Fit for expansion5 May 2020
The UK Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre has been supporting nuclear supply chain development since 2011. Building on the success of its Fit For Nuclear scheme, the organisation is now exporting expertise to new markets, as Ian Williams explains.
THE UK SUPPLY CHAIN PROGRAMME Fit For Nuclear (F4N) lets companies measure their operations against the standards required to supply the nuclear industry and supports them in taking the necessary steps to close any gaps.
The F4N programme is delivered by the Nuclear AMRC, part of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult. It has been developed and refined with the support of the centre’s top tier partners, including reactor vendors, new-build developers and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). These industry leaders use F4N to identify potential companies for their own supply chains.
F4N is a journey of business improvement focused on understanding the requirements of the nuclear sector, and typically takes 12–18 months. More than 900 companies — mostly small and medium enterprises — have taken the online F4N assessment. Around 130 have been granted F4N status after driving improvements through a tailored action plan.
Participants have reported a wide range of benefits, from new contracts in a range of sectors to demonstrable improvements in quality (see case studies). In the most recent survey of participating companies, 85% say they would recommend F4N to other manufacturers. A fifth of respondents said it was too soon to report demonstrable benefits but, of the others, most said they had experienced demonstrable benefits from improvements in health, safety, environment and quality measures to new orders and new connections with nuclear buyers.
F4N status is now granted for three years, after which the company is re-assessed to the latest standards. We introduced this time limit as part of a major overhaul of the programme in late 2017, providing additional support to companies after granting and launching the F4N Connect portal as a full-searchable showcase for granted companies.
F4N Connect (connect.f4n.namrc.co.uk) is a fully- searchable online database of F4N-granted UK manufacturers that have demonstrated their ability to meet the expectations of the civil nuclear industry. The interactive portal allows companies working on nuclear projects (typically at tier two or three) to find suppliers and sub-contractors to meet their needs. Companies listed range from suppliers of nuclear-grade steels and forgings, to precision machinists, fabricators and specialist service providers.
Building on success
The F4N team have continually refined and developed the programme since its launch, in response to market demand and feedback from participating companies. We are now developing a new national supply chain programme as part of the Nuclear Sector Deal.
The new programme will build on the success of both F4N and the Civil Nuclear Sharing in Growth (CNSIG) programme, which we managed from 2014–17.
CNSIG was part-funded by UK government through the Regional Growth Fund and by Rolls-Royce, with the aim of developing the UK manufacturing supply chain through intensive support to key suppliers. Eight companies completed a four-year programme of business development and training, tailored to the specific needs of their business, supported by £1 million match-funding each. The programme included shopfloor manufacturing improvement, process improvement, leadership development and specific nuclear sector knowledge.
As of 2019, the participating companies reported that CNSIG has helped them secure £569 million of orders, creating or safeguarding 6620 jobs, and have committed an additional £52.9 million private investment.
The programme also helped our team better understand what kind of support and interventions can make the biggest impact to the supply chain. We are now applying those lessons to the new programme, which aims to ensure that UK suppliers continue to contribute strongly to domestic programmes, and also have a springboard to international markets and export opportunities.
We are leading on the development and delivery of this programme as part of the Winning UK Business working group, which was set up to deliver the Nuclear Sector Deal’s aims for the supply chain.
We are also developing new routes to help F4N companies access the Nuclear AMRC’s capabilities for manufacturing research and development. Currently, many SMEs struggle to justify the cost and time of research if there’s not an immediate payback on investment. To give companies an easy way in, we now offer client visits with technical specialists to identify where a company’s current production could be improved through process optimisation or the introduction of modern manufacturing techniques. We have also launched a Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme, a proven route for embedding innovation in smaller companies.
The Nuclear AMRC is also working with nuclear industry stakeholders in other countries to help them develop similar programmes for their own national supply chains. This work is also helping organisation to forge links with UK partners.
Last year, we successfully completed a pilot project in the United Arab Emirates to demonstrate how UK expertise can help support the new nuclear plant at Barakah.
