Inspection operations are usually carried out by manoeuvring robotic devices into the reactor. Since these inspections take place during an outage it is important that operators are able to carry out inspections as accurately as possible. However, the remote operation of the inspection equipment can sometimes be quite awkward, and the images are not always easy to interpret.

Specialising in computer-based training for engineering applications, The Design Company has developed seven training modules for British Energy (BE). The first course in the series covers In Service Inspection (ISI) of AGRs. Chris Molland, senior partner of The Design Company, said that the aim was to get across the complicated process of inspection in a simple way. Molland claims that: “By making it visually interesting and engaging, we aim to make the course accessible to many people, not just the maintenance staff.”

All of the training modules have been developed to be informative and easy to use, with menu-driven navigation, interactive assessments and glossaries. The software tracks the user’s progress and records all assessment details. A variety of media including 3D computer modelling and animation, QuickTime VR, interactive illustrations, video, photographs, technical illustrations and narration are employed to engage the student’s interest and to help communicate the key learning objectives.

The courses can be taken at any time, without any supervision. No pre-tutoring is needed for those with a basic level of computer literacy, and everything is contained within the course. “There’s a lot of information,” said Molland, “so it is important to ensure the user can clearly navigate through the learning material.”

BE now require all their relevant staff to go through the course. Steve Jones, of BE’s fuel handling and remote operations group, said that the training package “provides a very good grounding” for the staff. “It doesn’t replace our other methods of training, but it’s a good first building block.”

Individually tailored

Each reactor has its own subtle differences and, following the success of the initial module, BE wanted a more advanced course that would be specific to the reactor design. All the AGR reactors were computer modelled – to 0.1mm accuracy – so that any drawing or animation sequence could be created to help convey a point.

For example, with reactor inspection routes, animations of cameras carrying out inspections clearly show the student which reactor components are inspected. These animations are integrated with actual video footage and photographs captured during previous inspections.

As the AGRs have been around for several decades many members of the workforce have an in-depth knowledge of the reactors. A number of these people were consulted during the creation of the modules, particularly with respect to historical information. As a result of these training courses, when the more experienced staff retire, their intimate knowledge of the reactors will not leave with them.

Another advantage is that personnel from one site often go to another site to help with maintenance and inspection work during an outage. Molland points out that, even with similar reactors, such as at Torness and Heysham, they found many significant differences during the reactor modelling stage. The training programs allow maintenance staff to become familiar with the differences between their reactor and another before going to that reactor site.

Equipment simulation

A subsequent training program was designed to provide training for a specific piece of equipment. The Above Dome Manipulator (ADM) training module gives training on:

•The design and function of the ADM.

•The function of the ADM drive assemblies and the safety issues associated with them.

•Documentation, preparation and record production in relation to an inspection.

A detailed computer model of the ADM at Dungeness B has been built. The model can be manipulated in a variety of ways:

•The student can take assemblies apart on screen.

•Assemblies can be explored by the student picking them up on screen.

•Animated sequences convey the movement of components in a drive assembly.

This module allows personnel to learn how to drive the manipulator and to practise deploying a camera and inspecting the reactor. Until the program was developed there were very few opportunities to use the ADM before the outage. Graham Tumber, fuel route systems engineer responsible for remote inspections at Dungeness B, said that staff can now get maximum advantage from a short rehearsal time.

“In terms of training capability, the program goes some way towards addressing the problems we have with the rig. The people here do respond favourably to it as a training medium,” said Tumber. He explained how Dungeness B uses the program: “Before an outage we run a training programme, and the ADM training module forms part of that training. We try and feed as many as possible through the module, not just the drivers and inspectors, as it helps if peripheral members of our community are familiar with the equipment.”

The next generation

There are already real-time robotics simulators available for similar purposes, but many are awkward to use. The ADM training module provides all the background information and prepares users for driving the ADM. In order to combine the advantages of the real-time simulators with those of the training programs, The Design Company developed training software that would “talk” to a real-time simulator. The recently completed prototype software allows users to:

•Manipulate large 3D models in real time.

•Import models generated by the client.

•Communicate with the training software.

•Adjust lighting and camera parameters.

•Drive multiple monitors.

Although there is still much to do before simulation software will provide all of the necessary training by itself, this new generation of e-learning software goes a long way towards achieving that goal.