Remotely operated vehicle could revolutionise nuclear decommissioning industry

17 December 2021

An engineering company is providing further employment and skills opportunities by diversifying its solutions approach into new markets.

Forth is expanding its operations and creating new jobs in its home county of Cumbria through its ability to solve industry challenges in different sectors across the UK and around the world.

Built on 21 years of identifying solutions for industry problems, Forth is delivering bespoke products and reinvesting resources into expanding the size and capabilities of its team.

Nuclear decommissioning, renewables, energy, oil and gas, water industry and other utilities, and agriculture, are just some of the sectors Forth are working in across the UK and in countries such as Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Mark Telford, Forth Managing Director, said: “A lot of organisations talk about working towards this approach in the future, but we are already doing it right now with a whole range of projects around the UK and across the world.

“Because of our experience it comes naturally to us. There isn’t often an industry problem we haven’t come across before, and by listening to a client, and adapting technology we are often able to come up with an effective, value-for-money solution very quickly.

“Sometimes an organisation has been grappling with a particular problem for years and within minutes on a video call we have not only been able to discuss a solution, but actually shown them the solution, as it’s similar to something we have worked on previously.

“That comes down to the experience and knowledge we have got within the business to quickly spot a solution and the technical ability to design and manufacture the product.”

One of Forth’s latest solutions was recently delivered to Hunterston, a Magnox site in Scotland, to enable nuclear waste to be removed from hazardous areas significantly safer and quicker.

“Before the first video call had finished with the customer, we had agreed what the solution would be. Now that solution could potentially be rolled out right across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) estate,” said Mark. 

Forth’s Tipperbot provides the NDA with a decontamination solution to clear the redundant ponds at Magnox’s 36-hectare decommissioned nuclear power station site at Hunterston, Ayrshire. 

At its Cleator Moor base in Cumbria, Forth designed and manufactured the Tipperbot, an adapted power barrow which can be operated by remote control from a safe distance of 20 metres and sieve out solids from wet ‘sludge’ when undertaking nuclear decommissioning work.

The Tipperbot is placed in dry sumps and controlled remotely by engineers from a safe distance. The machine has cameras installed and feeds back live images to alert engineers of its path.

Once in the sump, the Tipperbot picks up the remaining nuclear waste in the former ponds and sieves out solids from the liquid. The solids are retrieved and the sludge safely washed away.

Typically, this type of work is carried out by engineers using long arm tools and can often be dangerous due to the close proximity of the people to the waste. It is also deemed very time-consuming work.

Graham Cartwright, Projects Director at Forth, said: “These decommissioning jobs are often very laborious and long, and that is something which the industry wants to change.

“The team at Forth was asked to solve this solution and we have come up with the Tipperbot which will prove a real game changer in nuclear decommissioning.

“By operating the vehicle from a 20-metre umbilical, you are improving the level of safety to the engineers. 

“The Tipperbot can cover large areas in a short space of time, which should also save a lot of time and expense on these types of jobs.”

The Tipperbot has been manufactured for dry sumps, although further work could be carried out to adapt the machines to enable them to work underwater.

A team from Hunterston visited Forth for the testing process and was impressed by the effectiveness of the machine. 

The first Tipperbot has now been delivered to Magnox and will be used at the Scottish base to speed up the decommissioning process.

Graham said: “This piece of equipment could change the whole decommissioning method, and we look forward to working with other sites and organisations to ensure more of this crucial work is carried out.”

Due to projects such as the Tipperbot and other initiatives which Forth is working on around the world it is looking to expand its team with a range of roles available including mechanical engineers.

Forth was recently shortlisted for The Engineer Collaborate to Innovate Awards for its work on the A2I2 underwater autonomous survey robot. The awards take place in 2022.

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