The nine-month collaboration was based on the F4N programme, with our team guiding six UAE manufacturers through the early stages of assessment and support.
All six companies— engineering group Adyard, electrical specialist Ducab Cables, machining and fabrication group Rainbow Mechanical Solutions, sealing specialist Flexitallic, valve manufacturer Samamat, and power sector manufacturer Global Transformers — have extensive experience in the oil & gas and energy markets but are new to nuclear.
The project was a collaboration with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building four Kepco APR1400 reactors at Barakah in the west of the country. The first unit is scheduled to begin operations by early 2020.
The Nuclear AMRC team also worked with local partners including Nawah Energy Company, Khalifa University, Doosan Babcock and Atkins, with support from the UAE Department of Economic Development and UK Department for International Trade.
The results of the pilot project were presented to stakeholders in Abu Dhabi, with proposals for a full supply chain development programme now under consideration. We were also able to propose other mechanisms to support the UAE supply chain, including a collaborative UK-UAE programme of advanced manufacturing research and skills development.
There is a lot of scope for transferring the F4N model to other countries which want to boost their domestic supply chains, and also to other sectors which are facing similar challenges to nuclear in terms of supply chain capability and capacity.
We are currently working with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, another of the UK’s government-funded technology and innovation centres, to take the F4N model into the offshore wind sector.
Fit For Offshore Renewables (F4OR) aims to help the UK supply chain get ready to bid for work in the offshore renewable energy sector. A pilot programme, backed by the Scottish Government, is supporting around 20 Scottish manufacturers through the initial assessment stages and helping them develop an action plan.
Just as each company’s journey through F4N is different, the model will need to be tailored to different markets, but we have shown that it can deliver lasting value to participating companies and promote a sustainable supply chain.
GR Carr secures Hinkley order
Mechanical engineer GR Carr secured its first order for Hinkley Point C after being granted Fit For Nuclear.
The Essex-based firm won a contract for four large stainless steel fabrications which will be incorporated into the nuclear island. The order was placed by Bylor, the joint venture between Bouygues TP and Laing O’Rourke which is EDF’s lead contractor for civil works at Hinkley Point.
“Having gained our F4N status in early 2018, we initially went through the pre-qualification process with Bylor at the end of 2018,” said quality manager Dave Jefferies. “The benefits of having gone through the F4N programme were huge, as we were able to answer their questions knowledgeably and with a degree of confidence that we simply wouldn’t have had without all that we had learned from our F4N advisors.”
A&P Falmouth diversifies into nuclear
Ship repair complex A&P Falmouth entered F4N to prepare for fabrication opportunities at Hinkley Point. As an established supplier to oil & gas and other highly regulated sectors, the company found that the programme blended well with its integrated management system and established quality practices.
“We found that F4N has allowed us to measure all the good work we’ve done already,” said HSEQ director Kevin Peart. “We get audited by an awful lot of external organisations, and going through the F4N process has helped us improve a lot of our internal procedures on the design and risk side.”
The company’s action plan focused on instilling a nuclear safety culture throughout its operations, and overhauling its fabrication workshops. The team are now engaged with a number of EDF Energy’s top-tier suppliers for Hinkley Point C.
Capula is hoping to win work at Hinkley Point C
Industrial control, instrumentation and automation specialist Capula used F4N to benchmark its capabilities against the standards expected by industry leaders.
The Staffordshire-based company has decades of experience in the nuclear sector, and is aiming to become the supplier of choice to the industry.
“The Fit For Nuclear process has been a welcome opportunity to see our business through the lens of an independent eye,” commented nuclear bid writer Katie Henshall. “Not only has this allowed for improvements within our business, but also to highlight what we are doing well and what we should be taking credit for.”
As well as preparing to bid for C&I work packages at Hinkley Point C, Capula is targeting opportunities in decommissioning and in next-generation technologies such as small and advanced modular reactors.
To find out more about F4N: namrc.co.uk/services/f4n
Author information: Ian Williams is Head of supply chain development at the Nuclear AMRC