Going Nuclear …

26 August 2017

…lessons for the welding industry from France


Following a visit by a French delegation to the SAIW facility in February 2016, an invitation was extended by Areva for me to visit their Heavy Equipment Manufacturing facility in Chalon/Saint-Marcel, France.This facility, which opened in 1976, and primarily manufactures the Steam Generators for the EPR Nuclear Power Plant, built some of the components for the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station and some of the components for the Koeberg steam generator replacement project are planned to be manufactured there. I recently took the opportunity to visit the facility and it became very clear to me that if we are to be able to service, from a welding perspective, a future nuclear industry in South Africa we will have to up our game substantially. The quality and professionalism of the Areva facility is simply outstanding.

AREVA Heavy Equipment Manufacturing Facility

Manufacturing methods have been studied and developed specifically for Areva’s activities over a period of more than 30 years. A key example of this is the drilling and broaching process where tubes of up to 600mm thick are drilled and broached with an accuracy of 0.01mm.A matching sample is kept of every tube sheet bored as a quality control requirement.All assembly operations are conducted in clean rooms. Unfortunately,due to the cleanliness requirements and rules of the facility, I was notable to enter the assembly area, however, I could view the operation from the outside through a glass window. The assembly is carefully controlled with each item being identified and weighed with multiple checks to ensure proper assembly.

Within the facility, there is a welding technology department, which is working on a number of new welding developments including developing welding processes for the ITER Tokamak nuclear fusion project, where, in southern France, 35 nations are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our sun and stars.

The welding technology department is also working on the development of GMAW welding techniquesas well as the automatic feed of filler material forGTAW welding in order to improve productivity and automation.

Within the facility they also have a welder training and testing facility, which is manned with training instructors and welding management. In order to work on the nuclear components as a welder, a minimum of at least 10-years training and experience is required.

Interestingly, Areva is using Electro Slag Welding as a weld build-up and cladding technique. The process is preferred for some applications due to the low dilution achieved. This welding application was not witnessed in the facility but was mentioned during discussion.Within the facility they are also using robotic GMAW welding as a cladding process. TIG ER (ElectricResistance of feed wire) is utilised in order to improve productivity.

The facility has a second welder training facility that is remote from the manufacturing facility. Here there are two welding bays with simulated environments where welders are trained and tested in a working environment (temperature and humidity controlled) with jigs for restricted access. Much of this training facility was dedicated to the use of automated welding techniques with training and development of narrow chamfer orbital TIG.

The Areva Heavy Equipment Manufacturing facility employs 364 operators – of which 62 are boilermakers and 80 are welders – 348 technicians and 205 managers and engineers. Due to the nature and quality requirements of the product manufactured at this facility, thereis a high ratio of engineers and technicians to operators. Quality control and engineering are key factors in this operation with a ratio of one manufacturing hour for each engineering hour.