Hexagon has announced a new preferred supplier agreement with the renowned ITER nuclear fusion research project based in southern France. Under the agreement, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division will formally become the main avenue of metrology support for the project as it enters the key assembly stage. A major focus of this new agreement will be the continued provision of Absolute Tracker systems and support expertise through a team of dedicated local engineers associated with the Manufacturing Intelligence division. A wide range of other metrology devices are expected to fall under the new agreement, along with solutions from other divisions of Hexagon that can address the new challenges that will be faced in the coming years by the world’s largest fusion lab.
The ITER project teams already use Hexagon metrology technology across a wide range of applications, and a large number of project contractors from all over the world have also chosen to use Hexagon hardware and software as part of their involvement in the project. This new contract represents a formalisation of a history of cooperation between Hexagon and ITER that dates back to the project’s beginnings over a decade ago. The assembly phase of the ITER project will last for approximately 7 years and see over a million parts put together, further increasing the project’s demands for high-end metrology technology.
For example, the large-scale components involved in the ITER project require accurate alignment when they are brought together. The ITER team achieves this with a permanently installed three-dimensional coordinate system of target ‘nests’ and instrument stations that have a precisely calculated geometry – the Tokamak Global Coordinate System (TGCS). Spherical retroreflectors placed in these nests can be targeted with laser trackers from a variety of positions, with the result that installation contractors are able to use the network to align components with sub-millimetre accuracy.
“From any location in the Tokamak Complex, this coordinate system can be accessed by measuring a small number of reference points local to the measurement task. This is a powerful – and absolutely essential – tool for our installation contractors,” says Dave Wilson, Group Leader Metrology within the Machine Construction Department at ITER.
The ITER teams also use Hexagon’s wide range of laser tracker technologies for component quality control, ensuring new parts have been manufactured and constructed as designed, to within the fine tolerances demanded by an experimental fusion reactor. For large components such as the cryostat lower cylinder that was assessed after assembly in 2019, this inspection can involve the use of the 3D measurement capabilities of Hexagon’s Absolute Tracker, for referencing, as well as its 6DoF measurement functionality, using handheld laser scanners such as the Leica Absolute Scanner LAS.
“To put it simply, advanced laser tracker technology is a cornerstone of the ITER project,” says Dave Wilson at ITER. “The margins for error in nuclear fusion power generation are very, very small, and that means we need the absolute best when it comes to our metrological surveys. Absolute Tracker systems have been fundamental throughout the project since construction first began, and we’re happy to have made this new preferred supplier agreement because we can clearly see that Hexagon’s laser tracker technology will continue to be vital moving forward.”
The new contract, which can run until 2027, consolidates the existing close working relationship between Hexagon and ITER and will continue their collaborative approach to innovation in the nuclear research sector. As well as being users of Manufacturing Intelligence products and services, ITER engineers are also involved with product research and development and testing, and their expertise and exacting standards will continue to drive the development of new technologies and ways of working at Hexagon.
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