Project / Automotive

SIMPLE – Single Manufacturing Platform Environment

The Simple project aims to integrate a range of machining, fabrication and inspection operations onto a single manufacturing platform. SIMPLE is supported by £1.35 million funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy (BEIS) through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) managed by Innovate UK.

By doing more operations on a single platform, and automating common tasks such as weld inspection, the SIMPLE project aims to provide significant improvement to productivity for large nuclear components measuring at least two metres. These include pressure vessel sections, large valve casings and decommissioning waste containers. The technology platform will reduce the risk of manufacturing error, and reduce costs and production time for smaller high-value nuclear components. Deployment into other sectors such as energy, oil and gas, marine and aerospace is envisaged for the future.

The development of a wider selection of machining, cladding and inspection heads for deployment on a single large manufacturing platform using Industry 4.0 techniques to analyse and act on large amounts of real-time data, could achieve cost and time savings of at least 50 per cent for a range of large complex fabrications.

As a proof of concept for the Simple approach, the project’s first phase is focused on the development of an integrated welding and monitoring tool. The 20-month programme started in January 2018, and is on track for completion in August 2019. This tool combines a range of sensors and testing tools with a mechanised arc welding head. This will allow the automated in-process inspection of welds, which improves quality and reduces the risk of failure, and so avoids any costly rework.

ESIM is one of the SIMPLE consortium partners, led by the Nuclear AMRC at Sheffield, and is developing a new hardware data acquisition (DAQ) platform for intelligent and reactive real-time weld process monitoring. ESIM has collaborated with the Nuclear AMRC team, which started bead welding trials in June 2018 using a Polysoude narrow-groove welding torch. The DAQ system records and analyses the Polysoude welding parameters, and ESIM is now developing new algorithms for real-time process optimisation.

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Moving Forward

If the first phase demonstrates the feasibility and value of integrating a range of technologies into a single automated tool, the Simple consortium aims to secure further funding to support the development and commercialisation of a fully-integrated demonstration model.

The techniques developed in the first phase may also be transferred to other processes such as additive manufacturing or machining, and will enable the integration of additional inspection processes.

The Nuclear AMRC is leading the Simple research consortium, which includes two of their sister centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) at the University of Strathclyde and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield – plus TWI and Peak NDT.

The other SIMPLE consortium partners are working on a variety of additional inspection and monitoring technologies. The AFRC and Peak NDT are collaborating on an ultrasonic inspection system, with a prototype system now installed on a welding rig at Strathclyde. TWI is developing a visual inspection system, and has recorded a series of videos of different welding processes, which will be used to train and test a neural network for real-time monitoring. The AMRC is developing a system to integrate the data from the all the sensors in real time, drawing on technology used in the automotive industry for real-time vehicle testing.