Suppliers collaborate, develop data products in battle against obsolete parts

Nuclear suppliers are working more closely together to resolve the obsolescence of older parts, offering new supply solutions through data services and reverse engineering.

Some nuclear plant technology is almost 50 years old. Image credit: Mihajlo Maricic

By Peter Taberner

“In many ways the obsolescence issue has brought the supply chain for nuclear power producers closer together,” Steve Willrett, Senior Consultant at Rolls-Royce Nuclear Engineering Services told FCBI.

The unifying objective is to keep those plants operating as efficiently and cost effectively as possible as nobody wins when plants have to close, he said.

“Suppliers work together to support the industry in finding solutions to obsolete equipment.” Willrett said.

Obsolescence refers to equipment and parts that are no longer available for purchase.

Having an industry-wide response to the obsolescence issue is vital as this is one of the most serious problems facing the nuclear sector.

Sharing solutions

Many nuclear plants were built in the 1970s and 1980s, using technology that is now around 50 years old.

A research study by Rolls Royce concluded that somewhere between 20-25% of the components in nuclear plants are no longer supported by the original equipment provider.

A nuclear plant typically relies on over 100,000 parts to operate, highlighting the size of the task.

To tackle the issue, the Nuclear Utility Obsolescence Group (NUOG) was formed in 2000, to create partnerships in the nuclear industry.

The Annual NUOG Meeting will take place July 20-22 in Sonoma, California, bringing together utilities and members along the supply chain to look for solutions.

Suppliers will reveal how they have worked in tandem and with utilities to solve obsolescence problems.

The isolated pockets of new build markets around the world have also helped keep supply chains in place for some of the older components.

“There are four new nuclear units being built in the United States and many others across the globe. This new business helps immensely in supporting the equipment needs of the existing fleet as well,” Willrett said.

New developments

Rolls Royce has created a system, called Proactive Obsolescence Management System (POMS), to reduce the effects of obsolescence.

POMS is a database and research tool, which collects information on equipment, inventory, the bill of materials, work order, and maintenance issues from all members.

The key benefits include: early notice of obsolescence issues, a detailed tree of equipment manufacturers and opportunities for industry collaboration.

An improved version of the system is being developed in which the data allows customers to identify items which will become obsolete, allowing them to act well in advance.

A rolled out version of POMS will also allow the supply community to outline accurate, up-to-date status, on their equipment.

Suppliers can update the status of any obsolete components and whether they can provide spare parts. The new system enables suppliers to identify areas and equipment in high demand.


Other providers of obsolescence solutions include ATC Nuclear, which has its own nuclear inventory management system.

This provides an inventory supply chain management solution, aimed at obsolescence and supplier performance to reduce direct and indirect costs, updating minute by minute.

ATC Nuclear has also developed a reverse engineering, manufacturing, and testing program to help solve the problem of hard-to-find parts from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

The Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Company (CWFC) is also prominent in the efforts to solve obsolescence issues.

CWFC’s RAPID online parts sharing database has been designed to provide a quick solution to locating surplus parts.

As nuclear sites often hold onto excess components available for resale to other nuclear sites, the surplus could be sold onto other sites that are in need on the component.

Special manufacturing runs are used and suppliers that have discontinued manufacturing an item can purchase components manufactured to the original designs.

CWFC has licensing agreements in place with suppliers that have stopped quality assurance programmes. The agreements allow OEM parts to be bought with all certifications in place.

The company also uses reverse engineering techniques, where alternative suppliers assemble obsolete parts. It also offers design changes, where valves, pumps and heat exchangers are used to enhance products.

US sector less concerned

While many firms are working on solutions to obsolescence, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the US nuclear industry group, does not see it as a major issue for US plants currently in operation.

 “The United States nuclear energy industry achieved a record high capacity factor in 2014. That level of excellence would not be attainable if obsolescence were a problem,” Steve Kerekes, senior communications director at NEI, said.

“The United States nuclear energy industry has invested approximately $90 billion in capital improvements over the past 20 years. Much of this money is invested in power uprates that increase our value to the United States electric grid, and to the markets and regions in which our facilities operate so efficiently.”