For the establishment of a facility to design, manufacture and test neutron-flux detectors, which are critical sensors used to monitor reactor cores in nuclear power stations.

Ultra has developed a state-of-the art facility to design, manufacture and test neutron flux detectors (NFDs), including the design of specialist plant, manufacturing and test processes and training of highly skilled personnel. These critical sensors monitor and protect the nuclear reactor core, and without complete confidence in their performance, reactors are not able to operate.

NFDs present a number of extreme sensor physics challenges to be overcome, and through analysis of failure modes and device characteristics, Ultra has re-imagined the manufacturing process. The specialist plant and processes required for manufacture were predominantly designed from first principles. Challenges included ceramic materials and joining, high-temperature neutron-sensitive coating materials and methods, ultra-high vacuum processing, cleaning and measurement, and advanced fault diagnostic methods.

All stages of the manufacturing process have been designed to be as automated as possible; eliminating reliance on ‘artisan’ skills through a strong emphasis on measurement and setting limits. A key strategy was to develop a thermal neutron generator to perform testing on the detectors at appropriate stages of manufacture. This has greatly reduced lead times and improved quality by eliminating transport risks and testing delays.

The company

Ultra Electronics has a broad portfolio of specialist capabilities across the defence, aerospace, security, transport and energy sectors. The company has products that operate in critical environments, and succeeds by solving difficult problems through game-changing innovation and close partnership with customers.