Quality Assurance System supports Development of a Fusion Reactor at ITER

International large-scale development projects require stringent compliance with the design guidelines and quality requirements to avoid errors, which otherwise may become evident in subsequent process steps.

Management systems for product data quality will support the design engineers involved in the adherence to specifications and quality standards and will thus become an automated part of the process.

Up to now, the excessive increase in global energy consumption has been covered mainly by fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Since the lat-ter one bears uncontrollable risks and fossil energy sources are not endlessly available, nuclear fusion – the fusion of two atomic nuclei to a new nucleus – might create an option to satisfy the worldwide energy demand.

The international project ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is intended to demonstrate that the creation of ener-gy through nuclear fusion it is physically and technologically feasible. In 2005, all ITER members – the European Atomic Energy Community, the Russian Federation, China, South Korea, India and the USA – all of the having equal rights – decided to build a fusion reactor in Cadarache, in Southern France. This complex and ambitious scientific project requires a high level of internal academic cooperation. This is the reason why ITER is run as a joint research project of the seven partner states.

Nowadays, 500 personnel members work in Cadarache itself. Additionally, 350 external contractors in the individual member states are involved in the project located in Southern France. In the design office in Cadarache, up to 150 design engineers are employed in the development of the conceptual design of the reactor and the pertaining facilities. The seven partners establish the contact to the industry, suppliers and engineering offices through domestic agencies in the individual countries. The facility components are developed and manufactured in the individual member states on the basis of CATIA V5 and are then shipped to Cadarache. Considering the current research status, the completion of a first fusion power plant with estimated construction costs of 5.5 billion Euro is to be expected not earlier than 2050.

Great demands on CAD models

This completely novel project makes extraordinary demands on all internal and external participants in the individual partner states. For this reason, it is crucial that all design engineers keep a high quality level in providing the CAD models created in CATIA. Errors and the non-compliance with guidelines would have most severe effects on the project. High correction costs and expensive delay would be the consequences.

For the purpose of guaranteeing data quality, introducing software that facilitates the monitoring of and the adherence to product data quality (PDQ) was obvious. This software was intended to be used by all design engineers involved to achieve the persistent adherence to the quality standards defined. For this reason, a benchmark was carried out in 2008, in which different software solutions were compared. The ITER organization finally decided in favor of the software solution Q-Checker of TechniaTranscat (previously Transcat PLM GmbH). Q-Checker is the leading quality assurance system within CATIA and virtual product development.

Worldwide availability

In addition to covering the merely functional criteria, such as the verification of file names, attributes, file size, linkage between the CATIA models etc., both system and support were intended to be available worldwide to make sure that the developers involved were enabled to comfortably comply with the guidelines of their design as well as with the essential quality requirements with this software product.

Since the individual components of the ITER project are extremely complex, manual checking of every individual part with all its attributes would mean an extremely high expenditure of work to the design engineers. “Q-Checker provides the option of object selection, thus enabling us to check many components in one step,“ explains graduate engineer Wolfgang Werner, CAD responsible officer in the ITER project.

Q-Checker will check all relevant specifications, thus making sure that the subsequent process steps can be carried out in a smooth flow. The developers will thus be provided with a tool supporting them in the creation of models meeting the requirements of the overall process of ITER. Q-Checker will make the adherence to the defined specifications and quality standards by the design engineers an automatically executed part of the process. Errors, which otherwise would become evident only in subsequent process steps, can be avoided from the beginning – an enormously important feature for the great number of persons involved in the quality assurance within virtual product development.

Course of actions in the introduction of the system

Since 2009, the design engineers, also including the developers in the domestic agencies and external engineering offices as well as a group exclusively employed for the exchange of data, have been using Q-Checker. Mechanical engineer Wolfgang Werner describes the course of actions in the introduction: “At first, we defined the criteria to be checked and listed them in a manual. Then we composed a group of experienced design engineers and trained them in the handling of the system.” The pilot group analyzed the course of action on the basis of the defined standards and made the required optimizations in the check profile. Only then the CAD department in Cadarache made the system available to the other design engineers.

CATIA model

Nowadays, the quality check with Q-Checker is the precondition for the release of a model. Comprehensive help pages and explanations about the individual checks will support the design engineers in this action. Additionally, the CATIA models will be revised in regular intervals by using Q-Checker. The system identifies errors in geometry, configuration and methodology and eliminates them. This avoids the cost-intensive detection and correction of defects in subsequent processes.

The system is used, of course, for the verification of the defined specifications before every data exchange. This is done both when sending design data from Cadarache and when receiving design data. The compliance with the quality and methodology requirements guaranteed by this process considerably facilitates the interdisciplinary cooperation. As mechanical engineer Wolfgang Werner puts it, the use of Q-Checker has produced a considerable increase in the quality awareness of the design engineers involved. Since 2011, external engineering offices are obligated to integrate the Q-Checker reports into their monthly reports for documentation purposes.

Quantification of benefit

For the purpose of quantifying the benefit provided by Q-Checker, Wolfgang Werner uses the example of a complex vacuum vessel to compare the effort caused by a manual check with the automated check by using Q-Checker. In this case, the check with Q-Checker takes approx. 1 hour, the manual check about eight hours. “The vakuum vessel, however, is actually only 2% of the total system,” explains Wolfgang Werner. “Adding the six release processes occurring every year, the use of Q-Checker will save us about 2,000 hours per year. On the basis of this calculation the purchase costs of the system will have amortized in less than six months.”

Additionally, it will be guaranteed that all suppliers will be provided and provide design engineering data in the quality required, since all external and internal personnel will apply the same quality principles and standards to their data.


Photos: Copyright ITER


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