Design and development of an automated uranium pellet stacking system
Riess, Brian Scott
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A novel design for an automated uranium pellet stacking system is presented. This system is designed to replace the manual method for stacking uranium pellets for CANDU fuel bundles that is currently used at Cameco Fuel Manufacturing in Port Hope, ON. The system presented is designed as a drop-in solution to the current production line at Cameco. As a result, there are constraints that prevent certain parameters from modification. The three main goals of this system are to reduce worker exposure to radiation to as low as reasonably achievable, improve product quality, and increase the productivity of the production line. The proposed system will remove the workers from a position of having to handle the uranium pellets and physically place them on the stacks. While the natural uranium currently in production is not a major health risk for short-term exposure, the possibility of production of slightly enriched uranium bundles makes this system a real need. This system also removes the random pellet placement that the manual system uses by taking precise measurements using laser triangulation sensors. These measurements are used to determine which sizes of end pellets are required to complete the stack to within the specified tolerances. A final measurement is done to ensure the stack is within tolerance. All of this information is recorded and can be traced back to the stacks during quality inspection, which is a major improvement over the existing system. This single automated system will replace two manual stations, while increasing the total output production, thus eliminating pellet stacking as a bottleneck in the fuel bundle assembly process. Current production rates can be met by this single, automated station in two shifts per day, while the current manual process requires three shifts using two stations. Test results of a proof-of-concept prototype indicate that the proposed design meets or exceeds all of the design requirements.