Cycle time slashed for rough milling

Nuclear AMRC researchers used a range of advanced techniques to cut the time for rough milling a large nuclear forging by more than 40 per cent.

The research was part of a major investigation into innovative forging and fabrication solutions for the energy sector, led by Sheffield Forgemasters with funding from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.

Rough milling a large forged component such as a pressure vessel section can take hundreds of hours, even without the time required for set-up, movement and inspection. Reducing that time, while ensuring economic tool life and avoiding any additional manufacturing risks, can significantly increase productivity for parts with relatively high production volumes, such as components for new designs of small modular reactor (SMR).

The project focused on a large forged component representing a section of a dome, made of a low-alloy SA508 steel widely used in pressure vessels, with extensive cutting trials on the Nuclear AMRC’s Soraluce FX12000 horizontal milling machine.

The Nuclear AMRC team first considered a range of commercially available face milling tools to select the most suitable for the task. They then carried out extensive testing of the tools’ material removal performance to identify the optimum cutting conditions while ensuring the long tool life required for continuous machining of large components.

Finding the optimum conditions doesn’t just depend on the milling tool itself. “When you assemble your tool you don’t just have the face mill – you have the whole toolholder assembly,” says research engineer Ozan Gurdal. “A 100mm face mill becomes 400mm long, in addition to your spindle head and possibly an extended ram. That has an effect on the process dynamics and may lead to chatter.”

Gurdal used tap-testing to analyse the machine tool set-up – in simple terms, hitting the tool with a hammer and studying the resulting vibrations. That allowed the team to identify the vibration frequencies and regions of dynamic stability with the most productive and chatter-free cutting conditions.

“Tap-testing is a powerful technique that could provide significant cost savings compared with using conservative cutting parameters or trial-and-error tuning of cutting parameters,” notes Carl Hitchens, Nuclear AMRC head of machining and metrology. “It is common for tap-testing to identify a region of stability that is more productive than could have been found using trial-and-error, and UK industry could realise real benefits from this technology.”

After selecting dynamically stable cutting conditions to give the desired tool life, the team compared different CAM software packages and toolpath generation algorithms. The best performing toolpath was refined using physics-based toolpath optimisation software, used for high-volume production planning in the aerospace and automotive industries, which incorporates cutting trial data to model the machining response of the material.

The software could help increase productivity for relatively high-volume components for new designs of SMR, Gurdal notes. The Nuclear AMRC will now use the optimised cutting conditions identified during the project in its ongoing collaboration with the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to develop new manufacturing and fabrication methods for SMR pressure vessels.

After all the analysis and modelling, cutting trials on the selected toolpaths confirmed the predicted tool life and proved that cycle time for rough milling could be reduced by 41 per cent – potentially saving weeks of work for a full-sized pressure vessel section.

The team are now preparing a final showpiece using the techniques developed during the project, and aim to extend the research into finish machining. Gurdal will present part of the work at the ASME Pressure Vessel & Piping Conference in Prague in June.

The project was part of a major investigation supported by funding from Innovate UK. The £4 million, 33-month project led by Sheffield Forgemasters aims to reduce the cost, lead time and embodied energy of large forgings. Partners include Rolls-Royce, The Welding Institute, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, with the Nuclear AMRC providing machining and other process development support.

Researchers in residence tackle welding challenges

Two researchers from The University of Manchester are starting projects with the Nuclear AMRC to ensure that innovative welding methods don’t increase the risk of component failure.

The projects are supported by the new Researchers in Residence programme, funded by Research Councils UK to improve knowledge sharing between university-based researchers and the industry-focused Catapult network.

Of the initial 18 awards announced in March, 10 are based at centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Electron beam weld toughness

Dr John Francis, reader in welding technology at The University of Manchester, is working with the Nuclear AMRC’s electron beam welding team to minimise the risk of crack propagation in nuclear pressure vessels.

Electron beam welding can significantly reduce the time and cost of joining pressure vessel sections. Arc welding such thick sections can require 100 or more passes, and can take weeks to complete. Electron beam welding can join thick sections in a single pass – the Nuclear AMRC team have demonstrated welds of 100mm in SA508 pressure vessel steel and 150mm in S355 structural steel.

