How 3-D technology is helping nuclear plants innovate

We can print almost anything with a 3-D printer: food, cars, nuclear plant parts. The Oconee Nuclear Station team is rethinking the way they train workers – and perform maintenance – using 3-D print technology.

The demographics of today’s nuclear workforce have changed significantly since Duke Energy started operating nuclear power plants in the 1970s. Training, however, has not. Traditionally, training involves a combination of instruction, pictures, drawings, figures and diagrams, with little use of actual components or models in the classroom.

But, 3-D printing is changing that. Workers at Oconee realized they could easily and inexpensively create models of plant parts to improve classroom learning. Instructors can now bring a subject matter to life using scale models that students can handle and manipulate – just like they would a real plant part. Since the models are plastic, they are safe to handle and can be customized to meet the needs of particular students. Additionally, the printed models mean real, more expensive components are not needed simply for training.

3-D printing is not only applicable to the classroom and on-the-job training efforts, however. Oconee is using this technology to create scale models of new parts. This allows workers to inexpensively verify that the component meets the correct specifications before making the actual part.

3-D printing is also useful for the team responsible for maintaining the control room simulator. For example, items such as custom mounts for cameras and speakers, as well as replacement switches have been printed. Since the simulator is only used for training purposes, printed parts are ideal because they are inexpensive and not required to meet the same high standards as actual plant components. 

You won’t see 3-D printed nuclear plants in the future. 3-D printed products are, after all, made of plastic. But, the technology is an important example of how our fleet is thinking differently to conserve resources. That’s a benefit not only for our workers, but our customers as well.

Watch the Oconee 3-D printer in action.

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