By Andrew Amann
Companies in a variety of business sectors embrace mobile technology to improve any number of operational processes. Even the relatively conservative nuclear energy industry sees much promise in using a mobile app to optimize the process of nuclear plant inspections.
Throughout the nuclear industry, inspectors want to improve the accuracy of their work and the efficiency of inspections. Needless to say, this is an area where failing to recognize a component which needs replacement risks a major malfunction or other critical incident. Inspectors also currently deal with massive amounts of plant information, field guides, and inspection standards and desire a new tool for managing all this data.
So, let’s take a closer look at the current methodology for conducting nuclear plant inspections. We discuss some of the pain points hampering the efficacy of this approach, and how the intelligent application of mobile technology helps boost inspector accuracy.
Ultimately, a convenient mobile app offers many benefits to this process. We also cover the impact of how a mobile app improved the accuracy of nuclear plant inspections while optimizing this data-intensive task. The ultimate goal involves boosting the safety of a critical piece of the world’s energy puzzle.
Streamlining plant inspections
There’s no denying the critical nature of nuclear plant inspections. After all, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island remain infamous events in the history of this energy source. The risks of an incident at a nuclear power plant, like a reactor meltdown, comes with its own unique set of existential worries.
So the fact that current plant inspections remain a paper-intensive process prone to inaccuracies or even falsifications provides little peace of mind to anyone involved. In fact, a federal inspector recently pled guilty to falsifying inspection reports at Virginia’s North Anna nuclear plant. He lied about inspecting critical fire and flood safety systems at the plant, when, in fact, he rarely visited North Anna. The inspector currently awaits sentencing at the time of this writing.
Any bloated process that lacks sufficient control remains prone to these kinds of falsifications. The new commissioner for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) boasts a stronger focus on safety compared to the previous leader. This places the onus on plant operators to improve inspections, including a transition from a paper approach to one that embraces recent tech innovations, like a mobile app.
With nuclear power on somewhat of a renaissance as a zero-carbon energy source in an era of climate change, an even higher emphasis on safety becomes essential. Since a variety of aging plants hope to extend their NRC licenses to 80 years, a high-quality inspection process is necessary. So let’s take a closer look at one of our projects optimizing nuclear plant inspections with mobile technology.
Optimizing nuclear plant inspections
Our team worked with a research institute running a nuclear plant modernization program to help older plants support the nation’s need for carbon-free power sources. Not surprisingly, this program relies heavily on plant inspections. As noted earlier, they discovered an obsolete paper-intensive process prone to errors or worse. Inspectors found it difficult to share their results or even access industry standards and guidelines for conducting inspections.
The mobile system we designed and built provides inspectors with access to the necessary standards and guides the research institute provides for conducting inspections. It allows them to document the wear and tear on critical nuclear plant components. They also gain the ability to broadcast their findings to the NRC and other relevant regulatory and governmental bodies. The days of a lone wolf inspector writing inspection reports without actually visiting the plant are over.
All told, inspectors using this system find they conduct inspections in a more efficient manner. They appreciate the seamless access to the field guides and standards documents while on site. The mobile app also makes it easier to document any issues or other potentially critical discoveries. Reporting on these findings is also a simple and digital process.
Making inspections more efficient
The above is just one example of how mobile apps can make plant inspections more efficient. In addition to more access to information, using apps to power the inspection process will also generate data to further improve processes. Collecting inspection data can help identify cost and time gains that are difficult to track with the current paper inspections.
Other industries have already made mobile applications a major part of their inspection process. While nuclear still has a long way to go until they are automating inspection workflows, the first steps are to begin to digitally transform some of these processes and collect more data.
In the end, mobile technology serves as a gamechanger for conducting nuclear power plant inspections. Mobile tech also achieved similar results for inspectors of other types of power plants, including hydroelectric and coal-burning. The improved efficiency simply makes inspectors more productive, providing them the capacity to conduct more inspections. It also provides the ability to track the depreciation and performance of critical nuclear components and failsafe security systems, like fire and flooding.
All nuclear inspections can benefit from this reengineering of this inspection process. Inspection standards, field guides and handbooks are available to improve inspections, they simply need to be more accessible.
Mobile apps can facilitate the use of this documentation while providing a platform to ensure they remain accurate and relevant to those actually working in the field. These are just a few examples of the significant impact mobile apps can bring to the nuclear industry.
About the Author:
A former nuclear submarine engineer, Andrew Amann co-founded NineTwoThree Venture Studio in 2012 and has since helped launch countless ventures for clients and emerging companies and turned his business into one of the fastest-growing private companies in America on the Inc 5000 list. Amann graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and took his MBA classes in the University of Strathclyde. Follow him on Twitter @andrewamann and connect on LinkedIn.
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