HIGH TEC

With a powerful laser blast, scientists near a nuclear fusion milestone

A National Ignition Facility experiment produced a record 1.3 million joules of fusion energy.

laser blast in a nuclear fusion experiment

With a powerful laser zap, scientists have blasted toward a milestone for nuclear fusion.

A fusion experiment at the world’s biggest laser facility released 1.3 million joules of energy, coming close to a break-even point known as ignition, where fusion begins to release more energy than required to detonate it. Reaching ignition would strengthen hopes that fusion could one day serve as a clean, plentiful energy source, a goal that scientists have struggled to make progress toward (SN: 2/8/18).

By pummeling a tiny capsule with lasers at the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, scientists triggered fusion reactions that churned out more than 10 quadrillion watts of power over 100 trillionths of a second. In all, the experiment, performed on August 8, released about 70 percent of the energy of the laser light used to set off the fusion reactions, putting the facility much closer to ignition than ever before.

Notably, because the capsule absorbs only a portion of the total laser energy focused on it, the reactions actually produced more energy than directly went into igniting them. “That, just fundamentally, is a truly amazing feat,” says plasma physicist Carolyn Kuranz of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who was not involved with the research. By that metric, the fusion reactions produced about five times as much energy as was absorbed.

“It’s a really exciting result, and it wasn’t clear that NIF would be able to get to this result,” Kuranz says. For years, NIF scientists have strived to reach ignition, but they have been plagued with setbacks (SN: 4/4/13). While the new results have yet to be published in a scientific journal, NIF scientists went public with their discovery after word got out to the scientific community and excitement mounted.

“It makes me very hopeful … for fusion in the future,” Kuranz says.

Nuclear fusion, the same process that powers the sun, would be an appealing source of energy on Earth because it checks several boxes for environmental friendliness: It wouldn’t generate climate-warming greenhouse gases or dangerous, long-lived radioactive waste. In nuclear fusion, hydrogen nuclei meld together to form helium, releasing energy in the process. But fusion requires extreme temperatures and pressures, making it difficult to control.

NIF is not alone in the fusion quest. Other projects, such as ITER, an enormous facility under construction in southern France, are using different techniques to tackle the problem (SN: 1/27/16). But those efforts have also met with difficulties. Perhaps unsurprisingly, controlling reactions akin to those in the sun is challenging no matter how you go about it.

In NIF’s fusion experiments, 192 laser beams converge on a small cylinder containing a peppercorn-sized fuel capsule. When that powerful laser burst hits the cylinder, X-rays stream out, vaporizing the capsule’s exterior and imploding the fuel within. That fuel is a mixture of deuterium and tritium, varieties of hydrogen that respectively contain one or two neutrons in their atomic nuclei. As the fuel implodes, it reaches the extreme densities, temperatures and pressures needed to fuse the hydrogen into helium. That helium can further heat the rest of the fuel, what’s known as alpha heating, setting off a fusion chain reaction.

That last step is crucial to boosting the energy yield. “What’s new about this experiment is that we’ve created a system in which the alpha heating rate is far larger than we’ve ever achieved before,” says NIF physicist Arthur Pak.

Scientists navigated a variety of quagmires to get to this stage. “There’s a whole a host of physics issues … that we’ve faced off and mitigated,” Pak says. For example, researchers took pains to make the capsule absorb more energy, to eliminate tiny defects in the capsule and to carefully tune the laser pulses to maximize fusion.

In 2018, researchers began seeing the payoff of those efforts. NIF achieved a then-record fusion energy of 55,000 joules. Then, in spring 2021, NIF reached 170,000 joules. Further tweaking the design of the experiment, scientists suspected, could increase the output even more. But the new experiment went beyond expectations, producing nearly eight times the energy of the previous effort.

Further studies will help NIF scientists determine exactly how their changes created such bountiful energy and how to enhance the output further. Still, even if NIF achieves full-fledged ignition, using fusion to generate power for practical purposes is still a long way off. “There will be a huge amount of work needed to turn the technology into a viable source of energy,” says laser plasma physicist Stuart Mangles of Imperial College London, who was not involved with the research. “Nevertheless, this is a really important milestone on the way.”

