Control system for nuclear waste robot takes off
Egremont-based systems integrator Delkia is working on a project with Kawasaki. The contract involves the development, integration and testing of software to control a robotic arm used in nuclear waste categorisation.
With five million tonnes of new waste yet to be produced by the UK’s decommissioning activities, the project aims to keep workers safe from exposure to radioactive materials.
Currently, nuclear waste across the UK’s 17 legacy nuclear sites is handled by operators wearing PPE, like gloves and air-fed suits, to dismantle equipment and manually sort materials into low, medium and high contamination risk categories. This is labour intensive and costly and means staff must work near potentially dangerous nuclear substances.
“Having robot-led waste categorisation processes in the nuclear industry is one way to ensure workers are kept safe from radioactive exposure,” explained Stuart Cheyne, UK marketing and sales manager at Kawasaki Robotics. “Manual management of nuclear waste is also costly and time-consuming, particularly in the current employment climate where many industries must cope with labour shortages.
“Nuclear clients are now turning to manufacturers like Kawasaki to provide machinery that will perform the laborious, repetitive and often dangerous tasks associated with waste categorisation,” continued Cheyne.
Building the robot is only the first step in the process, however. Delkia are responsible for the software development, integration and testing of the system to help control the movements and safety-critical functions of the robot. Having recently been granted Fit For Nuclear (F4N) status by the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, systems integrator Delkia are experienced in working within the nuclear sector.
“A key nuclear client for Delkia awarded us a contract to develop, build and test the robotic system design and we’ve been tasked with building and optimising the system prior to active commissioning,” said Mark Sisson, head of nuclear at Delkia. “Build-to-print contracts like these are great opportunities for us to combine our experience in software development and integration with Kawasaki’s extensive technical input and accessible engineer support. This is important for us during the programming stage because if we need some guidance, it’s immediately made available,” concluded Sisson.
The partnership with Kawasaki is ongoing, with all testing being carried out at Delkia’s Egremont headquarters.
“Delkia maintains a high standard of technical consultancy, honed from years of industry experience. This collaboration has already resulted in a pre-programmed robot with excellent control and functionality,” explained Cheyne. “The final model will be able to sort and manage different categories of nuclear waste, making it safer and more cost-effective than current industry processes. We look forward to future collaborations with the Delkia team.”