Deeply boring work at Nuclear AMRC as UK capability steps up

Posted on 29 Mar 2012

The first cutting trials of the largest and deepest hole boring machine in the UK have been successfully completed at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Research has begun at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing (Nuclear AMRC) in Rotherham to drill extremely deep holes from stainless steel rods in a single operation to manufacture vital parts for the nuclear industry.

Small diameter, super-deep holes are essential for certain nuclear reactor components in a nuclear power station. The research is the beginning of a project that will help underpin the engineering capabilities of the UK’s new nuclear build programme, say experts at the Nuclear AMRC, one of seven centres in the public-private High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

On Tuesday, test cuts for the first acceptance hole measured 16mm diameter and five metres deep. The length to diameter ratio of about 300 is comparable to some of the deepest holes in the world that can be machined with current technology.

The cut was not performed in a single operation, however – this is the end game for the scientists’ research.

Stuart Dawson, head of the machining group at the Nuclear AMRC

The TBT ML700 machine, custom-made for the Nuclear AMRC, is 27 metres long and can theoretically drill holes more than eight metres depth. The challenge for the Nuclear AMRC team and their partners is to perfect a technique to drill at such depths – at a ratio of up to 500D – in a single ‘green button’ operation. The machine is the largest ever sold by the supplier, TBT UK.

The research, which is expected to take up to three years, will perfect a manufacturing process that will enable fast, ultra-accurate production of parts for nuclear reactors, giving the UK nuclear supply chain a valuable capability.

The machine, one of a series of very large, specialist machines being delivered to the Nuclear AMRC over a 12-month period, is also available for other, non-nuclear projects such as oil & gas applications. “Any work on the TBT will involve deep hole drilling of some kind, but not necessarily to the extreme depths involved in the core project – the machine is capable of drilling holes of 5mm-110mm diameter,” says the Catapult centre’s Tim Chapman.

“The machine, like the others we have and are due to receive here, is available to any company who wants to commission some collaborative work with us – they don’t have to be a partner,” he adds.

Keeping a very long drill tool centred during a deep boring operation is technically very difficult.

Stuart Dawson, head of the machining group at the Nuclear AMRC, said in the research centre’s spring newsletter: “We want a completely green button operation with zero human intervention during the process. So we need some kind of drill steering method so it can travel eight metres down this hole and arrive at the other end within a few millimetres of its target.”

On Thursday, 250 companies were hosted by the Technology Strategy Board at the Nuclear AMRC to reveal some of the nuclear engineering capabilities mobilising ahead of the UK nuclear new build programme. Click here to link to the story.