Interview with Yannick Caulier, at Framatome Intercontrôle
In the nuclear industry, ultrasonic testing of welds is a key factor in ensuring the safety, integrity and productivity of infrastructures. However, current ultrasonic non-destructive testing (NDT) systems require a controlled, laboratory-like environment to be effective. They are difficult to adapt to field conditions and require the intervention of qualified technicians.
Industrial robots resolve these difficulties. Unfortunately, the remote operation of robotic manipulators requires expert roboticists and is still subject to errors. In addition, there is no ready-made solution for such field applications of inspection with robots, due to the many complicated technical obstacles to be overcome.
As part of RIMA (Robotics for Inspection and Maintenance), a European Union project that aims to establish a network of Digital Innovation Hubs and industry associations to support the development of robotics, we developed the first robotic NDT system for nuclear infrastructures for Framatome Intercontrôle in 2021. Designed jointly with Visionic, the PRIMUS platform (Platform for Robotic Inspection and Maintenance for Unstructured Settings) is a software and hardware package that can be used by non-robotic NDT operators, a major differentiating factor in the market.
PRIMUS makes it possible to quickly define robotic trajectories based on a 3D scan of the environment, which can then be easily corrected in a few clicks based on the reality on the ground using Fuzzy Studio, and then executed in real time using Fuzzy RTOS by a robot equipped with an ultrasound laser for weld inspection.
This technological innovation has reduced the time needed to inspect a weld from two weeks to one day, without the need for robotic experts.
What is the main reason why you became interested in our software?
The real-time execution of robotic trajectories created in the virtual cell and the universality of your software are the main features that won us over. They are what set your solution apart from others on the market. With competing solutions, we had the option of generating a digital twin of the structures to be inspected, and then creating robotic trajectories. However, it was not possible to execute these trajectories in real time. You were virtually the only company to offer us this option. In addition, PRIMUS is compatible with all major brands of robots.
What was your problem to be solved? Were there any particular constraints?
Framatome Intercontrôle uses industrial robots in an innovative way to solve many NDT problems. Ultrasonic detection carried out by a robot characterizes the internal volumetric defects of the weld in order to detect any cracks.
These inspections, prepared in advance on site, require a 3D scan of the weld and a measurement of the environment; each weld and each environment being geometrically unique. A roboticist then calculates the robot’s trajectory for the future inspection. At the time of inspection, if the environment is different from the initial measurements or does not correspond exactly to the archived scan, it is no longer possible to adapt the prepared trajectory directly; the measurements and trajectory calculations have to be adjusted again. The nuclear environment is complex and subject to very restrictive safety rules, with the threshold for radiation exposure of personnel being 12 millisieverts per year: each intervention is therefore costly in terms of human resources.
The complexity and cost of modelling the nuclear environment led us to look for software that would allow us to easily redefine trajectories so that we could adapt our on-site inspections.
What’s the most practical feature of our solution?
Its user-friendliness, allowing you to create robotic scenes and trajectories in just a few clicks.
What are the most important benefits of our software since its installation?
No trajectory programming required, ergonomic and versatile, usable on all PRIMUS robots, your software offers us unprecedented accessibility. We can place the robot wherever we want and generate its trajectory with just a few clicks. This is one of the aspects that most appealed to us.
It has enabled us to drastically reduce our inspection times.
If you were to recommend our solution, what advantages would you cite?
If I were to recommend your solution, in addition to the differentiating factors I’ve already mentioned, I’d also recommend it for use by non-roboticians. Both expert and non-expert profiles use PRIMUS with us.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The new MQTT exchange functionality enables us to talk to external sensors. It opens up the possibility of managing our inspections according to the robot, or the robot according to our inspections. With the implementation of PRIMUS on site, this new software functionality meets our needs as closely as possible.
We are in the process of improving our process: we are developing software to automate the creation of trajectories to be imported into Fuzzy Studio. The large number of waypoints and the specific nature of the trajectories require automation. They will be created at well-defined points and in a well-defined order in relation to the part to be inspected. The part may have specific trajectories, such as a spiral. These trajectories are executed by importing the file directly into Fuzzy Studio.