But before electron beam welds can be fully accepted into nuclear codes, you need to fully understand their performance compared with traditional arc welding. One vital measure is the weld’s toughness, a measure of its resistance to crack propagation.

In earlier research carried out as part of the Nnuman programme, Francis and colleagues found that electron beam welds of pressure vessel steel absorbed less energy in Charpy impact tests than arc welds, suggesting that they have lower toughness.

“The test results were still well within all the thresholds, but a flag has been raised because the nuclear industry is so cautious,” says Francis. “The important thing is if you’re going to adopt a new technology, it needs to be fully understood. It’s not a showstopper by any means, but we want to understand it and make sure that any detrimental effects can be mitigated by your choice of process parameters.”

The new two-year project will focus on the effects of welding speed on toughness, by carrying out a series of welds of different speed and power. “We’re looking for a fundamental understanding of any effects or relationship that may exist between welding speed and toughness,” Francis says.

The research will also investigate whether innovative heat treatment methods can reduce the loss in toughness. Unlike an arc weld, an electron beam weld can produce a thick fully-fused joint without any filler material – in theory, heating it beyond 870°C can effectively make the weld disappear by giving it a uniform composition indistinguishable from the parent steel. “We need to understand to what extent does non-uniformity persist after post-weld heat treatment, and whether any history can be erased by such re-austenising and tempering heat treatments,” Francis says.

Welding trials will be carried out using the Nuclear AMRC’s production-scale electron beam facilities, with advanced analysis at Manchester’s material characterisation laboratories.

“Working with the Nuclear AMRC gives me the opportunity to get involved with welding on a large scale, and keep the research I’m doing focused on the challenges that are relevant to industry,” Francis says. “There are challenges associated with making large components that you can’t address if you’re working exclusively in a small laboratory.”

Francis will work closely with Dr Bernd Baufeld, Nuclear AMRC research fellow for power beam and additive manufacturing. “John’s in-depth knowledge of the metallurgy of pressure vessel steel will strengthen the scientific approach at the Nuclear AMRC to improve safety-critical joints by electron beam welding,” Baufeld says. “The results of his work will help us to choose the most appropriate set of welding parameters to obtain better performance and quality.”

Reliable stress analysis

Dr Matthew Roy, lecturer in materials for demanding environments, is developing more consistent methods for identifying and analysing residual stresses which could lead to the premature failure of high-value components.

Any welding process can leave deep residual stresses in the metal around the join. That can increase the risk of fatigue and stress corrosion cracking, a particular threat for components intended to have a long service life in challenging environments.

To reduce the risk of component failure, you need to understand what residual stresses are produced by different welding and forming processes, and how they can be minimised.

One emerging technique is the contour method, which generates a detailed map of residual stress in a cut cross-section of an engineered component. Roy previously used the contour method in the Nnuman programme to study how residual stresses develop in thick-section ferritic steel plates.

“The contour method is relatively simple and uses accessible workshop equipment to assess what the residual stress is,” says Roy. “The analysis is then up to the experts, which is informally organised at the moment.”

Unlike established methods, such as the x-ray diffraction techniques currently used at the Nuclear AMRC to analyse near-surface residual stress, the contour method does not yet have a standard process which would allow comparisons of data from different sources.

Roy’s two-year project builds on his previous work to develop open-source software to allow more consistent analysis. “Because there are so many steps to the contour method, there’s lots of ways that errors such as observation bias can creep in,” he says. “The value of open source software is that if two people perform the same measurement, we can both look at the data in the exact same way.”

Roy’s research with the Nuclear AMRC will focus on developing the software to analyse complex tubular geometries, with the centre producing and preparing a range of welded and clad samples for analysis. His work will complement Francis’s investigation of electron beam welds, Baufeld notes. “I hope that, with Matthew’s help, we can measure the stresses in samples prepared in John’s project,” he says. “These results would support us in determining the optimal weld parameter set.”

Roy will also work with the Advanced Forming Research Centre in Strathclyde on components produced by forging and other processes, and draw on both centres’ networks to better understand industrial requirements.

“I want to get a feel for what appetite there is for this tool,” he says. “By working with the Catapult centres, I can get more embedded with people who care about residual stress and its measurement and the ability to assess them correctly.”