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at feedback@sciencenews.org

CITATIONS

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. National Ignition Facility experiment puts researchers at threshold of fusion ignition. Published August 18, 2021.

Source:https://www.sciencenews.org/

Talking with HP’s head of metal 3D printing

source: The Fabricator

In a wide-ranging interview at FABTECH 2019, the Global Head of HP Inc.’s 3D Metals division, Dr. Tim Weber, spoke enthusiastically about how the company’s binder-jet technology is used across the company’s many lines of printers, from $100 home units to large, $10-million graphics printers to the new HP Metal Jet 3D printing system.

“The key is we have an inkjet-technology printhead that’s basically the same in all those printers,” he said. “We’re vertically integrated, and we’ve always kept that [technology] in-house.”

Other topics Weber discussed with Additive Report Editor Don Nelson include:

• What distinguishes binder-jet metal 3D printing from other techniques.

• AM’s viability as a high-volume production process.

HP Metal Jet 3D printer.

An Interconnected Arc Welding Robot Solution fit for Industry

source:IFR INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION ROBOTICS

Dec 06, 2019 — Roboteco SpA recently developed a robotic welding cell for its customer Steel-Tech aimed at improving production and inserting into the production process a new machine that is totally interconnected with all stages of the manufacturing process.

3D Model of Robotic Weld Cell using Panasonic TAWER TIG System © Roboteco

With the installation of the new robotic cell, Steel-Tech aims to unify its processes, interconnecting the machines to increase speed and enable tracking and quality control the production flows in a systematic and reliable way.

Through its production management software, Steel-Tech is able to monitor and manage all the main machines in the factory; transferring production orders, controlling production flow and cycle times and, finally, observing the results.

Panasonic Desk Top Programming & Simulation DTPS allows off-line robot weld program development in a virtual 3D space followed by direct machine upload and interfacing with production management programs.

System interconnection allows parameter and quantity control enabling cycle control and optimisation.

The production management software automatically downloads analyses and saves the data from the welding robot in its own archive. One of the main benefits is having total interconnection of the production process starting from the offline programming, through the control of the production process and the parameters, to the tele-monitoring services in case of fault.

The Arc Welding Robot Solution

The cell developed by Roboteco-Italargon after a preliminary study phase together with the customer is composed of a Panasonic TAWERS TIG arc welding robot model TM-1400 with filler metal and two working stations with turn-tilt positioners.

TAWERS (The Arc Welding Robot Solution) robot is a unique architecture in which a single CPU controls and monitors the robot movement synchronized with the filler metal feeding and welding parameter control – “All in One” welding solution from one manufacturer. Integrated into the weld system is the Human Machine Interface Teach Pendant to facilitate program creation.

Installed Robotic Weld Cell
Installed Robotic Weld Cell © Roboteco

A single source software and a user-friendly HMI allow the operator to create and optimise welding programs using the wide range of functions available through the Teach Pendant and utilizing specific subprograms.

For example, the Welding Navigator subprogram assists the operator by calculating the welding parameters through selection of workpiece variables (material, thickness etc.) using data derived from extensive research.

The specific design of Panasonic TAWERS TIG torch simplifies the welding process. The wire is inclined towards the welding pool with an angle of precisely 30° and is pre-heated by passing close to the arc. By means of this special torch configuration the robot programmer can focus on TCP (the tungsten electrode) without having to worry about wire positioning, gaining high flexibility and better torch positioning.

This Panasonic torch design can easily support all robot functions including AVC (Arc Voltage Control), the adaptive software that allows to keep stick-out (distance between electrode and workpiece) constant.

Panasonic TAWERS TIG Welding Cell in Operation
Panasonic TAWERS TIG Welding Cell in Operation © Roboteco

Data Management and Industry 4.0

Roboteco-Italargon and Steel-Tech have agreed to make intensive use of arc welding data management software.

Through adaptive control, the CPU of the robot supplies and controls all process parameters (current, voltage, welding speed, wire speed, wire feeder servo motor’s electrical consumption etc.) and arc welding data management software allows the user to set alarm ranges, to view them remotely via an external PC and to record them in logs filed by welding section.

