Knowing the drill with reality show

Chris Freeman and Rab Scott of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre use the Virtalis ActiveCube to plan the layout of the centre's research workshop
Chris Freeman and Rab Scott of the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre use the Virtalis ActiveCube to plan the layout of the centre's research workshop
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Researchers at South Yorkshire’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are gearing up to install a unique machine that can bore holes up to eight metres deep by using advanced virtual reality simulation.

The new deep-drilling machine, developed by German company TBT will be able to create holes that are between five millimetres and 11 centimetres in diameter and has been specially tailored to meet the NAMRC’s requirements.

Currently, the deeper holes required in nuclear components have to be made by drilling from both ends and hoping the holes meet in the middle. The process has to be stopped frequently to allow the position of the drill tip to be determined accurately using an ultrasonic probe and, even then, scrap rates can be high.

What’s more, the smaller the bore of the hole the more difficult it is to drill to any depth.

Using the TBT machine, NAMRC researchers hope to be able to drill an eight metre hole in one go, using an automated process and increase the limit on the depth of a hole from 300 to 500 times its diameter.

The TBT machine will also be available for Nuclear AMRC members and customers to use in their own research projects.

Stuart Dawson, head of the machining group at the Nuclear AMRC, said: “We want a completely green button process with zero human intervention. That means 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.”

Key parts of the research will be carried out by Rolls-Royce-sponsored Sheffield University postgraduate mechanical engineering student Nikki Hilton. She said: “Nuclear manufacturing is a very exciting area at the moment and it’s good to be working with industry and creating a practical solution rather than doing some abstract bit of research.

“The fact we have the Nuclear AMRC and Rolls-Royce and the academic support of the university means we can really push the technological limits.”

While she waits for the TBT machine to arrive, other researchers are planning its installation using the NAMRC’s state of the art ActiveCube simulator, developed by Virtalis, the leading global virtual reality and advanced visualisation specialist.

The NAMRC’s ActiveCube produces a 3D projection on three walls and floor, which allows anyone inside the cube to literally walk through a simulation of a factory layout or even a piece of machinery.