NewsNuclear Manufacturing Summit 2023

Michael Ward attended the recent NAMRC Nuclear Manufacturing Summit 2023 and shares his thoughts following the event.

The Event

The recent NAMRC Nuclear Manufacturing Summit 2023 in Rotherham was an excellent event, with a great  speakers, representing many different perspectives in the nuclear industry.  It was interesting and encouraging to see how this forum has developed in the years since it was first established. 

Moving Towards Delivery

The nuclear sector is ever hopeful of a new wave of investment and development, but somewhere between sceptical and frustrated over the pace of decision making and progress on delivery.  It seems clear that there is cross-party government support (in England and Wales anyway) for new nuclear at the moment but the strong impression is that there won’t be much patience if things don’t start to move towards delivery.  

Skills Gap and Resource Challenges

There are also some challenges which just don’t seem to compute, most notably the skills gap where the apparent requirement for recruitment in the coming years an eye watering 300% growth in capacity needed to achieve 24GW by 2050.  This is without addressing the elephant in the room of concurrent and competing demands for the same resource pool as other net zero driven aspirations including the growth in offshore renewables and the development of a hydrogen economy.  It also doesn’t take account of the assertions, repeated throughout the summit, that UK supply chains need to win export as well as domestic market share.

Working Collectively

It was great to hear that there seems to be a genuine appetite to do things differently and the need for the sector (maybe the nuclear sector, of maybe the wider energy sector) to work together.  It was also refreshing to hear the call to arms – stop internal in-fighting – time to work collectively.  Andrew Bowie MP laid out the challenge for the UK to become the best nation in the world at manufacturing, constructing, operating and decommissioning nuclear plant. 

A step change?

Of course, the implication is that the industry does things radically differently in order to achieve a step change in pace and productivity.  We heard that the transition from project-based to manufactured nuclear plant is probably the main lever available to the sector in addressing it challenges.  As a lifelong manufacturing engineer I would venture the opinion that while this is certainly possible, but by no means guaranteed, and that it requires a level of obsession with eliminating all forms of non-value adding activity. 

The pursuit of perfection

I was once told that manufacturing is the pursuit of perfection.

In volume manufacturing the reason for this is obvious, we need to drive out disruption.  The Toyota Production System (TPS) has taught manufacturers to design-out overburden and inconsistency, and to eliminate waste. 

As we aim to manufacture nuclear plant we must recognise that the implications of this manufacture in this sector don’t end at the factory gate and that these include the through life impacts which results from poorly quantified variation.

The place for a naïve viewpoint?

In the nuclear domain I have often been told that the pursuit of perfection viewpoint, and even use of lean and TPS principles, is a naive one.  It is argued, from experience, that as the volumes are small (even with projected SMR schedules) and the physical artefacts are large, expensive and difficult to manipulate we have operated in a way which is tolerant of variability. 

I would respectfully suggest that there may be a place for naivety, and refusal to accept the world as it is from those who will aim to achieve an industry which is best in the world.  The experience that is rooted in the UK nuclear sector no doubt is a major strength, but so too is the increasing diversity of thought that is starting to emerge and beginning to target some new expectation.