Our Customer is a world-leading nuclear fuel fabrication plant, supplying more than 50 utilities in 19 countries around the world that has been in operation for more than 40 years. They make a substantial contribution to the total global supply of nuclear energy, they have a considerable responsibility to maintain a level of production which will continue to service the industry.
Nuclear fuel production is a highly technical, scientific industry that uses world-leading technology but, like all manufacturing businesses with such a long, successful history, elements of their infrastructure need to be replaced and updated to keep operations running smoothly.
The problem, outlined by the Engineering team, was that the active Ethernet network infrastructure that supports the manufacturing process was beginning to experience reliability issues. The network had been experiencing an increasing number of failures, and it was clear that the obsolete network hardware now had to be brought up to date.
In the case of a process communications path failure, the network service was always maintained as the legacy system provided redundant connectivity with automatic failover. The legacy failover process, while fast, was un-managed leaving operations staff unsure about the availability and effectiveness of their backup systems. Improving plant network visibility for the control room was one of many opportunities for network enhancement.
While the plant’s fail-safe systems ensured an interruption in communication could never become dangerous, any interruption in communication that resulted in lost production could be enormously expensive. Therefore, the installation challenge was to migrate to the new network without affecting the manufacturing process.
Other challenges include:
Refurbishment of the process-wide fibre optic infrastructure and related facilities.
Integration of legacy 10Mbps fibre optic to AUI transceivers, brought to market in 1996, with modern network switching equipment supporting line speeds of up to 1Gbps.
Creation of a resilient, high-speed, managed network backbone able to support multiple applications, legacy and new, without compromise. Providing a platform for future extension, expansion and change.
Implementation of controls that would limit the impact and alert on a network failure and a management system that would, among other things, display them.
Education of on-site engineering and support teams.
With production outages measured in £M’s, the over twenty-year old network was probably the highest value asset IT4A have been asked to replace. While technical challenges were presented and overcome along the journey, it was how the project team came together that ultimately brought the level of success to the project. Migrating a live nuclear process control system demands competence and strict controls, but ultimately it is the trust, earned across many months and many activities that allowed the first steps of live migration to be taken.
Good design and risk management go hand in hand. Linking product and feature selection to project assessed risk and more specifically the risk mitigation results in security by design - an approach that ensures nothing gets missed and a mind-set that worked well on site.
A critical part of the network upgrade was the preparation of the physical topology and environment within which the new network systems would exist. While not originally considered within scope, significant efforts were made to ensure the environment was optimised and the infrastructure validated. This is covered in the IT4A case study “Physical infrastructure, preparation for network migration.”
The network switches primary feature set dealt with all the project’s design constraints: resilience, segmentation and management.
Overlaying this active Belden network on the IT4A certified fibre infrastructure required a robust and future-proof redundancy protocol. IT4A selected the standardised ‘Media Redundancy Protocol’ (MRP) resilience protocol (IEC 62439-2). MRP was chosen for its speed of recovery and more importantly the degree of scalability that made future expansion possible.
The final stage of the design was network management. The network management system (NMS) needed to be effective at administering the network yet be user-friendly. In the Nuclear sector, where the clarity of high-quality decision support systems is vital, the NMS implementation was critical. The Belden NMS provided evidence of network stability prior to migration and provided clarity of system-wide status postmigration – an excellent tool.
The new IT4A engineered, managed network has brought one of the UK’s Nuclear fuel facilities up to date, using both modern standards and good practice. Significant improvements to the efficiency and reliability of operations have resulted. Equally important has been the peace of mind that the infrastructure supporting production is a scalable, engineered solution that is understood, documented and above all trusted.
From the certification of all fibre paths to the implementation of a fully configured network management system, IT4A’s approach to challenging every element of the design was fully justified. Urenco now has the robust solution they needed and, just as important, the guidance, assurances, education and support that ensures the new network solution is supportable and maintainable for many years to come.
“I can honestly say that with IT4A working alongside us we assembled the right team managed to achieve all our goals successfully”
Download pdf Nuclear - Active Network Infrastructure
For full details please download the case study
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A Proof of Concept system was developed to first take all risk out of the deployment and secondly to act as a functional spare that could be deployed within the live system.
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