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Developing a digital twin for validation of packing optimisers used for nuclear decommissioning


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Monday 15 July 2024
Project start date
Tuesday 1 October 2024
Country eligibility
UK only
Competition funded
Source of funding
Centre for doctoral training
Dr Xiaodong Jia
Additional supervisors
Professor Shane Xie (Electronic & Electrical Engineering), Dr Mehmet Dogar (Computing)
School of Chemical and Process Engineering, School of Computing, School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

When sorting and packing nuclear waste items, the current practice typically involves human operators wearing full PPEs and/or remotely controlled robotic arms. Major constraints of the current practice include short working shift, large support team, low efficiency, long project duration and high cost. The use of autonomous robotic systems is now an accepted future technological trend, as in principle they can overcome all the major constraints of the current practice, by embedding forward planning based on info from modern scanning technologies, by eliminating human operators&rsquo; exposure to harmful radiations, and by making continuous 24/7 operation possible. Some supervisors of this PhD project were involved in a recently completed feasibility demo project (OptiSort), funded by IUK (Innovate UK) and NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority). While the demo project successfully integrated some state-of-the-art technologies into an autonomous system and showcased its potentials, it also revealed some gaps to be filled before the system can be deployed for real-world applications.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p style="margin-bottom:11px">This PhD project helps to fill one of the gaps: a real-time validation system for packing simulations, comprising a robotic packing setup and a digital twin (DT), such that packing simulation models can be plugged in to be tested, verified and corrected. The physical twin is a simple setup (consisting of a robotic arm, flat work surface to pick up well separated objects from, and a packing box) but equipped with necessary machine vision sensors to allow discrepancy detection and correction to be carried out in real-time. The digital twin is built on an existing packing software (DigiDEM) to provide a common virtual packing platform to handles digitised irregular shapes, their packing and mechanical stability, and an API to allow different packing algorithms or heuristics to be tested and validated.</p> <p>Specifically, the project aims to establish a digital twin for the purpose of testing different packing optimisation algorithms or heuristics before such packing models can be deployed for practical nuclear decommissioning applications. Since in a physical packing setup, gravity and laws of physics apply, an object robotically placed in a position may not stay there; a newly added object may also cause existing packing structure to change. Such possibilities need to be taken into account in the packing simulation environment, hence the use of DigiDEM as a starting point. DEM stands for Discrete Element Method, it is a standard numerical technique for simulating dynamic processes involving discrete particles or objects by solving Newton&rsquo;s equations of motion for each and every single object. DigiDEM is a digital implementation of DEM, designed to handle irregular shapes in a much simpler and easier manner than alternative methods. Since it is physics based, in principle, relocation of placed objects and bed stability are included in the simulation automatically. In practice, however, incomplete/imperfect digital representation of real objects, inaccurate values for mechanical properties used by the simulation model (e.g., for objects of unknown material or of composite materials), and limitations of simulation model itself, are expected to cause a discrepancy between simulation and reality. The level/range of discrepancy is unknown and needs to be quantified, how tolerant the system is to this discrepancy, and how to detect/correct such discrepancies, will be the focus of this PhD project.</p> <p><strong>About&nbsp;SATURN_Nuclear_CDT</strong></p> <p>This project is part of the&nbsp;<a href="">Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in SATURN (Skills And Training Underpinning a Renaissance in Nuclear)</a>. It is led from the University of Manchester and includes leading nuclear research universities in the North of England and Scottland (University of Leeds, University of Sheffield, Lancaster University, University of Liverpool, University of Strathclyde). We aim to deliver the next generation of nuclear researchers to help the UK achieve its Net Zero targets and beyond, in a collegial cohort environment. The CDT will also include technical training in the nuclear fuel cycle to ensure all candidates are familiar with the nuclear sector, and specialist research skills training.</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p style="text-align:start; margin-bottom:24px">Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study section that you are applying for&nbsp;<em><strong>EPSRC CDT SATURN &ndash;&nbsp;Nuclear Science and Engineering</strong></em>,&nbsp;in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is&nbsp;<em><strong>Developing a digital twin for validation of packing optimisers used for nuclear decommissioning</strong></em>&nbsp;as well as <a href="">Dr Xiaodong Jia&nbsp;</a>as your proposed supervisor and&nbsp;<em><strong>in the finance section, please state clearly that the funding source you are applying for is EPSRC CDT SATURN</strong></em>.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</p> <p>Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application by the closing date of 15 July 2024:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Candidates will have, or be due to obtain, a Master&rsquo;s Degree or equivalent from a reputable university in an appropriate field of Engineering. Exceptional candidates with a First Class Bachelor&rsquo;s Degree in an appropriate field will also be considered. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>A highly competitive EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Skills And Training Underpinning a Renaissance in Nuclear (SATURN)&nbsp;studentship, offering the award of fees, together with a tax-free maintenance grant of &pound;19,237 per year for 4&nbsp;years.&nbsp; Training and support will also be provided.<br /> <br /> This opportunity is open to UK applicants only. All candidates will be placed into the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in SATURN Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.<br /> <br /> Please refer to the&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for&nbsp;information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information about this project, please contact Dr Xiaodong Jia by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about your application, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p> <p>For further information about the CDT SATURN programme, please contact the CDT SATURN Programme Team by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a>&nbsp;or Dr Timothy Hunter by email to&nbsp;<a href=""></a></p>