3D Laser Scanning Services: Saving Lives With Nuclear Plant Testing

The Use of 3D Robotics

Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) is the field of nuclear research concerned with the application of radiation tests in ways that are minimally harmful/invasive to the environment. A marked new addition to the tools used for this end – PRIMUS (The Platform for Robotic Inspection and Maintenance for Unstructured Settings) – is a robotic system for testing nuclear infrastructures. 

The “device” (as much as it can be called, as a hardware/software combination) is an innovative collaboration between companies Fuzzy Logic, Visionic, and Framatome. Development for PRIMUS began when they were working on the EU project RIMA (Robotics for Inspection and Maintenance) – aimed at establishing a network of digital and industrial associations to support robotics development.

The impetus for the work lies in the fact that, in order to inspect components in a nuclear power plant, certain limitations have previously been imposed. For example, non-destructive testing requires a  particular environment to ensure accurately controlled variables, and this sort of precision and isolation has not previously been easy to reproduce in-field. As a result, it has been difficult to produce reliably comparative results amongst testing environments, especially for manual tasks – such as tapping at junction points to inspect specific welds.

How 3D Laser Scanning Services Are Used

Thankfully innovation in 3D laser scanning services has made strides in the quality improvement of testing. For example, European Framatome Intercontrôle implements industrial robots to perform ultrasonic detection of possible welding deficiencies.  Using 3D scanning services, these inspections can be prepared in advance for use on-site. A roboticist can use the data scan to then plot the robot trajectory for a future inspection – potentially taking care of a host of errors in advance (and without the need for further human intervention).

During an inspection, if the testing environment is different from the initial measurements archived from a previous scan, technicians are immediately alerted that the measurements must be adjusted again. Using 3D scanning services ensures the timeliness and safety of a test environment before any employee is deployed to a direct site. 

Due to the complex safety regulations involved in a nuclear environment, each intervention of the testing process becomes an enormously costly affair. Having a threshold for allowable radiation exposure regarding personnel means a limited number of times that technicians can be sent into a closed facility (as well as high insurance expenditures for those who do). 

According to a top-level Framatome executive: “preparing the inspections is a complex, time-consuming and costly task because the environment is not easy to model. That is why we were looking for a software package that would allow us to easily redefine trajectories so that we could adapt our inspections to the conditions in each nuclear site”.

The PRIMUS platform – created to answer this call – allows service providers to respond to infrastructure inspection requests quickly and efficiently. It is largely an enhanced 3D scanning service that integrates potential hazards by first modeling the initial environment. 

Whereas ultrasound scanning was previously done with other methods, employing a 3D scanning service helps obtain far more accurate results. Also, since multiple scans have been done before the final ultrasound, researchers can finely attune the probe to its optimal position. Sensors integrated into the robot allow it to be easily realigned for subsequent data capture once the environment has been adjusted – allowing for the process of editing the test site to move ever closer to real-time manipulation (saving hours of planning and retests). 

3D laser scans are also credited with creating a more user-friendly way of sharing what data gets collected. When paired with an interface from intuitive operating systems like that which Fuzzy Logic provides, robotics programming can even be done by non-roboticists, thus eliminating many snares in productivity. Thanks to this new compound system, Framatome reports inspection times down from two weeks to just a single day.

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