Advanced Engineering Spotlight

Construction of the upgraded Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) facility, commonly referred to as the MAST Upgrade, is on target for completion by the end of next year with a fully commissioned system operating by the middle of 2017.

The major rebuild will enable scientists in UKAEA’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) to explore more compact solutions for future fusion power plants and trial the innovative Super-X divertor – a high-power exhaust system that reduces power loads from particles leaving the plasma.

PULSE caught up with Project Leader, Joe Milnes and Manufacturing Engineer, Paul Iwanczak, for an insight on what the MAST Upgrade means for advanced engineering businesses locally and further afield.

To date, the project has invested £15 million in hardware with over half awarded to UK companies, benefitting businesses local to Culham Science Centre. In addition, the construction project is providing employment for 100 people on a full time or contract basis.

Joe comments:

“The MAST Upgrade has required extremely specialist skills provided by companies who are prepared to be flexible in their approach to ensure the accurate delivery of machine components. The complexity of this new machine also meant it took longer to design than originally anticipated; this has squeezed the manufacturing times in an attempt to stay on schedule.”

Suppliers include EDM Precision Technologies based at Silverstone who primarily manufacture parts for Formula 1 teams including current world champions, Mercedes.

The company prides itself on rapid production response in addition to the team’s ability to develop Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) solutions.

Managing Director, Paul Waldron, comments:

“We have undertaken 42 orders for the MAST Upgrade since the middle of 2013 worth over £150,000. This has involved working closely with UKAEA’s procurement team and designers who have a thorough understanding of our manufacturing process, extremely important considering many of the parts we have created for the project have never been made before.”

A significant order involved the manufacture of 25 coil clamps, which needed to fit together perfectly with less than a width of a human hair between each clamp.

Paul continues:

“Coil clamps are large components, with each one a little bigger than the size of a football, weighing approximately 10kg. We were required to cut the billets of steel at compound angles to meet the design, which was challenging due to the fact that steel moves when put under stress. However,by using our advanced engineering capability, we were able to predict the movement of the steel to ensure the cut worked with it.”

To help keep the project on time, Project Leader, Joe Milnes, enlisted the support of Paul Iwanczak for his extensive network and expertise in sourcing complex assemblies from advanced engineering firms.

Through the project’s rigorous tender processes, Paul is responsible for bringing EDM Precision Technologies into the MAST Upgrade fold in addition to Oxfordshire firm, AW Clarke.

Based at Littlemore, AW Clarke employs 19 experienced engineers and has benefitted from a contract worth more than £200,000 to fulfil high specification fabrication and cutting required for the MAST Upgrade.

Joe explains:

“The exhaust system in MAST could be a complete game changer for fusion. Keeping gas separated from the main chamber and exhaust is extremely important for this system to work, which is where Gas Baffles come in.”

Paul continues:

“Not many firms would want to take on such a high precision job but AW Clarke has invested in the very latest fibre optic laser technology, capable of cutting stainless steel shims ranging from 0.1mm thick to 6mm thick.”

The fibre optic laser equipment introduced by AW Clark not only provides unprecedented precision, but also uses 30 per cent less power with fewer moving parts meaning little maintenance.

Managing Director, Mark Bourke, has been with the business for over 35 and took up the reins from his father ten years ago who first started trading in 1966.

Mark comments:

“We worked with the MAST project team at Culham Science Centre to change the way the Gas Baffles were initially designed by taking advantage of our fabrication shop and machine shop to ensure fixtures were absolutely accurate as required.”

Thanks to CCFE’s MAST Upgrade team and a host of reliable, flexible and experienced suppliers, such as EDM Precision Technologies and AW Clarke, construction of the MAST Upgrade remains on schedule.

Local businesses still have the ability to benefit from a further £1 million during 2016, most likely awarded in small contracts to those who can provide high quality machinery and fabrication capabilities.