Nuclear O&M goes digital23 February 2023
Bogged down with onerous paperwork, digital tooling was the obvious answer for four civil engineers working in the nuclear sector. The result was a new digital worktool that offers streamlined O&M with fewer errors, better compliance and improved quality. Siteflow CEO Louis Hauvette talks to NEI.
Above: Siteflow is a workflow management tool
In recent years a growing number of industrial sectors have been turning to technology to help them remain competitive in increasingly fast-paced and challenging business environments. In the nuclear sector, however, the adoption of digital tools has been somewhat slower.
This is set to change as nuclear power producers and their service providers come under renewed pressure to increase production capacity whilst also improving quality, reliability and accountability.
As a result, the nuclear industry is starting to look more keenly at the digital tools that could help them. One digital tool that aims to achieve those goals is Siteflow, a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) platform for service providers working in complex, highly regulated industries like nuclear. According to its developers it is the first digital solution of its kind.
Siteflow was founded in 2017 by four civil engineers working in the nuclear sector who were weighed down by paper-heavy processes and reporting requirements. Siteflow CEO Louis Hauvette comments: “For every nuclear assignment, around 70% of our time was spent dealing with paperwork. After years of study and training this seemed a poor use of skills. We felt that the hours spent on admin could and should be put to better use”.
This is a pain point shared by many, as Celine Wolf, Director of Strategy, Growth and Innovation for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Westinghouse, explains:
“As with other sensitive industries, any onsite service carried out in the nuclear sector will typically necessitate vast amounts of manually-produced documents at every stage of the procedure; including quality and compliance reports and so on. This documentation, being drawn up and often photocopied, is not only time consuming to produce, creating operational bottlenecks but also increases the risk of errors”.
Westinghouse deployed the Siteflow tool in 2022 to help them manage and track the wide range of services they provide. It was the first such external digital tool adopted by the nuclear services company. A platform and tablet workflow management system that works both on- and off-line to structure and streamline technical onsite operations, Siteflow covers everything from construction to maintenance, health and safety upgrades and decommissioning. According to Siteflow, it can be tailored to any working environment and covers any field operation. The platform is also ISO Certified.
“At Westinghouse we were looking for a digital tool that would enable us to organise and streamline our services. We assessed a few solutions that were adapted to our needs. Siteflow had the edge because it combines reliable site operation management with business efficiency. It provides us with operational autonomy and allows real time coordination between onsite and back-office teams, while ensuring data protection through integrated cyber security systems,” says Wolf.
Using Siteflow tooling
Field technicians, contractors and subcontractors using Siteflow are equipped with tablets that instruct and guide them through each step of any required onsite procedure. Checklists and forms – from listings of required materials and apparatus, to work instructions and automatic risk checks – are automatically generated at every stage. This allows office teams to track real time onsite progress and stay informed if any setbacks occur.
Errors become easily identifiable and operational crews, freed from numerous traditional paper files, can focus on the technical and operational aspects. This supports improvements in the quality of maintenance operations. According to Siteflow, the overall result for users is improved performance with lower costs, fewer non-conformities and reduced error rates, as well as complete traceability and considerable time saving. As Hauvette explains: “The operational advantages of using Siteflow lie in its ability to comply with mandatory regulatory reporting requirements by automatically generating the necessary documentation for each service provided. This is a huge time saver for those operating in complex and continually evolving regulatory environments”.
As Wolf says: “Being able to efficiently generate quality compliance reports on time is key. Siteflow automatic report generation is an enabler for efficient, flawless and timely generation of final service reports”.
Another big plus is improved employee experience with paperless workflows. This is expected to having a strong positive impact on employee satisfaction levels and thus support staff retention.
“By eliminating paper heavy processes, Siteflow removes a major pain point for operations crews and therefore improves job satisfaction. It also helps create a more modern, collaborative and attractive environment for both younger and older crew members” says Hauvette.
When it comes to digital transformation, however, ensuring employee buy-in from the outset can prove tricky, particularly in sectors like the nuclear industry. As Wolf confirms: “Shifting from paper to a digital tool meant adapting, at a certain level, our internal processes and learning to think differently. In the nuclear industry, we are relying on tried, demonstrated and tested methods and processes to safely perform our work. That said, transitioning to a digital solution to support our work on site lead us to question some of our habits and ways of working in a healthy manner. Any transformation in the way we work requires effective change management and employee involvement. At Westinghouse, one of the ways we handled it was to set up multi-skilled teams, involving operational key crew members, managers, digital solution specialists from Siteflow. We also defined and executed operational pilot projects and got strongly grounded feedback from the field, eventually working collaboratively to bring forward a solution fitting the overall needs, in terms of customer, compliance, operation and process requirements. It was also a good team bonding exercise”.
To ensure a relatively painless adoption of its software, Siteflow says it provides clients with dedicated training sessions and a hotline service for questions or difficulties. “Overall, the feedback from our crews has been very positive. The adoption by the operators and field service crews was easy, with no issues for the crews on site in using the tablet and working “in digital”, even those who are less at ease with tech and computers. This was a nice surprise.
Ergonomic and intuitive use are key factors in success when adopting new tools,” notes Wolf.
Building a digital future
Hauvette welcomes the positive response, but emphasises that there is no room for complacency. The Siteflow strategy therefore also involves actively partnering with customers to ensure the platform remains best-in-class. “Today 70% of company resources are dedicated to continually developing Siteflow and creating one standard software that can be adapted to any industrial use case,” Hauvette notes. Data and development being inextricably linked, energy producers looking to optimise operations and improve the performance of assets across the value chain are now demanding more exploitable data from their service providers. Ensuring the efficient collection, treatment and analysis of data for their customers is therefore fast becoming a priority for Siteflow, too.
More generally, it appears that data will play an increasingly critical role in the renewal of the nuclear energy sector, helping to produce new solutions and improve processes. This is a trend highlighted by Wolf: “Efficient and accurate records and documentation are important in the nuclear sector. We safely perform based on years and years of documented operation and maintenance experience. Digital tools that provide structured data management, can clearly help us to even better access and analyse our onsite service records and performance, in terms of safe, compliant and effective service delivery”.
With more available data and developing technologies in a large number of areas – from nuclear plant design using 3D modelling and augmented reality, to the manufacturing of smart, connected components (IoT) to safer technical dismantling – comes the promise of a new smart industry. Hauvette believes that in the not-too-distant future industry workers will “likely function like today’s tech teams”; tackling objectives and goals in streamlined task forces, integrating digital tools in all of their processes and using automated technology to complete technical tasks. He is explicit in the scale of his ambitions, saying: “The digitalisation of the nuclear sector is really only in the starting blocks, we want Siteflow to become a leading pioneer of that digital transformation”.
Amid growing demand and steep expectations for the nuclear industry, one thing is clear: digital technologies and solutions will play a crucial role if the sector is to realise its full promise.