Birchwood Nuclear Exhibition 2018

26 September 2018, Birchwood Nuclear Hub.

The UK’s biggest independent nuclear suppliers’ exhibition returns to Birchwood Park, the heart of the North-West nuclear cluster.

The Engineering & Technology Solutions Exhibition will feature exhibitors from along the nuclear supply chain.

The 2018 exhibition will include technology demonstrations – including a hands-on taste of advanced manufacturing innovation aboard the AMRC Mantra travelling showcase – knowledge-sharing and technical presentations, and networking opportunities.

The event is organised by Nu-Tech Exhibitions & Events, with support from the Nuclear AMRC, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Nuclear Institute, Nuclear Industry Association, National Skills Academy for Nuclear, North-West Nuclear Forum and Birchwood Forum.

Last year’s event was attended by more than 150 companies of all sizes, with exhibitors including over 40 Fit For Nuclear manufacturers.

This year, F4N-granted companies can claim an exclusive discount on exhibition space.

For more information, go to:


Nuclear Asset Information, Monitoring and Maintenance

3–4 July 2018, Warrington.

This two-day conference will offer an in-depth look at integrated asset information strategies to support risk mitigation, enhance safety, drive efficiency and manage cost throughout the lifecycle of nuclear facilities.

The demand for longer plant life and the high rate of technological change compounds the need for the nuclear sector to understand where innovation is needed in asset information management, and how to implement that change.

The conference is targeted at cross-functional asset information stakeholders from European nuclear facilities, including senior decision makers in asset management, information systems, operational technology, instrumentation and controls, maintenance and engineering.

Speakers include Nuclear AMRC equipment qualification technical lead Chris Jenkinson.

For more information, go to

New R&D centre for Derby

The Nuclear AMRC is working with Derby City Council and local stakeholders to establish a new industrial R&D centre at the city’s Infinity Park.

The proposed new centre will complement the capabilities of the Nuclear AMRC’s core research factory on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, and its modularisation R&D facility in Birkenhead. It will also draw on the wider capabilities of the University of Sheffield AMRC cluster of advanced manufacturing centres, including the AMRC with Boeing and the AMRC Training Centre.

Infinity Park is a 100 acre technology park to the south of Derby, and part of the Nottingham and Derby Enterprise Zone. The Nuclear AMRC will initially take space in Infinity Park’s iHub facility, to develop technology demonstrators and test ideas before committing to a full-scale bespoke facility of around 5,000 square metres.

“A new facility will give us the space to establish industrial pull and develop new capabilities in technology themes such as digital controls and instrumentation, advanced simulation, equipment qualification and construction,” says Andrew Storer, Nuclear AMRC chief executive officer.

“The new centre will also act as a regional hub for on-the-ground support to manufacturers of all sizes. We have already helped dozens of Midlands-based manufacturers become Fit For Nuclear through our supply chain development programme, and want to work with even more to support their ambitions in nuclear and other high-value sectors.”

Infinity Park is located alongside the global headquarters of Rolls-Royce, the Nuclear AMRC’s founding industrial member, in the UK’s largest cluster of advanced manufacturing.

According to the Midlands Engine partnership, the region’s economy is based on a globally-significant advanced manufacturing base serving sectors such as energy, aerospace, automotive and rail, generating 31 per cent of the UK’s exports in machinery and transport.

“The location is important – there is a lot of talk about the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, and we can join these through our Birkenhead, Rotherham and Derby facilities,” Storer says. “We work with manufacturing companies large and small to help them win work in the nuclear sector, and to de-risk investments in new technologies which can be applied across a host of industries. A new facility in Derby will give us an incredible opportunity for cross-sector activities to expand our work into new areas of research.”

The Nuclear AMRC has now signed an memorandum of understanding with Derby City Council and the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, and is planning a cross-sector launch event at the iHub facility in the autumn.

The agreement will support Derby City Council and D2N2’s strategy for improving the region’s economic growth, skills and jobs. D2N2 is allocating £12.9 million to Infinity from its Local Growth Fund allocation over six years to improve infrastructure on the site.

