Drone specialists visit nuclear team to help build standards across UK

DRONE specialists who have worked on industrial sites all over the world met in West Cumbria to learn from the area’s nuclear site pioneers.

The purpose of the visit to Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence was to build on the learning of the organisation’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) team to help develop industry training standards for the use of drones on all sites across the UK including engineering, construction, nuclear and the water industry.

This was the first time the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board’s drone standards working group had visited Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence at Cleator Moor. They also visited Sellafield site to see the working environment first-hand.

The ECITB works with employers and training providers to give the engineering construction industry workforce the skills it needs to meet the challenges of the future. Approximately 300 companies are on the ECITB register.

Amanda Smith, UAV Equipment Programme Lead, Remote Technologies Group, which includes UAVs, ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) and Robotics, said: “It’s great to see experts in the field coming to visit us to learn how we have developed the use of UAVs at Sellafield.

“It’s also pleasing for all the team here to be recognised in this way, and to know that their knowledge, expertise and learning is helping to shape training standards in a diverse range of industries across the whole country.”

Amanda and her team of highly-skilled equipment engineers and remote pilots flew more than 200 asset inspection flights in 2021 delivering in excess of £5m cost avoidance savings.

Most of the flights were at Sellafield. But leading the way in UAV innovation in the UK nuclear industry, Amanda’s team has also carried out flights at other Nuclear Decommissioning Authority sites at Bradwell, Essex, and Sizewell in Suffolk. Sellafield’s ROV team have also carried out work at Dounreay in Caithness, Scotland.

During the visit Reg Rudd and Helen Craig, both ECITB product development managers, and Kevin Westwood, Managing Director of Kevin D Westwood Associates, subject matter expert and consultant from Teesside, brought their perspective of working with industries all over the world to the discussion with Amanda and her Sellafield team.

Reg said: “Oil and gas was one of the first industries to take advantage of ROVs by using subsea equipment. Other industries have now started to catch up.  

“It’s been brilliant to see what Amanda and the team are achieving here in a nuclear industry environment at Sellafield. 

“The experience here is transferable to other industries and helps us develop training standards for certification across all sectors for people who fly drones, or who manage the operation of drones. A visit like this enables us to perform the role of the intelligent client.”

Kevin has worked in 42 different countries around the world including with some of the biggest names in the industry.

He said: “This visit provides a window on how ‘best in class’ in-house drone programmes are being run. Sellafield is an exemplar on how this technology can be applied to other high hazard environments.

“Operating drones helps reduce risk when carrying out tasks in a range of environments from nuclear sites to windfarms. It can be critical to spotting defects as part of asset integrity management programmes, mapping to assist in accurate GIS and digital twin development, or providing situational awareness to assist in emergency response operations.

“Adopting the use of drones helps give businesses the edge. They allow industry to achieve operations safer, quicker and smarter.”

Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence recently hosted a national COMIT2drones (C2D) event, where representatives from a range of industries and SMEs shared ideas on opportunities to deploy the latest drone technology.

The Power Up Sellafield event attracted 30 representatives from across the UK, including drone specialists such Cyberhawk, Vantage UAV Group, COPTRZ, and Herotech8, as well as industry representatives such as Jacobs, Kier and National Highways.

Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence, which has become a hub for multi-industry visits, is based at Leconfield Industrial Estate where iSH (Industrial Solutions Hub) plans to develop a programme of cross-industry collaboration and innovation which will lead to 700 new jobs.

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