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Sheffield Forgemasters pioneers new nuclear welding technology

Posted on 26 Feb 2024 and read 413 times
Sheffield Forgemasters pioneers new nuclear welding technologyCompletion of the first full-size Small Modular Reactor (SMR) nuclear vessel demonstrator assembly at Sheffield Forgemasters has signalled a global leap in welding technology. The company has pioneered the industrialisation of Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW), and complete weld-assembly of the vessel marks a pivotal moment in welding development, taking less than 24hr to complete four, thick, nuclear-grade welds, previously requiring a year of work to complete.

With a diameter of 3m and a wall thickness of 200mm, the construction of the vessel demonstrates the reliability and capabilities of (LEBW), setting a dramatic new standard for weld-joining thick-walled components, previously unrivalled in a demonstrator model.

Professor Jesus Talamantes-Silva, research, design and technology director at Sheffield Forgemasters, said: “We are delighted to have reached a significant milestone in assembling a nuclear vessel demonstrator, using electron beam welding for the first time at this scale, with 100% success and no defects.”

Our RD&T team deployed specially developed parameters, meticulously fine-tuned during the welding development stage, including innovative sloping-in and sloping-out techniques to start and finish the weld, ensuring a clean and complete weld join. Sheffield Forgemasters is the only company in the UK with the capability to manufacture the large forgings required for SMRs, and it now has years of developmental lead on global competitors in welding thick-walled assemblies.

Dr Michael Blackmore, senior development engineer and project lead, said: “The implication of this technology within the nuclear industry is monumental, potentially taking high-cost welding processes out of the equation. Not only does this reduce the need for weld-inspections, because the weld-join replicates the parent material, but it could also dramatically speed up the roll-out of SMR reactors across the UK and beyond — that is how signifcant the LEBW breakthrough is.”

The demonstration of LEBW technology’s potential opens new horizons for more-efficient, low-cost and less time-heavy nuclear assemblies and also has far-reaching implications for other projects which require thick-walled welded assemblies.

Dr Jacob Pope, development engineer and LEBW machine tool installation lead, added: “We thank the Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for enabling the project through its Nuclear Innovation Programme. We also thank our esteemed partner, Cambridge Vacuum Engineering, for its invaluable support throughout this endeavour. The company‘s remote and on-site assistance played an instrumental role in the success of this milestone, highlighting the collaborative spirit that drives us forward.”