“The iHub is a real beacon for innovation and growth and is now home to some of the most inspiring SMEs from across the UK’s planes, trains and automobiles sector. With Rolls-Royce and many other of high-tech companies in the area, it makes perfect sense to house the new innovation centre close by on Infinity Park,” says Councillor Martin Rawson, cabinet member for regeneration and the economy. “We hope that AMRC’s expertise for research and innovation, coupled with the city’s strong skills base, will reinforce Derby’s reputation as the go-to place for global manufacturing companies and act as a catalyst for attracting even more high-tech engineering and manufacturing companies to Infinity Park.”

“Our work alongside the other centres in the University of Sheffield AMRC has made the Sheffield City Region a magnet for smart inward investors,” Storer adds. “With the support of Derby City Council and D2N2, our plan is to create that same impact here at Infinity Park in Derby.

“For me, this is doubly exciting as I started work as an apprentice very close to here, so hopefully this will inspire the next generation of talented engineers – boys and girls – to continue the tradition for advanced manufacturing in Derby and the Midlands Engine.”

Nuclear industry rewards young talent

Sellafield manufacturing apprentice Aidan Bennett was among the young stars of the nuclear industry celebrating their achievements at the UK Nuclear Skills Awards.

Bennett was awarded Manufacturing Apprentice of the Year, sponsored by the Nuclear AMRC, after completing a mechanical manufacture engineering and mechanical maintenance apprenticeshipwith Sellafield Ltd. He is now working as a manufacture machinist.

L-R: Roger Lewis, Sellafield; Richard Caborn, Nuclear AMRC; Aidan Bennett; awards host Julia Bradbury.

Runners-up for the manufacturing award were Matthew Ravenscroft from Rolls-Royce and Ryan Edgely from BAE Systems.

The awards, organised by the National Skills Academy for Nuclear (NSAN) and Cogent Skills and held in Manchester, brought the nuclear industry together to celebrate the success and high achievement of individuals nominated for awards in apprentice and graduate disciplines.

“The UK Nuclear Skills Awards highlights the exceptional quality of people of all levels who are committed to careers in the nuclear sector,” said Jo Tipa, managing director of NSAN. “The dinner also highlights the vital work done by the training and education professionals working in and with the nuclear industry across the UK. I would like to personally congratulate all of the winners and finalists, they are all inspirational examples of the talent that exists in our sector.  I wish them all the very best for the future.”

Benjamin Crane of Urenco UK took the UK Nuclear Apprentice of the Year award, as well as Engineering Apprentice of the Year.

The other winners were Amy Mayor of BAE Systems, Business Service Apprentice of the Year; Daniel Hagan of Sellafield Ltd, Scientific Apprentice of the Year; Naomi Pulfrey of BAE Systems, Science Graduate of the Year; James Cross of BAE Systems, Engineering Graduate of the Year; Charlotte Burman of the Ministry of Defence, Postgraduate Student of the Year; and Lauren Eastburn and Beth Howarth-Henry, both from BAE Systems, STEM Ambassador Award.


Disk laser opens for R&D

The Nuclear AMRC’s powerful new disk laser cell is now open for collaborative R&D into high-performance welding techniques.

disk laser cell

The centre’s power beam team have completed the first welding trials, following a four-month installation of the cell.

The cell is designed to produce high-quality deep penetration joins, from around 15mm in stainless steel, over lengths of a metre or more. It features a 16kW Trumpf disk laser, the most powerful of its kind in the UK.

The laser head is carried by a six-axis gantry over a two-axis manipulator table which can carry components up to 15 tonnes, all contained in a safety enclosure measuring 10 by seven metres and eight metres height. The cell has been designed and built by Loughborough-based Cyan Tec Systems, a specialist in integrating robotic and laser systems for industrial applications.

disk laser prep

The Nuclear AMRC team will initially use the cell to investigate the viability of using the laser to weld seams on large intermediate-level waste containers for the nuclear decommissioning sector.

Laser welding promises to significantly reduce manufacturing times and costs while maintaining a high quality of weld seams. Thanks to a strictly localised high-energy input and high travel speeds of 10 metres per minute or more, the laser produces a much lower heat input than most other welding technologies, significantly reducing thermal stress and distortion.

The cell can deliver a simultaneous MIG weld for hybrid welding, which can offer a better fit-up tolerance than laser alone with less heat distortion than arc alone. The technique is used in the shipbuilding industry to join steel plates.

