It’s a pivotal time in the nuclear power plant industry as facilities built in the 1970s and 1980s come ready to be retrofit to meet new licensing standards. Dassault Systèmes has struck an alliance with Areva NP, a leading U.S. nuclear vendor, to apply 3D design tools to facilitate the process of plant overhauls.
Dassault and Areva NP’s metrology services division will offer services to provide nuclear plant operators with precise 3D digital representations of their facilities to expedite maintenance and help utilities retool reactors and plants to extend operations. “Because of increasing demand for additional energy, utilities which thought they’d soon be decommissioning U.S. nuclear plants are now looking at life extension,” says Rolf Gibbels, worldwide energy industry leader at Dassault. “It’s a costly and complex process and 3D technology can help.”
Areva NP provides scanning technology that employs laser light to record existing facilities’ exact, as-built geometry, which also casts light on any variances from the original design specification. Dassault’s CATIA CAD package comes into play to render the Areva NP data as a 3D model. Because most of the nuclear plants in service today were designed by teams of engineers working separately, the actual construction of a facility often doesn’t match the original design. During construction, on-site engineers would modify designs to reconcile conflicts between different design teams’ efforts, and the modifications were not always added back to the final version of the facilities’ blueprint. This can cause major complications when trying to map out maintenance and operations planning. For instance, a load-bearing beam, hidden by a wall, can add significant cost to a retrofit budget, not to mention veer a project schedule off-course.
Dassault’s DELMIA digital manufacturing software has a role as well. With it, engineers can plan maintenance and upgrades in a 3D environment based on real-life specifications, allowing them to better plan operations and optimize schedules prior to doing any physical labor.
“This lets them rehearse many times upfront in the virtual world before they take any risk in the physical world,” Gibbels says. “Actual work can be planned and laid out virtually upfront and they can optimize the best sequence of operations to ensure the shortest possible downtime and the safest, most feasible process. There’s a training component as well.”