Women in Nuclear UK

17.06.20

YGN Futuresight - Technology

It is the YGN's role, as part of the professional body for the nuclear sector, to look ahead, to envisage a better world and a future in which our members and our industry will flourish.

Times of great societal pressure and motivational shifts such as today’s environment accelerate innovation and will inevitably result in a change in behaviours and attitudes towards the vocational aspects of our lives. This is our opportunity to rethink work and the workplace - what does our future workforce value and what skills are required for the future of work?

In previous YGN Futuresight articles we have explored how our current circumstances prompt us to reconsider our Values, how Leadership is required to ensure we thrive beyond the crisis, reflecting on Self, the importance of Energy and the different types of Community bonds that have been formed during the pandemic. This week, Jake Tudge, YGN Capital Projects Lead and Management Consultant at Accenture, offers his insights into the role of Technology during and beyond the pandemic.

A fusion of environments; technology in nuclear.

For those in nuclear power, we are all too familiar with the fusion of atomic nuclei. Whilst the real thing may be a few years away from commercial operation, one type of fusion has firmly entered our day-to-day lives – that of the fusion of the home and office working environments.

We have all witnessed the immense impact on the workplace from COVID-19 and the nuclear industry is no exception. From the diligent plans developed by EDF Nuclear Generation, as explained by John Munro in the NIA’s recent ‘Nuclear Resilience’ webinar, through to the change in working practices to enable social distancing at sites including Sellafield and Hinkley Point C – all whilst demonstrating the industry’s ability to provide flexible firm power [1], achieve a significant milestone [2], and continue to keep nuclear sites safely operating [3].

The home; Zoom fatigue is a real threat.

In the opening blog to this series, Rob Ward shared that [4]:

“Jobs that can be done remotely will be”.

For those in that group, how many of us – when asked a year ago – would have said that we’d be working remotely full time during a global pandemic? Organisations have raced to maintain their productivity and be ‘work from home friendly’. For example, Accenture supported the NHS to put 1.2 million employees onto Microsoft Teams within a week [5]. Topics, such as remote working, will be a large focus of the newly formed NI Future of Work SIG (Special Interest Group), co-led by the YGN. If you’d like to find out more about this please email our YGN Chair, Rob Ward, at chair.ygn@nuclearinst.com.

No alt text provided for this image

Whilst the transition to remote working technology can relieve stress in areas such as travel and the frequent change of sleeping environments, a new threat has emerged; that of ‘Zoom fatigue’ [6]. As discussed in the previous article on Self, working from home and experiencing a new type of interaction through videoconferencing has the potential to result in loneliness and an impact on our mental health. A study from the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies found that delays of over 1.2 seconds can suggest colleagues are less attentive, extraverted and conscientious [7]. Not to mention, looking at your own face for hours on end (particularly without a haircut, as is the case for many including myself), is quite stressful.

The office; open plan is a thing of the past.

We’ve all seen the studies that say it takes several minutes to return to our work after being disturbed. But let’s be honest, we quite like our colleagues passing by to share their good news or enthusiasm for a new topic. However, this could change in the future. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced recommendations that offices position desks six feet apart and, if not possible, they use plastic screens to reduce transmission of COVID-19 [8]. Watercooler gossip is essential in the workplace; not only for moments of collaboration, but more broadly those impromptu conversations which lead to both personal and professional development opportunities.

Nuclear is an industry which relies on the continuous exchange of knowledge and information. This must remain, regardless of a pandemic, in order to maintain safety and productivity. Operational sites and project delivery environments naturally have limitations as to the flexibility of their workforce size. Whilst, as described previously, working practices can be successfully adapted to enable a transition to a socially distanced environment, it does mean that we are all evaluating the functions that can be delivered remotely and the potential technology solutions.

Technology; if insurance can, so can everyone else.

Lloyd’s of London was founded by Edward Lloyd at his coffee house in 1686. A short walk from the Accenture office in London, I am all too familiar with the brokers striding past with their enormous folders brimming with paperwork. Surely, this is an industry which could never transition to a digital world? Lloyd’s shut its underwriting room in London, the first closure of physical trading in the commercial insurance market’s 330-year history and fast-tracked plans to a virtual room – enabling brokers and underwriters to connect and trade [9]. If this highly regulated insurance market can adopt technology, so can everyone else.

Many industries have disproven their orthodoxies and used this period to accelerate their adoption of technology and drive the required behavioural change. The NI have a dedicated SIG which advances the digital debate in our industry [10]. In addition, I have been particularly impressed with the NI YGN’s rapid conversion of the Speaking Competitions to webinars – this has broadened the audience, reduced the costs and increased the accessibility to participate. You can keep track of the YGN Speaking Competitions via the NI’s webinar calendar [11]. But of course, you’ll proclaim, this is driven by a generation of digital natives!

Technology will fuse our home and office environments.

Maybe I am being slightly provocative with a comparison to the insurance market in the adoption of technology solutions. Nuclear is a unique sector, but it is already demonstrating significant advances on its digital journey, such as the Virtual Engineering Centre with Sellafield [12] and 3D modelling with BIM (Building Information Modelling) at HPC [13]. However, there is arguably an opportunity to learn from the successes within neighbouring asset-intensive sectors.

One prime example of a solution is Digital Twins, which are a relatively mature and potentially game-changing technology – think of them as a virtual replica of a physical asset. Digital Twins amalgamate data from the physical world, such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) models, production data and in-operation performance, and enable engineers to simulate, optimise, test and operate equipment to predict errors before they happen, reduce risk and increase safety [14]. Imagine the opportunities if we could use Digital Twins and other technologies, whilst learning from other sectors, and apply them to the nuclear lifecycle.

