As you might imagine, working in a nuclear power plant provides special challenges. One crucial aspect for any project is the need to minimize employee exposure to radiation by applying a standard known as As Low As Reasonably Achievable—ALARA for short.
How this works: Plant ALARA managers work with the maintenance groups to estimate how much time is required to perform a task and, allowing for exposure limits, they determine how many employees may be needed to safely complete it. Today, that work is typically done with pen and paper. But new tools from Siemens PLM Software that incorporate the Kinect for Windows sensor could change this by providing a 3-D virtual interactive modeling environment.
Kinect for Windows is used to capture realistic movement for use in the Siemens Teamcenter solution for ALARA radiation planning.
The solution, piloted at a US nuclear power plant last year, is built on Siemens’ Teamcenter software, using its Tecnomatix process simulate productivity product. Siemens PLM Software Tecnomatix provides virtual 3-D human avatars—“Jack” and “Jill”—that are integrated to model motion-controlled actions input with a Kinect for Windows sensor. This solution is helping to usher in a new era of industrial planning applications for employee health and safety in the nuclear industry.
"We're really revolutionizing the industry," said Erica Simmons, global marketing manager for Energy, Oil, and Gas Industries at Siemens PLM Software. "For us, this was a new way to develop a product in tandem with the industry associations. We created a specific use case with off-the-shelf technology and tested and validated it with industry. What we have now is a new visual and interactive way of simulating potential radiation exposure which can lead to better health and safety strategies for the plant."
Traditional pencil-and-paper planning (left) compared to the Siemens PLM Software Process Simulate on Teamcenter solution (right) with “Jack” avatar and Kinect for Windows movement input.
The Siemens Tecnomatix process planning application, integrated with the Kinect for Windows system, will give nuclear plant management the ability to better manage individual worker radiation exposure and optimize steps to reduce overall team exposure. As a bonus, once tasks have been recorded by using “Jack,” the software can be used for training. Employees can learn and practice an optimized task by using Kinect for Windows and Siemens “Jack” and “Jill”—safely outside of the radiation zone—until they have mastered it and are ready to perform the actual work.
"We wanted to add something more for the user of this solution in addition to our 3-D human avatars and the hazard zones created by our visual cartography; this led us to exploring what we could do with the Kinect for Windows SDK for this use case," said Dr. Ulrich Raschke, director of Human Simulation Technologies at Siemens PLM Software. “User feedback has been good so far; the addition of the Kinect for Windows system adds another level of interactivity to our application."
This Siemens solution grew out of a collaborative effort with Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Fiatech industry association, which identified the need for more technologically advanced estimation tools for worker radiation dosage. Kinect for Windows was incorporated when the developers were tailoring the avatar system to the solution and exploring ways to make the user experience much more interactive.
"Collaboration with several key stakeholders and industry experts led to this innovative solution," said Phung Tran, senior project manager at EPRI. "We're pleased the industry software providers are using it, and look forward to seeing the industry utilize these new tools."
“In fact,” Tran added, “the tool is not necessarily limited to radiation work planning. It could help improve the management and execution of many operation, maintenance, and project-based tasks.”
Kinect for Windows team