Industry 4.0 • October 11, 2016

How Product Lifecycle Execution (PLE) Can Improve Compliance with NQA-1 Regulations in the Nuclear Industry

Tom Hennessey Tom Hennessey

Anyone working with nuclear energy knows that navigating the regulatory environment of  nuclear industries is as complicated as it is critical. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) creates and maintains regulatory standards including Nuclear Quality Assurance-1 (ASME NQA-1). The current version was released in 2015 (NQA-1-2015). However, the most commonly used version is NQA-1-2008 with the NQA-1a-2009 addendum, because these are the versions endorsed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NQA-1 Standard for Quality = Safety in Nuclear Industries

When we think of the nuclear industry, there are two distinct realms to consider:

  • The nuclear power industry that is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
  • The nuclear weapons industry that is managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under the Department of Energy (DOE).

While different federal statutes apply to each of these sectors, both subscribe to the NQA-1 standard for quality. “The nuclear industry developed NQA-1 because they wanted to set very high standards for quality, and in the nuclear industry, quality equates to safety,” says Holly Haines, an iBase-t engineer with 20 years of nuclear industry experience. “NQA-1 goes further than the federal standards.”

Product Lifecycle Execution (PLE) Systems Make Compliance Possible

For both the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries, the process of keeping up with all the requirements, federal as well as NQA-1, is time-consuming, costly, and often overwhelming. It’s one of the principal reasons nuclear power plants stopped being built in the United States. The industry found it too difficult to maintain the paperwork on everything that must be documented. This is one reason those in the industry are turning to a systems as a solution. A PLE takes over where an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) leave off, managing the day-to-day work done on the shop floor, in equipment rooms, and testing labs.

For instance, manufacturers in the nuclear weapons industry may create a component that literally takes months of paperwork review before the component can be presented to the oversight agency for approval.  An effective PLE can turn months of paperwork review into only days, resulting in increased efficiency. “Nuclear organizations were finding paperwork not filled out properly, missing signatures, data collection either recorded incorrectly or in a such a manner that it couldn’t be read,” says Haines. “That was disastrous.”

PLE Systems Facilitate Data Integrity in the Nuclear Sector

Consider just a few of the questions those in the nuclear sector need to answer precisely:

  • Has tooling been calibrated?
  • Were test results recorded correctly?
  • Was the process followed in proper sequence?
  • Was there a proper handover from shift to shift?
  • Were personnel trained and qualified prior to performing work?

“Quality organizations were confounded by the time it took to walk down every single item on the build book and to interview the people who had done the work,” says Haines. “After all, the work may have happened six months prior.”

Add to this the issue of data integrity. If a “3” was confused with an “8” in someone’s paper entry, measurements may be wrong in the documentation review. Or, for example, a tool is found to have drifted out of calibration when it came back to metrology meant that the company had to walk back to every place that tool was used to find out if the data collected was within the specified range. “The paperwork is so massive and difficult, it’s almost impossible to reach production goals,” notes Haines.

PLE Systems Promote Safety and Quality

Nuclear power plants have to maintain records on every piece of equipment and material. Additionally, materials used in nuclear facilities must meet extremely tight quality standards. For example, steel around radiating material has to be of a certain grade to withstand the constant bombardment of radiation. (Imagine control rods deforming or reactors not being in proper configuration!)

“Because these are critical safety systems that we rely on, every seal on every pump, and every valve on every system has to be tested to meet specific requirements, so the maintenance requirements on a nuclear facility are extremely rigorous,” says Haines. “They have to be followed exactly or you’re out of compliance, and when you miss a technical safety requirement … you get fined severely, repeatedly, for every mistake. If you have an accumulation of mistakes, you’ll be shut down.”

If a nuclear facility is shut down, it may never restart. So managers of these facilities constantly struggle with the question of how to keep the facility open and productive with all the regulations that constantly have to be met.

Solumina PLE Provides the Solution for Nuclear Industries

A PLE like Solumina eases the regulatory dilemma for nuclear industries by managing processes to the standards required by NQA-1. It automates daily work processes, and maintains traceability of everything from parts and materials, to tests and inspections, revision-controlled work instructions, and tool calibrations. It traces people involved, as well as the sequence in which things are done. For example, a PLE ensures that if a technician has a required test, it cannot be skipped. A PLE also validates data in real time, so if a measurement is found to be out of spec, it’s caught immediately, not six months later when documentation is being reviewed. If a non-conformance is found, it is managed immediately, with incorporation of long-term corrective and preventive actions, and follow-up audits.

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