Beaming in on new welding technology

Guests inspect  the biggest electron welding machine in the UK during its handover by manufacturer Pro-Beam to the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
Guests inspect the biggest electron welding machine in the UK during its handover by manufacturer Pro-Beam to the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.
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Scientists at the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre have scored another first by installing Electron Beam Welding system big enough to take a complete aero engine or parts for a nuclear reactor.

The machine, built by German specialist Pro-Beam to NAMRC specifications, is the UK’s largest and most versatile, capable of welding components up to eight metres long and up to three metres high and wide, while generating less heat than conventional welding.

The volume inside the chamber is more than 80 times the NAMRC’s existing Pro-Beam machine, which would take around 100 passes to make a 10cm deep weld that the new machine can make in just one go.

“It’s a fantastic, unique piece of equipment, not only in terms of its size, but also its capabilities” said NAMRC head of welding engineering, Keith Bridger.

“The design team at Pro-Beam must be congratulated because they faced some really big challenges.”

The biggest challenge was to create a machine that was as flexible as possible, while incorporating a high number of special features at the leading edge of technology to meet the NAMRC’s mission to push the boundaries of manufacturing techniques.

Keith Bridger says the new welding machine has applications in a number of different sectors, including aerospace and offshore oil and gas as well as nuclear.

The new Pro-Beam machine is big enough to weld nuclear storage vessels and complete assembles for small modular nuclear reactors, which are being developed as a lower cost and faster to build alternative to the current new generation of civil nuclear reactors.

The technology could be developed for use in manufacturing aero engines and components for massive offshore oil and gas structures.

The NAMRC could also use its new machine to develop a new additive welding technology which uses the electron beam to ‘build’ components from wire and powdered metals.

However, one of its main uses will be for developing techniques for manufacturing giant nuclear reactor components.