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Can virtual reality gaming platforms be used to better manage the construction of nuclear power facilities?

Can gaming engines originally designed for entertainment be useful in the construction of nuclear power plants? Drs. Abhinav Gupta and Kevin Han think so. Gupta brings experience in structural and mechanical engineering, while Han’s expertise lies in construction engineering management. They have a common interest in computational modeling and the desire to diminish risk and avoid unneeded costs and delays on construction projects. The virtual performance management system they’re developing is targeted to the nuclear energy industry, but is applicable to any industry.

With the use of 3-D Building Information Modeling (BIM), engineers and contractors now have the ability to compare ‘as-planned’ models with ‘as-built’ models. The technology that Gupta and Han are developing takes it one step further by capturing the progress and quality of fabricated components that are manufactured at off-site facilities. “There is no current technology that incorporates manufacturing progress as part of construction progress,” Han says. “By capturing performance of the supply chain, there is opportunity for digital record generation and management.” This is especially relevant to nuclear energy facilities where there is a heavy burden on documentation of progress and quality.  This requirement for documentation has been an ongoing challenge and burden for smaller companies.

“Imagine that you are having a very large steam turbine manufactured in Japan for a nuclear plant being built in the U.S. It is massive, weighs many tons, and will be expensive to ship to the construction site. We can use virtual reality to bring it to the site and confirm it fits properly,” Gupta explains.

Han and Gupta have been researching and developing this technology since 2018 with funding from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program and Idaho National Labs where they work in partnership with a Versatile Test Reactor team. In mid 2020, Han and Gupta applied for and received a Disclosure for Patent for their virtual performance management system.