Virtual reality for UK research centre

26 January 2012

Two virtual reality (VR) systems have been installed at the UK's new Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) in Sheffield to help in the design and manufacture of large components for nuclear power plants.

The two systems have been designed and installed by Virtalis. The first is called ActiveCube and is described as a "multi-sided VR system that delivers an intuitive, human-scale immersive virtual experience for two to four people." Virtalis said that the NAMRC's ActiveCube "has the appearance of a floating 3.2-metre glass box ... with 3D virtual environments rear-projected." Movements within the ActiveCube are followed using a tracking system, while a hand-held controller "allows the immersive experience to be enhanced further." The user "can navigate through the virtual world, pick and manipulate component parts in real-time." The second system is a 2.8- by 4.5-metre screen known as the ActiveWall designed for up to 25 people to collaborate with ActiveCube.

NAMRC virtual reality (Virtalis)
Exploring a very familiar-looking reactor building using the ActiveCube
(Image: Virtalis)


Rab Scott of NAMRC said that this visualization will make nuclear technology more accessible than ever before. "This is because what makes the nuclear sector different is the sheer scale of components and their machining tools. We're talking about massive components weighing 40 or 50 tonnes. Any small alterations that need to be made to components that size should be made where they are manufactured, rather than at the assembly stage." He added, "We'll achieve this by scanning the components and dropping them into their virtual environment to check they fit with the other components in the assembly."

Scott commented: "We see [the systems] being linked with other VR centres worldwide to allow us to carry out international design, manufacturing and assembly reviews, as well as complex training exercises." He added, "The key to high end visualization such as this making a real impact, is for it to be sharable with partners and stakeholders. Virtual assembly is just the beginning. The ActiveCube and the ActiveWall will also be put to use in design validation, virtual training and design for maintenance."

The NAMRC was set up to support the the nuclear supply chain for the new generation of nuclear reactors. It brings together the manufacturing and engineering expertise of the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the nuclear and materials technology capacity of the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute and the experience and resources of industry leaders. Key industrial members of NAMRC include Rolls-Royce, Westinghouse, Areva, Sheffield Forgemasters and Tata Steel.

Ground was broken in November 2010 on the NAMRC by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who instead of using a conventional shovel, used a virtual reality simulator to remotely operate a digger.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News