Nuclear

IT4A network solution provides a world-leading uranium enrichment plant with a durable and reliable managed system to ensure continuity of manufacture and ease of operation.

Our customer is a world-leading uranium enrichment plant, supplying more than 50 utilities in 19 countries around the world. In operation for more than 40 years, our customer is one of only four companies capable of undertaking this sort of work.


As our customer makes a substantial contribution to our total supply of nuclear energy, there is a considerable responsibility for our customer to maintain a level of production that will continue to service the industry. It is therefore critical that our customer limits vulnerabilities in their processes at the plant to ensure steady production within a protected environment.

Uranium enrichment is a highly technical, scientific industry which uses world-leading centrifuge technology but, like all manufacturing businesses with such a long, successful history, they need to replace and update elements of their infrastructure to keep their operations running smoothly.

The problem that was outlined by our customer's engineer, Ian, was that the network infrastructure supporting their manufacturing process was starting to have reliability issues. They had been experiencing an increasing number of failures and it was clear that the obsolete network now had to be brought up to date. The obsolete system provided connectivity with failover switching to a back-up but required substantial refurbishment and upgrading. This all had to be done, of course, without taking the plant offline. While the plant’s fail-safe systems are such that there was no way that an interruption would ever become dangerous, the loss of production as the processes were restarted and brought back into operation would be enormously expensive. Installing a new network would have to be done without affecting the manufacturing process.

 

Fibre optic structured cabling certification

Part of the solution for our customer was, of course, the installation and migration process. Once on site, IT4A examined, tested, cleaned and repaired the fibre infrastructure, rectifying it to EN50173 standard. This included capping spare cores in the area of the customer's site that the new network was to service. Those cores can now remain in place, ready to be used should any other fibre fail or in any future expansion of the system.

Live network migration

Migrating our customer’s systems onto the new network involved using their existing back-up. Once tested by IT4A running data on the back-up, without affecting the primary network, the back-up was used to carry the primary network while the primary was transferred onto the new equipment. Everything was then transferred back to the primary, now operating on the newly installed hardware, and the old back-up could then be transferred onto the new back-up system. It all went incredibly smoothly, with only minimal interruptions to data flow with which the system was well able to cope.

 

Network status monitoring

IT4A designed a managed network solution that gave our customer the kind of monitoring and control of its network that it had never had before. State-of-the-art network management software was used, designed specifically for industrial network management. It enables secure and easy configuration as well as the monitoring of industrial network components in real time.

System clock synchronisation

To ensure all devices have the same system clock, a Network Time Protocol (NTP) server was installed. This obtains an external time reference using GPS or radio signals instead of needing to use an Internet based NTP server. Having the same system clock on all devices is essential when troubleshooting any issue and establishing precisely what happened and in what sequence.

 

Network management
and backup network links

A redundant ring topology is used as the network backbone. If a backbone link failure occurs, this is highlighted within the management software. If any managed network devices go offline, these are also displayed. If any devices not on the management VLAN become disconnected, the switch reports a link-down message to the management software, the maintenance technicians can respond to these issues immediately.

By using managed switches, the access can be restricted to the administration console. Read-only access can be used by technicians while investigating any issues and port statistics can be used to check if links are healthy or if there are any errors which could have an underlying issue that can be resolved before the problem gets worse.

System Components

Automatic backup adaptors have been installed along with each network switch which means, in the unlikely event of a complete network switch failure, a cold spare can be installed. The automatic backup adaptor is connected to the replacement switch, which when powered on restores configuration from the backup device. The network switches selected were Hirschmann MACH1000 series switches; ruggedized, with a fan-less design and dual power supplies. Each switch power supply is fed from a different uninterruptible power supply system (UPS). Each UPS is backed up by generators. In the event of a mains power failure, the switch will use the working power supply input, without any interruption to the network. The switches operate in a room with a controlled air temperature, they are certified from 0°C to + 60°C and have all the necessary approvals and EMC certifications.

The new managed network has brought the oldest part of the facility up to date which has resulted in significant improvements to the efficiency and reliability of operations at the company. The scalability built in to the newly-installed network allows for far easier future expansion.