhibiting in the Exchange Hall of the Manchester Central venue.

For more information and to register, go to:


Nuclear AMRC Midlands opens for business

Nuclear AMRC Midlands, a new research and innovation centre to support manufacturers across the region, has opened for business in the iHub at Infinity Park, Derby.

The new centre is a major expansion of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, part of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Around 150 regional manufacturers and stakeholders attended the launch event at the iHub on Wednesday 13 February, to experience the state of the art in manufacturing R&D in the Nuclear AMRC’s new workshops, and join high-level speakers from industry and government to discuss the challenges facing manufacturers of all sizes.

Industry speakers included Dr Hamid Mughal, director of manufacturing at Rolls-Royce; Will Tanner, director of public affairs at Bombardier; and Neil Foreman, chief executive of Centronic, a new member company of the Nuclear AMRC.

Speakers from government included Craig Lester, deputy director of nuclear strategy at BEIS, presenting an update on the UK’s nuclear programme; and Councillor Chris Poulter, leader of Derby City Council, discussing regional innovation challenges.

Andrew Storer, chief executive officer of the Nuclear AMRC, said: “Our new facility in Derby gives us an incredible opportunity to work with manufacturers of all sizes operating in the most economically important industries across the Midlands. As well as helping companies win work in nuclear, the technologies we are developing can tackle the manufacturing challenges in automotive, rail, aerospace, renewable energy and many other high-value sectors.

“We have already helped dozens of Midlands-based manufacturers become Fit For Nuclear through our supply chain development programme, and want to collaborate with even more to support their ambitions to innovate and win work at home and worldwide.”

Minister for nuclear energy Richard Harrington said: “Derby is famous for setting in motion Britain’s Industrial Revolution with some of the country’s first factories and spinning mills. Now, as part of our modern Industrial Strategy, this new centre of cutting-edge nuclear technology will help to boost local jobs, growth and expertise. The centre could bring millions of pounds into the region through a thriving supply chain, to ultimately provide low-carbon nuclear electricity to millions of UK homes.”

The new facility is a collaboration between the Nuclear AMRC, Derby City Council and the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership.

Cllr Chris Poulter, Leader of Derby City Council said: “The opening of Nuclear AMRC Midlands is a great milestone for our city and for the wider region, and we know the benefits to the economy, businesses and residents will be huge over the coming years.

“By working with Nuclear AMRC, we will assist in job creation, supply chain development and business growth; as well as creating access to research and development facilities with the potential to increase productivity further and help translate academic research from the lab into the production line. We’re delighted that Derby has been chosen but particularly pleased that our own iHub facility is going to be their home.”

D2N2 is the private sector-led partnership of business, local authorities, skills and training providers, and community and voluntary services, which promotes jobs, business growth and the economy across Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire. Infinity Park is one of four sites in the Nottingham & Derby Enterprise Zone, strategically overseen by D2N2. The LEP is allocating £12.9 million to develop Infinity Park’s infrastructure, over six years, from its Local Growth Fund allocation.

Elizabeth Fagan, chair of the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “With this Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre we are looking to the future; building on Derbyshire and the wider D2N2 LEP area’s reputation for manufacturing excellence. As part of D2N2’s Nottingham & Derby Enterprise Zone, we are investing heavily in Infinity Park Derby, making it an attractive place for innovative companies to locate to do business. The Nuclear AMRC will give small and medium-sized businesses access to leading technological expertise.”

Nuclear AMRC Midlands is initially based in two workshops and two office suites within iHub. The workshops act as flexible incubators for new manufacturing technologies, operating at an earlier level of manufacturing readiness than the Nuclear AMRC’s facilities in Rotherham and Birkenhead, and exploring new technology areas.

The larger workshop is a flexible incubator for new manufacturing technologies, with an emphasis on digitalisation. It is designed to host a series of reconfigurable manufacturing bays where advanced physical and digital equipment can be configured to meet the needs of industry customers.

Technologies on show at the launch event included additive manufacturing in a variety of polymers and metals; intelligent welding tools being developed through the Nuclear Innovation Programme; innovative sensors for aircraft, part of a project with member company Atlas Composites; and an interactive virtual model of an SMR module developed in partnership with Rolls-Royce and the AMRC.

The second workshop will develop the Nuclear AMRC’s capabilities in new technical areas including controls and instrumentation (C&I) and equipment qualification. The centre is working closely with member company Ultra Electronics on initial projects, and delegates were able to view a range of Ultra’s innovative technologies including safety-critical radiation and reactor core monitoring systems.

The facility will also act as a regional base for the centre’s supply chain development programme, allowing the Nuclear AMRC team to work more closely with companies across the UK’s manufacturing heartlands and help them become Fit For Nuclear.

The iHub facility is just the first phase of Nuclear AMRC Midlands. The centre continues to work with Derby City Council, the D2N2 LEP and industrial partners to develop proposals for a bespoke research facility of around 6,000 square metres on Infinity Park. The proposed centre will focus on later-stage development in technology areas which will deliver the maximum impact for the UK’s supply chain.

South West Nuclear Hub joins for regional collaboration

The South West Nuclear Hub, based at the University of Bristol, has joined the Nuclear AMRC as a member to promote research in one of the UK’s most important nuclear regions.

Launched in 2016, the South West Nuclear Hub provides a focus for the regional nuclear community. It brings together academia, industry and the supply chain to address technical challenges faced by the industry, and will play an increasingly important role as the construction and development of Hinkley Point C gathers pace.

Tier two membership of the Nuclear AMRC gives the Hub access to the centre’s manufacturing and materials research, and allow both organisations to work together to accelerate early-stage innovation into commercial reality.

The reciprocal arrangement also sees the Nuclear AMRC join the Hub’s membership of industrial and acadamic organisations.

“The Hub is incredibly proud to add the Nuclear AMRC to its membership as well as reciprocally joining the High Value Manufacturing Catapult network,” says Professor Tom Scott, co-director of the Hub.

“By partnering in research areas such as advanced materials, structural integrity, manufacturing and robotics,  we constitute a world-leading cluster of expertise. The timing is now perfect for us to promote nuclear energy as part of a low-carbon future for the UK.”

The two organisations are already collaborating through the High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s Researcher in Residence programme, with a fellowship awarded to the University of Bristol’s Dr Nico Larrosa to work with the centre on structural integrity for safety applications.

“Collaboration with the South West Nuclear Hub represents an exciting new opportunity for us to access world-leading nuclear research,” says Ross Barrable, strategic relations manager at the Nuclear AMRC. “By combining our knowledge and expertise we will be able to focus on accelerating materials and process innovation that will ultimately serve to enhance UK supply chain capabilities.

“We are pleased to welcome South West Nuclear Hub to our membership community, and we look forward to building a long successful relationship in the years to come.”