With further development, the cell could also be used to investigate laser cutting techniques for decommissioning.

The team now want to talk to manufacturers who are interested in developing laser welding processes for their own production, or who want to investigate innovative applications of the technology.

Industry views wanted on new UK research hubs

The Nuclear AMRC is seeking views from manufacturers on new regional R&D hubs to provides additional support in key areas of nuclear technology.

The Nuclear AMRC has launched the consultation to gauge demand from companies working in the nuclear industry and other advanced manufacturing sectors.

The consultation seeks views on what additional capabilities will deliver the most value to industry. Proposed technical areas include advanced construction techniques, equipment qualification, testing, and innovative electrical control and instrumentation (C&I) technologies.

consultation map

“The development of new advanced capabilities is an opportunity to bring high value opportunities such as C&I to the forefront of research and innovation in the UK, alongside initiatives such as modular construction and equipment qualification,” says Andrew Storer, chief executive officer of the Nuclear AMRC.

“We have already opened our R&D centre for modularisation technologies in Birkenhead, and are keen to explore what other important areas require intervention. New R&D capabilities will help reduce costs and lead time for the nuclear industry and other industries which can benefit from research in this area.”

The UK has a solid base of academic and industrial experience in many areas of technology, but a limited amount of nuclear-specific research. New build reactor vendors typically carry out research in their home country.

Increasing the UK’s C&I research capability, for example, would help the domestic supply chain move from legacy analogue systems used in existing plant, to the digital and wireless technologies systems used in new reactor designs. That would enable the UK to compete for more C&I work in operations, decommissioning, new build and future reactor development, and reduce project costs.

The consultation will seek views from the nuclear industry, academia, regional authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), as well as cross-sectoral input from other high-value industries such as construction, rail, aerospace, automotive and marine.

The Nuclear AMRC is now contacting its members and other companies it is supporting through its manufacturing innovation and supply chain development work, including manufacturers taking part in the Fit For Nuclear programme. The centre also welcomes input from any other interested company or stakeholder.


Rolls-Royce and Nuclear AMRC to build UK SMR module

Rolls-Royce has awarded a contract to the Nuclear AMRC to develop a module demonstrator for the UK SMR.

The demonstrator will develop an understanding of modules and underpin early-stage design principles which will help deliver cost and programme certainty for the manufacture, construction and through-life operation of its UK SMR power plants.

“Modular design is central to our UK SMR power station, not only for the reactor components but for the construction of the entire plant,” says Matt Blake, chief engineer for the UK SMR at Rolls-Royce. “The UK SMR uses road-transportable modules that are completed in factories and transported for direct plug-and-play installation on site, allowing a fleet of reactors to be built and operated with much greater levels of cost certainty and operational efficiency.”

RR SMR truck

Johnny Stephenson, Nuclear AMRC business development manager, said: “This is a fantastic project for our new modular manufacturing research facility in Birkenhead, where we are developing and evaluating a range of modularisation techniques which could be used to build a new fleet of SMRs. We will work with the UK SMR consortium to explore both physical and digital aspects of modularisation, using technologies that have the potential to deliver significant savings in the manufacture, assembly and operation of SMR power stations.”

Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium of British companies to design a small modular reactor power station to deliver low cost, low carbon energy to help the UK meet its carbon commitments. The Rolls-Royce-led UK SMR could produce reliable energy for as low as £60 per megawatt hour – competitive against wind and solar – and through its innovative approach to modular construction, can avoid the complexities, delays and overspends often associated with large infrastructure projects.

World Nuclear Exhibition

26–28 June 2018, Paris.

A major event for key players in the global nuclear energy sector, with 10,000 visitors and 4,000 businesses expected over three days. The WNE covers all aspects of the nuclear industry from new build and construction, through operations and maintenance to decommissioning.

With the full support of the French nuclear industry and including all the major international reactor vendors, the WNE represents a key event for companies looking to win work in the UK or international nuclear market. It is also a great opportunity to connect with companies in the French nuclear industry, including key players in the EDF/Framatome supply chain.

For full details:


The Energy Industries Council (EIC) and Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) are leading a UK delegation in partnership with the Department for International Trade (DIT). Space is available in a shared UK pavilion – visit the EIC events page for details.