Advanced Photogrammetry for Flexible, Intelligent Robot Manufacturing (AFFIRM)

Lead Participant: INSPHERE LTD


**Vision**: UK businesses INSPHERE and Createc have technologies that together could revolutionise advanced welding and inspection for safety-critical component manufacture. AFFIRM takes INSPHERE's new and highly innovative IONA system for real-time monitoring and control of robots and advances it alongside Createc's in-situ radiography weld-inspection technology. This will develop technology for advanced automated safety-critical component manufacture in key UK industrial sectors (e.g., nuclear, offshore energy). These two SMEs will be supported by the University of Sheffield's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (UoS, Nuclear AMRC) to demonstrate safe, accurate robot processes enabled by the accurate monitoring that IONA can offer, covering both welding operations and in-process weld inspection using a multi robot-based radiography approach.

**Opportunity**: UK industrial robotics markets could reach £0.5bn by 2030, and Global nuclear reactor markets ~$55.71billion by 2027\. Nuclear has gained renewed traction towards reaching net-zero energy targets (COP26). Recent UK policy should unlock large-scale nuclear (2021 Nuclear Energy Bill), Small Modular Reactors (SMR, Rolls-Royce) and High Gas Temperature Advanced Modular Reactors (HGTR/AMR, both 2030's), and fusion demonstration (2040, UKAEA). Hand in hand with this is nuclear waste management. Waste container procurement cost estimated at £4bn over the next 100years and an estimated 744,000m3 of waste to safely contain up to 2140, automation of container production will reduce production cost and enable UK supply chains to meet this demand.

**Customers**: Our primary target market is the nuclear industry supply chain, followed by offshore energy. We will use production of safety-critical nuclear waste containers as our initial use case within the integrated advanced manufacturing cell.

**Wider picture**: AFFIRM aligns with UK Innovation priorities in Advanced Materials and Manufacturing, and Robotics and Smart Machines. Unlocking barriers to adoption of robotics in safety-critical UK industries will reduce the cost of nuclear decommissioning, the roll out and export opportunities for Small and Advanced Modular Reactors and meet UK Government offshore energy targets. AFFIRM ultimately supports nuclear and offshore energy's role in the UK and Global mission to achieve net zero.

**Outputs**: Smart Grant funding will progress the technology readiness levels (TRL) of INSPHERE's IONA and Createc's weld inspection technologies from TRLs3-6 for safety-critical advanced manufacturing. These will be demonstrated in an advanced manufacturing cell at the Nuclear AMRC. The next stage towards commercialisation will be a pilot scheme installing demonstrator cells in customer facilities working with our Advisory Group, and the wider Nuclear AMRC membership group.

**Path Planning**: Robotic welding has emerged as a popular technology in the manufacturing industry as it provides various benefits such as increased efficiency, precision, and repeatability. However, the current process for robotic welding still requires a manual process to design the path the welding head needs to take. This process can be time-consuming and laborious, which limits the flexibility of automated welding in complex sub-assembly builds. Createc, a UK-based engineering firm, aims to streamline and automate this process by developing a smart path planning system that integrates a high-resolution 3D imaging depth camera with a robotic arm.
The proposed smart path planning system will produce a highly accurate 3D model of the workpiece/pieces by integrating a high-resolution 3D imaging depth camera with a robotic arm and using IONA's high accuracy positioning. The system will then develop an integrated weld path planning routine that can be used by NAMRC welding robotics technology. This scanning and path planning pipeline will enable flexible on-the-spot weld planning for a range of use cases.
One such use case where the proposed smart path planning system will be beneficial is in the manufacturing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs are complicated builds that consist of hundreds of subassembly pieces, all of which are currently processed manually through long assembly lines. The proposed smart path planning system will enable automated welding for complex builds like SMRs, reducing the need for human labour and decreasing the time and costs associated with manual welding.
In conclusion, Createc's proposed smart path planning system will revolutionize the current process of robotic welding by streamlining and automating the path planning process. The use of a high-resolution 3D imaging depth camera integrated with a robotic arm will enable automated welding for a range of use cases, including complex builds like SMRs. This technology will increase efficiency, precision, and repeatability while freeing up much in-demand expertise where it's most needed. Ultimately, the proposed technology will enable the growth of the welding industry by reducing the need for manual labour and increasing the number of automation options available. Createc's work will contribute significantly to the growth of the UK manufacturing industry, where automation will play a crucial role in achieving competitiveness in the global market.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

INSPHERE LTD £603,402 £ 422,381


CREATEC LTD £419,504 £ 293,653
UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD £291,801 £ 291,801


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