NucleusVR, a simulator for tomorrow’s nuclear installations
How can we manage the stakes of complex installations, built and operated by several teams working in collaboration, with critical planning and maintenance needs? This is one of the challenges that we need to rise to, not just with a view to the design of a new generation of nuclear tools, but also for the maintenance of the existing stock.
To achieve this, Alexander Bolton, founder and executive director of EAB Engineering, PDG and co-founder of Nucleus VR, proposes creating a “digital twin” (in this case, for the nuclear fusion research project ITER) to facilitate the, maintenance and operation of industrial plant.
Nucleus VR was born out of a collaboration between EAB engineering and Jeri Ellsworth, entrepreneur, founder of Tilt5, founder of the VALVE hardware hub and designer of American microchips, who has become a tech influencer. The project was conceived in 2014 at Laval Virtual and launched the following year.
Can you outline the services offered by the brand Nucleus VR?
We are offering a tool to permit the creation of collaborative and immersive “digital twins” without the need for coding. In other words, this is a turnkey solution for our clients. Our twins serve as a virtual remote workplace, from the design of a project all the way through to its dismantling, including project review, training, work site preparation, operation…
It is a means of familiarising oneself with an environment by going into this virtual world, adding documents or external simulators to flag up all the data relating to the tools present on the site or to the machine depicted.
The process begins with a very basic mockup of the installation, where everything is depicted in the form of blocs, and as the client adds their 3D models, this gradually evolves into a highly finished model. All without the need for any coding. Its mode of operation is a simplified and augmented version of computer aided design (CAD) tools such as CATIA or Solidworks.
NucleusVR allows this digital twin to be superimposed on the real world (in augmented reality). Thus, rather than always having to carry around a thick operating manual, a technician using Nucleus VR can view updated extracts, linked to the components of the machine or installation observed by him, directly. Our tool can therefore be used as an interactive 3D tutorial.
It thus allows you to interact with someone who is at some distance and to provide assistance remotely through virtual reality. The human brain is made to operate in the natural world and not in a world of data or a screen. We have moreover won a prize from the European Space Agency for our offering of remote assistance for astronauts. This solution is also proving to be useful for work in nuclear power stations.
Our long-term strategy is to develop our tool in such a way that it can make all the activities at any site interoperable in a mechanism that would work on the principle of systems and subsystems slotting together a little like Russian dolls. Each original equipment manufacturer will supply the digital twin for its equipment, which will then be integrated into the global installation. To illustrate this concept, we are for example participating in the WELDIA project, the objective of which is to create the health record for a weld in the form of a digital twin. We are likewise working with VELAN on the Vel’OCT project for the creation of the intelligent, predictive digital twin, communicating the valves of the future.
We have already implemented all categories of use individually with various clients – whether in relation to training, maintenance, design review… – and we are now seeking to extend the uses of NucleusVR to all the categories of use of each client. Nucleus’ strength lies in the fact that a unique digital twin allows us to capitalise on all the data and on all the categories of use: it is a virtualised nucleus of collaboration, a metaverse, a workplace accessible to all, wherever they are.
How did you come to work in the field of nuclear? What makes your services particularly adapted to this industry?
To date, nuclear represents the majority of our clients. And this is for good reason, it is very demanding in terms of anticipation: there is no room for error, and everything must be checked in advance. This is particularly important when working in contaminated environments, where you need to stay for the least possible time and where every movement counts.
Nuclear is also characterised by enormous and highly complex work sites, which call for joint activity between a myriad of subcontractors. Our tool permits everyone to work on the same digital twin, allowing them to anticipate the actions of other participants without disturbing them.
At a personal level, I am moreover militating within Nuclear Valley in favour of interoperability with a view to implementing an open-source data format to ensure that all participants can read this format.
Our choice to concentrate on this sector was at the outset purely strategic, but I gathered a huge amount of information on the subject before becoming involved. I wanted to properly understand the stakes and risks, to know whether the polemic surrounding the atom was justified or not.
Environmentalism is a subject about which I am passionate and I did not wish to go into it without being sure that it was one of the better solutions. And now I am a passionate believer: I think that it will be inevitable both in the short term and no doubt in the long term, as our energy needs, driven by the electrification of our societies, increase.
Furthermore, given developments in the situation in terms of the climate, we may possibly be forced to have recourse to carbon sequestration, which carries huge needs in terms of energy. In the long term, technologies such as fusion could allow us to meet these needs.
What is your role in the response to the energy stakes?
The highly litigious sector, where everything takes a great deal of time – for good reason. We must not skimp on safety. Our tool permits an interface to be offered in which all technicians can collaborate, talk to one another and better understand the work of others with a view ultimately to better share know-how, improve flow on all these operations and reduce any times that can be reduced.
To find out more, you can visit the Nucleus VR website:
You can also read this article from the New York Times, which puts the company among the “visionary technologies” of tomorrow:
And follow them on Twitter:
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