The quest to achieve fusion has become one of the most significant technological endeavours of our time. It promises to generate vast amounts of carbon-free energy, addressing the mounting energy challenges we face today.
However, achieving fusion is an enormous challenge. It naturally occurs at the core of stars like the Sun, requiring scientists to recreate those extreme conditions here on Earth.
To tackle this grand ambition, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Project (ITER) was established in 1985, to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale, carbon-free energy source.
In this article, we delve into the significance of nuclear fusion and how 3D scanning has played a vital role in this project’s development.
Understanding nuclear fusion
Harnessing nuclear fusion offers several advantages. Firstly, it provides a nearly limitless supply of energy without carbon emissions and with minimal nuclear waste.
However, achieving fusion presents significant obstacles. Scientists must recreate the extreme conditions found in the centre of the Sun, including the extraordinary forces, pressures, and temperatures required to fuse atoms together.
ITER’s approach to fusion and the role of 3D scanning
ITER’s approach to achieving fusion involves creating and controlling plasma, a state where gas is heated to incredibly high temperatures, causing electrons to separate from nuclei.
This plasma will be confined and controlled within a device called a tokamak, which employs powerful magnetic fields in the shape of a ring doughnut. The completed tokamak is expected to produce 500 MW of fusion power.
Equipment and Nuclear SA (ENSA), has played a crucial role in designing the components that make up the tokamak vacuum vessel. Constructing this monumental device, which weighs 23,000 tons and measures 28 meters in diameter, necessitates much precise engineering and cutting-edge technology.
To ensure the perfect alignment of the vacuum vessel’s nine sectors, ENSA employed 3D scanning and made-to-measure designs. The 3D scanning techniques, including photogrammetry and laser scanning, were used to capture detailed scans of the lateral edges of each sector, which were then converted into editable 3D models.
From this data custom parts were developed to connect and secure the different sections of the sectors. Once fabricated, the sectors will be welded together, marking a significant milestone in the construction of the tokamak.
The transformative power of 3D technologies in the energy sector
The energy sector is embracing the power of 3D technologies, including 3D printing, 3D scanning, and 3D simulations. These cutting-edge tools offer numerous benefits, such as enhanced speed, efficiency, and accuracy, driving significant advancements in energy projects worldwide.
One key advantage is the cost-saving potential achieved through increased accuracy. 3D scanning technology can be used to identify potential flaws or misalignments in parts, as by comparing the scanned data with the initial design, engineers can quickly identify areas requiring adjustment.
Also without 3D scanning, extensive time and resources would be wasted on multiple iterations and moulding attempts.
The use of 3D scanning and printing has significantly accelerated the completion of ambitious projects like ITER. Without these technologies, endeavours such as nuclear fusion would be exceedingly lengthy and costly.
Today, we have the capability to employ 3D technologies in almost every aspect of engineering, enabling the realisation of projects that were once unimaginable.
Future challenges for 3D scanning and printing
While 3D scanning and printing have already revolutionised many industries, there are still opportunities for future improvement.
The continuous evolution of 3D printers and scanners, advanced 3D scanning software, and the emergence of hybrid materials, such as plastic-metal composites, are game-changers that offer greater cost-effectiveness and expanded capabilities.
As we look to the future, these technologies will only become more refined, empowering engineers and researchers to tackle grand challenges with unprecedented efficiency and creativity – no matter how complex.
See the full Tech.eu article.