Primus(Platform for Robotic Inspection and Maintenance for Unstructured Settings)developed by Fuzzy Logic and Visionic for Framatome Intercontrol is a robotic NDT system for nuclear infrastructure. This software and hardware package can be used by non-robotic NDT operators, a major differentiating factor from existing solutions in the robotics and NDT markets. The collaboration between Fuzzy Logic, Visionic and Framatome was born 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.
To be effective, current NDT technologies require a controlled, laboratory-like environment, which is precisely difficult to achieve under field conditions. This is a challenge that Framatome Intercontrol faces for its inspections of components of the primary circuits of the CNPE (nuclear power generation center), especially for specific welds, of the pitting type, junction points between the pipes of the primary circuit and secondary pipes.
In order to overcome these challenges, Framatome Intercontrol uses industrial robots in innovative ways to solve many NDT problems. Ultrasonic detection performed by a robot characterizes the internal volumetric defects of the weld in order to detect possible cracks. Currently, these inspections are prepared upstream on site and require a 3D scan of the weld and measurement of the environment, with each weld and environment being geometrically unique. A roboticist then calculates the robot's trajectory for 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 directly adapt the prepared trajectory; measurements and trajectory calculations need to be readjusted. However, the nuclear environment is complex and subject to very restrictive safety rules: each intervention is therefore costly in terms of human resources, especially since the radiation exposure threshold of a staff is 12 millisieverts per year, which increases the cost of recovery interventions when they become necessary.
According to Yannick Caulier, expert I, VTI level III, Coffmet level II at Framatome / Intercontrol: "The preparation of inspections is complex, time-consuming and expensive because the environment is not easy to model. That's why we were looking for software that would make it easy to redefine trajectories in order to adapt our inspections on nuclear sites. »
Today's industrial robots and programming tools are not suitable for unstructured field environments. In addition, their use and programming require good expertise. To address these constraints, Fuzzy Logic and Visionic developed the Primus platform.
Primus, a new software platform
The Primus software and hardware platform enables NDT service providers to respond to infrastructure inspection requests quickly and efficiently. Its operation is simple: the first step is to model the environment, as it is at the time of the inspection. Any additional elements likely to hinder the trajectory are then integrated into this modeling step, the simulation of the process before the on-site inspection is then complete. At the second stage, a robot is set up near the welding areas of the piping. The requirement for precision of movement of the inspection probe requires the use of a robot to obtain precise positioning and orientation. Thanks to the software developed by Fuzzy Logic, Fuzzy Studio, the robot can be set up by operators quickly, without requiring significant positioning details on the piping. The 3D sensors integrated on the robot make it possible to quickly and simply recalibrate the robot in its real environment. Trajectories can be determined in seconds and a few mouse clicks. The combination of the complex trajectory calculated by Fuzzy Studio and the 3D scan of the weld structure by Visionic generates the inspection trajectory adapted to the actual surface. The last step is the ultrasonic inspection of the weld.
This method is unprecedented in the field of NDT, and the results obtained are much more accurate thanks to the control of the positioning of the probe, which has been adapted thanks to the 3D scanning of the surface.
Visionic offers robots and their optical system. Fuzzy Logic brings an improvement in agile programming conditions, carried out by non-roboticists, which eliminates many adjustment steps. Framatome Intercontrol provided both the know-how and a robotic weld inspection test bench for NDT to develop, test and validate the Primus solution in an operational environment.
The Primus system has postponed framatome Intercontrol's inspection time from two weeks to a single day.
In addition, Primus increases the efficiency, quality and safety of non-destructive testing while decreasing operator exposure to radiation. Thanks to the cooperation and support of Rima network partners, the Primus system was developed, deployed and tested in record time, 14 months, placing industrial robotics at the forefront of nuclear infrastructure inspection.
Yannick Caulier says: "The no-code, ergonomic and versatile software that can be used on all Primus robots offers us unprecedented accessibility. You can place the robot wherever you want and generate its trajectory in a few clicks. This is one of the aspects that seduced us the most. »
Ryan Lober, CEO and co-founder of Fuzzy Logic: "Framatome, like many other manufacturers, is pushing the boundaries of what we think we can do with industrial robots; however, they are restrained by expert tools. By offering a solution accessible to non-experts, we unlock these applications, once thought to be impossible. »
According to Xavier Savin: "This specific application for Framatome, which responds to a particular problem, can be transposed wherever the material health inspection carried out by ultrasound on surfaces whose geometry is poorly controlled. Our solution can be extended into robotic applications where a different trajectory definition matters. The more variability there is in the trajectories, the more the solution will find its meaning. »
Yannick Caulier explains that the software dedicated to this application can be extended to other inspections of weld types. "The prototype is destined to evolve with new functionalities and the fluidification of the inspection chain."
Rhyme, a bold bet
The collaboration between Framatome, Fuzzy Logic and Visionic was established in autumn 2019, via the Rima consortium. Framatome had an atypical demand in robotics since its need was located in a non-expert environment: it was a question of designing a software platform that defines trajectories to adapt inspections of pipe welds on a nuclear site. Visionic and Fuzzy Logic responded together, convinced of the unprecedented technological potential of their solution.
Rima has subsidised R&D costs for the Visionic consortium and Fuzzy Logic to the tune of €300,000.
"Rima has funded a technology that previously did not exist, to meet an atypical need. Rima's bet is a winner because in 14 months, our Primus solution, developed by a start-up and an innovative SME, has demonstrated the strength of its impact in a sector known to be difficult,"says Ryan Lober.
Xavier Savin, for his part, explains: "We were aware of the commercial potential beyond our technical solution. Primus' international business opportunity is real. Each of the 56 nuclear reactors in France must undergo a large refit, i.e. continue the operation of the reactors after 40 years of operation. Replacing piping is expensive and complex in this environment. Our solution, which characterizes defects and whose results are reliable, makes it possible to decide as accurately as possible on the maintenance steps after inspection. Our solution offers considerable economic potential. It is to be multiplied by the number of power plants in Europe and in the world. »