Saturday, February 3, 2007

Technology has improved since 1970s nukes

Three dimensional computer aided design technologies help designers lay out and test designs for products ranging from tiny heart stents to huge airliners. Above is another presentation of the conceptual PBR layout done by MIT researchers using such tools. Some of the Seabrook cost overruns were due to design errors, which caused piping runs to collide during construction. With today's 3D-CAD such expensive errors can be prevented.

Design technologies have improved phenomenally during the three decades since today's operating US nuclear plants were designed. Just consider information technology. The designers of today's nukes didn't have personal computers, nor Microsoft software, nor data base management. Nor was there email, optical fiber, the internet, nor search engines.

We all know that computer speeds have been doubling ever 2.5 years or so. Computers are many thousands of times more capable than those of 30 years ago. The impact on engineering and simulation is phenomenal. Scientific computing now lets us better understand the origins of the universe, and the structure of matter. Finite element analysis, together with 3D-CAD, breaks solid models down into thousands of sugar-cube-like elements and simulates all inter-element flows of heat, electricity, fluids, stresses, etc. to predict the behavior of the whole. Software products like Fluent add dynamics and multi-phase characteristics. MATLAB does mathematics for engineers and economists. AutoCAD, Pro/E, and Catia compete to offer designers better and better 3D design, modeling, simulation, mockup, production, and testing tools.

Manufacturing management has also progressed since the 1970s with Statistical Process Control, GE's 6-Sigma process management, Total Quality Management, Good Manufacturing Process, and ISO 9000. Materials Resource Planning evolved to become company wide, to manage purchasing, production, scheduling, shipping, quality management, accounting, and management reporting, in a single, integrated, real-time management system. Enterprise-wide information systems like SAP and Oracle provide leading companies with integrated, real-time, operational control and management. Manufacturing management systems help keep Boeing from delaying airliner delivery for lack of a single one of it's 500,000 different parts, for example.

A decade ago Boeing Aircraft received the Smithsonian-Computerworld award for the Boeing 777. It was the first example of such product design and development with computer assisted design and engineering tools continuing through computer-managed manufacturing. When the airliner assemblies were brought together they fit! The 777 was the first airliner to fly without half a ton of shims.

Production lines benefit cost and quality

A standardized design and construction process will enable the production of PBR units rapidly and economically, with high quality standards. Earlier US nuclear power plants were individually designed, licensed, and constructed. In France, where nuclear plants supply most of the country's electric power, standardized designs are the rule. Standardizing the design and production process for PBRs will lead to many benefits.

  • One type-certification for many plants
  • Reduced costs
  • Faster delivery times
  • Strong quality controls
  • Continuing product improvement
The PBR production process can emulate Boeing's.

  • Production line
  • One unit per day
  • Standardized units
  • Computer-aided design, engineering, manufacturing
  • $ 100-200 million per unit
  • Life safety paramount

In summary, since US nuclear power plants were built in the 1970s, information technology and manufacturing management have improved dramatically, promising even safer nuclear power in the future.

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