Technology company Assystem is taking innovations such as data mapping that it has used for aerospace solutions and cross-fertilizing them into the energy sector, writes Mike Sheehan
Driven by rapid modernisation and economic development worldwide, our global energy consumption has doubled since 1970, while electricity demand in particular is growing at double the speed of overall energy use and is set to rise by two-thirds by 2035.
Our past, present and future are inextricably linked to our use of energy. Moreover, rising to the challenge of meeting our energy demands is among the greatest challenges and responsibilities we face as the need for increasingly advanced energy supply-and-demand solutions intensifies.
Nuclear power plays a vital role in the energy mix and its importance will only increase as we strive to continually provide safe, dependable and low-carbon energy around the world.
|ASSYSTEM has been involved in ITER, the world’s largest fusion experiment|
Around 440 reactors operating in over 30 countries worldwide already contribute over 11 per cent of the world’s electricity while a further 60 reactors are currently under construction in 13 countries.
Technology is without question our greatest asset and the most valuable tool in our international effort to meet the growing demand for cleaner, more reliable and sustainable long-term energy.
Our capacity to rise to this challenge in the energy sector in recent years has been transformed by the latest generation of digital tools and data-driven solutions with benefits to other sectors including aerospace and automotive.
In order to help realise this future, at Assystem, we are committed to developing the next generation of energy solutions made possible by the latest advancements across engineering and technology. At the heart of this is our innovative digital 3D database bringing with it exciting real-world applications and transformative potential across the energy sector.
Although the tools developed at our centre in Toulouse are crafted for sector specific purposes, the team is also focused on coming up with revolutionary ways of using existing tools such as data mapping to create bridges between different disciplines, a process known as cross-fertilisation.
Cross-fertilisation allows our team of aerospace experts based in Toulouse to implement their skills and innovations across other sectors. Most notably in energy; adding translational flavour to existing innovations.
With increasing demand for innovative new digital technologies in the energy sector, the light, flexible and collaborative digital tool uses 3D models to map data across three dimensions for the first time – enabling unprecedented levels of control, accuracy and insight. This is possible as a result of web based tools that have been developed from inception by our team in Toulouse.
Visualising thousands of structural components simultaneously across energy engineering projects ranging from nuclear reactors to wind turbines offers unique insights, data and solutions-led capabilities.
This optimises performance across engineering and infrastructure while offering digitally-enabled visibility, traceability and accountability in new ways that only recently would have been unthinkable and impossible in equal measure.
Above all, the tool offers unique insights into the full end-to-end lifecycle of energy engineering projects.
Applications in the energy sector
Maintenance and decommissioning in particular has always ranked among the most problematic and challenging areas for the nuclear industry. Historically, this work has been complex, time and labour-intensive and difficult to cost and schedule accurately as well as potentially hazardous.
However, stemming from the Amphibian Aircraft and originally developed by Assystem in Toulouse, our new tool shows remarkable promise in addressing some of the most intractable issues around maintenance and decommissioning, such as:
• Mapping and conducting the follow-up of parts and components. Integrating the mapping and monitoring of components with nuclear engineering projects will radically reduce time while streamlining the efficiency of the processes involved.
• Mapping radioactive emissions. Based on 3D models of the facilities, this safety-critical area is fully digitised to a level of accuracy and reliability incomparable to direct human involvement in addition to transforming safety procedures and protocols due to faster detection and facility-wide automated reactions.
• Mapping all potentially hazardous substances. Connecting and integrating the facility sensor system to the 3D tool also allows for the immediate issuance of alerts, notifications and appropriate safety responses.
• Mapping temperatures and pressures in facilities. Combining temperature and pressure measurements alongside other safety-critical key readings in a single organised, accessible and easily navigable database offers maximum safety and security in a range of nuclear energy facilities.
New 3D data mapping tools also suggest significant advantages for the renewable energy sector, through optimisation and new predictive qualities for maintenance processes and procedures, including:
• New levels of integration. With the importance of logistical and physical infrastructure ranking alongside the actual data readings and energy analysis, integrating energy engineering projects such as wind farms into a multi-layered and multipurpose digital database could open up previously unattainable levels of insight and efficiency.
• Diagnostics and repairs. Photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands at a single site and are often remote and inaccessible, slowing the process of identifying and repairing any damage. A single unified database could locate new damage immediately while troubleshooting and advising on the solution before an engineer need even arrive.
Drilling down into the data
The digitisation of capabilities in the energy sector offers both the macro advantages outlined above in addition to a multitude of more personal benefits.
The web format – accessible online, has cross platform use from any device, anywhere and at any time, including tablets, laptops and even hololens (a self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with digital content and interact with holograms).
It is fully customisable for user friendly and convenient access. It is also used to deliver 3D data mappings that can be used indefinitely on any type of device using the viewer provided.
This level of extensive customisation and significant degree of collaboration is eminently suited to the sharing of data and resources across fields of work and between teams from contractors, engineers to technicians.
Such capabilities also enable international collaboration across geographical locations.
The uniqueness of this tool in a field of technologically innovative alternatives is the ability to combine, in a single tool, a database and means to map, navigate and precisely visualise complex equipment, large facilities and intricate parts and components.
This new technology and others like it offer immediate and significant real-world applications alongside transformative future potential and longer-term benefits.
Primary among these is the full and comprehensive integration of connected sensors in energy facilities around the world. This has substantial implications for improved performance, maximised efficiencies and self-improving data-driven insights building on their initial foundation of data, readings, reports and other metrics.
Another exciting area in which 3D data mapping is set to provide rapid improvements is the extension of BIM (building information modelling) in the pre-construction phase of energy facilities – facilitating new digital mapping opportunities through engineering lifestyle and storing data for other current and future projects.
Looking to the future
Research and development is at the heart of our ongoing journey of innovating revolutionary tools and applications that can be utilised across a number of sectors including energy, automotive, aerospace as well as robotics.
It’s important to keep ahead with the ever growing needs in the industry, as such we have set up a software development team to adapt to the ever growing needs of specific software in the industry.
Technology and energy are particularly busy areas of research and development, as are automotive, aerospace and robotics.
Combining the two as we already have while continuing to innovate gives us the best likelihood of creating pioneering solutions to pressing problems and challenges in the energy sector through transformative new technological tools and data-driven insights.
Our technologically-enabled capabilities and data-driven insights are growing and improving exponentially each year.
With our current 3D data mapping and other digital tools set to transform the industry, even more ground-breaking techniques and solutions are on the horizon and fast approaching.
The energy sector depends on innovation and the widespread adoption of these current technologies will only encourage and accelerate this rate of progress and the beneficial impact on our future.
We should take it upon ourselves as an industry to recognise the potential of these new technologies and embrace their potential today.
Mike Sheehan is Chief Executive of Assystem GPS UK. Assystem is an international engineering group listed on Euronext Paris. www.assystem.com