No alt text provided for this image

Nuclear, more than ever, can learn from other sectors.

Tesla produces a Digital Twin of every vehicle it sells [15]. The sensors installed within each of the vehicles continuously relay information into the car’s simulation where AI (Artificial Intelligence) analyses the maintenance requirements and can even perform remote repair. Imagine if we could enable a step change in remote monitoring of our nuclear assets and use the data in an iterative manner to improve performance and generate new designs or solutions to approaching problems.

But of course, as we are all too aware, the heart of a nuclear site is its highly skilled workforce. Technology is already advancing the productivity and safety of workers across sectors. Petrofac, a global oilfield services organisation, is using connected worker technology to improve the efficiency and maintain the safety of its field force [16]. A connected worker solution enables the remote monitoring of the workforce, support with task completion, and issues resolution, such as deploying emergency responders to the exact location of a ‘man down’.

Technology can enable our workforce both during and beyond the pandemic.

In a COVID-19 environment, connected worker technology could enable the tracking of workers within zones and regulate social distancing. With the addition of wearable technology, there is an opportunity to further reduce the number of teams required on site and provide remote expert assistance. Airbus has deployed wearable technology in the form of smart glasses to its operators to improve cabin fitout – a complex process – with impressive results including a 500% increase in productivity and zero error rate [17].

No alt text provided for this image

Imagine the opportunities if we connected wearable technology to a Digital Twin? One use case could be ‘over the shoulder’ virtual coaching through AR (Augmented Reality) glasses. Suddenly, you could have a large volume of highly skilled engineers operating from their spare rooms across the globe. Not to mention, the flexibility to operate ‘virtually’ in multiple locations enables the collaboration with industry peers and a reduce period to access the problem first-hand. As discussed at the beginning of this article our current situation will change the way we work, but this could be for the better with significant opportunities to improve operational execution and capital project delivery.

Net Zero needs technology and the nuclear sector will find solutions.

The Committee on Climate Change has, following COVID-19, stated that “The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions” [18]. If nuclear is to be viewed by decision makers as part of our Net Zero solution, then it must continue to make the case for delivery; in the successful execution of new build projects, the continued reliable delivery of power, and an effective programme of work to manage our legacy. Technology will inevitably contribute to this case, from how our workforce adapts to working from home to the methods in which our operational sites deliver their scopes of work.

However, this must be whilst considering our industry-specific approach. Safety is the priority across our industry and the WANO Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture highlights key components including ‘Questioning Attitude’, ‘Decision Making’, and ‘Environment for Raising Concerns’ [19]. As our home and office environments fuse, it is imperative that our new regime fulfils the requirements of a nuclear safety culture, whilst of course maintaining nuclear security and delivering continued productivity across the value chain.

Nuclear will continue to thrive as we experience this fusion.

Reverting to the topic at hand – technology during, and beyond, COVID-19 - in practice, what does this mean? Never has a water cooler been viewed as such a strategic asset. I am convinced that I am not the only person longing for a ‘quick catch up’ in the kitchen to discuss my latest project or views on the world. How many times have you found an impromptu conversation to influence the direction of your work? In an industry that values operational excellence and the open sharing of information, we must find the new water cooler. In collaboration with the NI YGN, we at Accenture are hosting a series of ‘Who has the Dōjō?’ webinars throughout June. The ‘water cooler conversation’ was the inspiration and each guest speaker must explain their chosen topic within five minutes. You can register for future events below.

Whether it be the deployment of videoconferencing software or right through to a Digital Twin with connected AR glasses, organisations must deploy at pace and engage their teams on the journey - people are at the heart of this change. This will be delivered through pilots, testing (some will fail) and the application of cross-industry learning. But one thing remains certain – the nuclear industry will remain as professional as ever and lead by example – owning the responsibility to manage our legacy, keeping our lights on and delivering the assets to build our low carbon future.

Please note that the views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Accenture.

No alt text provided for this image

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-energy/edf-asked-to-lower-sizewell-nuclear-plant-output-to-help-balance-uk-grid-idUSKBN22I13D

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-52882999

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/important-work-in-tackling-future-risks-restarts-at-sellafield

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ygn-futuresight-ygn-events

[5] https://www.cbronline.com/news/nhs-cyber-security-contracts

[6] https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue

[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1071581914000287

[8] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/29/no-open-plan-offices-water-cooler-gossip-say-us-coronavirus/

[9] https://www.reinsurancene.ws/lloyds-to-trial-virtual-underwriting-room-in-covid-19-response/

[10] https://www.nuclearinst.com/Digital-SIG

[11] https://www.nuclearinst.com/Webinar-Calendar

[12] https://www.virtualengineeringcentre.com/projects/sellafield/

[13] https://www.tekla.com/uk/references/how-hinkley-point-c-got-power-bim

[14] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/industry-digitization/virtual-mirror-of-complex-systems

[15] https://www.industryweek.com/technology-and-iiot/article/21130033/how-digital-twins-are-raising-the-stakes-on-product-development

[16] https://www.petrofac.com/en-gb/media/our-stories/connected-construction/

[17] https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/success-airbus-wearable-technology

[18] https://www.energyvoice.com/otherenergy/239956/climate-advisers-urge-uk-government-to-invest-in-green-technology-post-covid-19/

[19] https://www.wano.info/resources/traits-of-a-healthy-nuclear-safety-culture?lang=en-GB