NUCOBAM, the crossroads between additive manufacturing and the nuclear industry

31 May 2021 Human ressources Defense Naval Innovation Story

NUclear Component Based on Additive Manufacturing, also known as NUCOBAM, is a European H2020 research project which aims to establish a methodology for qualifying parts made by additive manufacturing and used in a nuclear environment. Why and how is Naval Group taking part in the project?
Some answers given to us by 3 Naval Group experts.

Marine Gaume Laurent Marinier Gwenael Menard
Marine Gaumé
NUCOBAM Project manager for Naval Group - Engineer-Doctor in R&D for metallic materials
Laurent Marinier
Head of technical repositories and nuclear regulations
Gwenaël Ménard
Engineer in charge of the additive manufacturing studies

What is at the heart of NUCOBAM?

“Our goal at present is to lay the first technological building blocks that will allow us to prove the possibility of using parts made from stainless steel (316 L) - manufactured using the L-PBF process (laser powder bed fusion) - in a nuclear context, in other words, one with constraints concerning heat, pressure and radiation. The objective is to ensure that the characteristics of the material are not affected over time when subjected to certain specific conditions.”

What type of parts are you looking at?

“One of the final goals of this project is to provide a solution for dealing with the obsolescence of components in nuclear environments. Parts procurement for the nuclear sector can be complex and additive manufacturing is a reliable and competitive solution. This process also enables us to work on optimising the design of parts in order to improve performance. The work carried out for NUCOBAM will enable us to study to types of parts: those which undergo irradiation and those under pressure.”

And why choose additive manufacturing opposed to any other process?

“The procurement of parts in the nuclear sector is complex as very strict requirements must be respected. Our suppliers must therefore be both capable and qualified. Manufacturing lead times can be long, and suppliers may not have the facilities necessary to reply to certain needs such as small series orders. The additive manufacturing process is now reaching a fairly mature stage of development. This process enables, in particular, simplification of the fabrication chain for complex components, optimisation of parts design and reduced manufacturing lead times. The performance levels obtained using this process are increasingly interesting from an industrial point of view.”

What methodology is used for the project?

“It is set out in 5 technical work packages. The first package consists in establishing a methodology for qualifying the parts made using additive manufacturing. The second consists in qualifying the manufacturing process. The third - and Naval Group is responsible for this part - consists in characterising the material’s behaviour in an as-manufactured state and once thermally aged. These results with then be compared to those of the fourth work package in which the irradiation studies will be carried out. The samples will be irradiated in a test reactor in Belgium. These are rare conditions as they are long and costly, but ones that have without doubt brought the partners working on this project together. And lastly, the fifth package concerns the qualification of a component which has undergone pressure tests.”

Why is it important for Naval Group to take part in this project?

“The interest for us is being in contact with the main European players in the nuclear sector. This contact enables Naval Group to participate in technical and technological discussions in the nuclear industry. Working on such a project means we can highlight the requirements for a nuclear environment specific to Naval Group: the onboard nuclear reactor. The results provided by these studies will then probably be used to create standards for using additive manufacturing in the nuclear industry.

A quick look at NUCOBAM

The NUclear Component Based on Additive Manufacturing (NUCOBAM) project started in October 2020 and will run for 4 years. It brings together 13 partners from 6 different countries all working in the nuclear field and additive manufacturing. CEA, EDF, Framatome, IRSN and Naval Group (France), ENGIE Laborelec, Tractebel, SCK·CEN (Belgium), CIEMAT (Spain), USFD (England), VTT (Finland), Ramén Valves (Sweden) and the European Research Centre (JRC).