Data Output Screens
Data Output Screens © Roboteco

The robot system is also equipped with the Roboteco Industry 4.0 kit that allows interconnection with Steel-Tech general management software.

Roboteco Industry 4.0 kit is the result of a study with the goal of making interconnection of the robotic cell with external environment easy and flexible and enabling data and information exchange. For example transfer of production orders, quantity of pieces to produce compared with the pieces already produced, real welding parameters compared with set parameters, cycle time, robot alarms and status and many other available information.

All information is extrapolated from the robot in an external PLC with dedicated HMI and with a simple library open to be connected with all the main software languages (HTML, VB, C#, Java, etc.).

This kit could also enable remote access from a mobile device by implementing web pages, accessible via mobile devices (tablet, smartphone, etc.) external to the company network or PC connected to the same line.; the same kit could enable the connection through FTP Server.

The industry 4.0 kit allows also for remote control of the machine; Roboteco-Italargon’s technician can access from the service offices the robot status and alarms. In this way the technicians could analyse possible faults and cooperate with customer to solve them remotely.

Desk Top Programming & Simulation System (DTPS)

In order to make the programming more efficient, Steel-Tech utilizes the offline programming software Panasonic DTPS.

DTPS Offline Programming
DTPS Offline Programming © Roboteco

DTPS is a simulation software developed exclusively for Panasonic robots. With this software, users can create and edit robot programs and verify robot motion offline. DTPS enables a smooth transfer of robot programs from office PC to the robot controller.

DTPS makes it possible to run the robot program on the PC in simulation and optimise the robot movement with the corresponding welding parameters offline.

By importing the 3D CAD files of the pieces to be welded, the company can utilize DTPS to verify the accessibility of the robot in each position of the pieces to be welded, evaluate the cycle time, avoid collision, program the robot movement and all process parameters and edit or modify it by PC and various other functions which make it an indispensable tool for optimising welding processes.

The benefits are the reduction of welding cell machine downtime, time saving of programming welding lines by using special macros in DTPS software and analysis of product costs through process simulation.

Today Steel-Tech is utilizing the new welding robot for welding stainless steel parts for one of tis distinguished customer; the welding programs were designed totally in the 3D environmental of DTPS and transferred to the robot with the production orders.

Integrating the sophisticated TAWERS welding system with the Roboteco Industry 4.0 kit and DTPS under a general production management software enables complete process interconnectivity and smart data feedback. Understanding in real time the performance of the production processes allows for early identification of errors or uncharacteristic machine performance, which could help to avoid major faults and thus reduce downtime. Combining DTPS with weld data feedback allows for optimisation of cycle time leading to maximised output rates. With Industry 4.0 kit the robot is interconnected with Steel-Tech production management software that oversees also other machines and phases of the production exchanging with them data in term of IoT.

TIG Weld Example
TIG Weld Example © Roboteco

About the companies

Roboteco SpA was founded in 1988, having sensed a growing need in the market for automated arc welding and, thanks to the almost thirty-year partnership with Panasonic Welding System, Roboteco has specialized in the promotion and integration of Panasonic TAWERS technology, a revolutionary fully integrated welding robot solution, focusing on the Automotive and General Industry sectors. In 2017 Roboteco S.p.a. acquired Italargon, another historical brand manufacturer of robotic and automatic welding solutions. Since becoming Roboteco-Italargon, the company has continued to grow and has diversified from MIG and TIG to Laser Beam Welding (LBW).

Steel-Tech Srl is a company originally established as manufacturer of components for cereal mills and since has diversified towards a wider range mechanical metal processing. With the generational changeover, the company has evolved to introduce welding processes, mainly using TIG, in different sectors like medical, pharmaceutical, food & packaging and metal furniture.

The company development continued with the introduction of robotic TIG welding with a first Roboteco-Italargon cell some years ago and further today with a new robotic cell also equipped with TIG welding process and Panasonic TAWERS (The Arc Welding Robot Solution) system, but intended for integration into the new industry 4.0 company development.