December 05, 2017

A manufacturing monitoring and inspection plan to ensure control over quality

The commitment of Framatome’s teams to quality is shared at all levels of the company and is an integral part of its quality policy. In line with this policy, Framatome considers that economic or scheduling constraints should never be reason to justify a failure to comply with rules pertaining to safety, the environment or quality. Framatome is committed to meet the safety conditions required by the safety authorities and regulations and improve customer satisfaction by providing the expected level of quality.

Quality is intrinsic to the values of Framatome, with an emphasis on integrity and performance.

Continuous improvement is a key element in quality management. On a day-to-day basis, this means reporting any deviations and adopting a questioning attitude, with the support of problem-solving tools and methods which are shared by everyone.

  • Report

    Mobilization at all levels within the company and involvement from independent players

    Systematic inspections of the quality of components, which are fitted as equipment to nuclear power plants, are conducted during the manufacturing process. These inspections are carried out at several levels: first in plants, then by third-party bodies.

    The activities of each of those players participate in ensuring products quality and compliance.

    In Framatome's plants, inspections are carried out at three levels:

    • Directly by operators, which is known as self-inspection; 
    • By inspection personnel, who do not take part in production activities, and are qualified in different inspection techniques (to carry out non-destructive testing, for example), which is referred to as inspection;
    • By in-plant monitoring teams for the checking of compliance, which report to the site's Quality Department (independent of manufacturing); this is known as internal monitoring or continuous inspection.

    The documentation produced throughout the manufacturing process guarantees the traceability of operations and certifies that they are compliant with the customer's expectations and with regulations.

    Monitoring by bodies external to the plants is carried out either by scheduled or unexpected inspections by:

    • Framatome’s inspection agency (called EIRA);
    • Customers;
    • safety authorities through Notified Bodies.

    Mastery of the supply chain: a major stake of the manufacturing quality

    In addition to the operations carried out in plant, it is also necessary to have control over the supply chain in order to guarantee the final quality of an item of equipment.

    The first step is to qualify the sub-contractors being used; then, during the execution phase, the various procurements made are subject to strict inspections carried out by sub-contractors, and to monitoring by EIRA, which ensures compliance and control over quality over time.

    A vast program to achieve Operational excellence

    The strategy of Framatome is based, amongst other things, on an Operational Excellence program which aims to achieve excellence for its customers, the company and its employees. Operational excellence is based on working standards, and on an ongoing quest to make improvements to them. Quality is one of the three pillars of this program, alongside control over schedules and continuous improvement.

  • FAQ

    How is quality controlled in plants?

    Quality control in plants is achieved primarily by using industrial processes which are qualified and tried-and-tested. The skills and know-how of the employees responsible for the operations are of key importance. For certain functions, it is necessary to have an authorization granted by the company; for other, a qualification issued by an external body is mandatory.

    In each plant, a specific team is devoted to monitoring of the quality of operations, and reports to the site's Quality Department. The personnel assigned to monitoring is made up of members of staff who are skilled in the area undergoing inspection and in related technical aspects. Their mission is, for a given operation, to check that internal requirements are being taken into account and complied with, and that these internal requirements also incorporate contractual and regulatory requirements.

    The plant's quality management system is based on international standards and is certified by third-party bodies (such as the ASME, the industrial code for the USA). The robustness of this system is checked on a regular basis by means of audits.

    How is the documentation which is used as reference by operators drawn up?

    The manufacturing criteria defined in the customer specifications, as well as the inspection and procurement plan, are analyzed in meticulous detail with regard to the current manufacturing code (for example, the RCC-M Code for nuclear pressure equipment) and regulations. These elements are applied from the product design phase, upstream of manufacturing, in the form of specifications, directives, instructions, manufacturing procedures or in workstation sheets. These documents describe the manufacturing and inspection operations in precise detail.

    What is a manufacturing procedure?

    A manufacturing procedure provides a precise description of the operating procedures involved, in other words the time and duration allocated to each operation, the materials and components used, as well as the reference documentation. A manufacturing procedure also indicates which points are to undergo inspection during the manufacturing process.

    What inspections are carried out during the manufacturing process?

    Inspections are carried out on parts while they are being manufactured to assess their compliance:

    • Non-destructive examination (NDE): dimensional checks, (by laser telemetry for example), visual inspection and checking of the integrity of parts at the surface (penetrant penetration and magnetic particle inspection) and in depth (ultrasonic and X-Ray inspections, eddy current tests), and sub-surface checks.
    • Destructive tests by taking samples on the part to verify the mechanical properties and the structure of the parts. These are mainly mechanical tests, chemical analyses and grain size measurements.

    All the results of these inspections are verified and recorded. Inspections, furthermore, provide information which, after analysis and processing, give rise to corrective or preventive actions with a view to continuous improvement.

    Is there a system for verifying the results of inspections conducted during manufacturing?

    In the context of the French regulation related to nuclear pressure equipment (ESPN), the results of each inspection are verified and recorded. Each record specifies who created it, and who it was reviewed by, known as the approver or verifier. Each document is dated. Responsibility for approval / verification are assigned according to skills. The approver may be the manager of a team or the plant's quality manager. All the records are kept in order to demonstrate the compliance of the product inspected.

    There are several barriers involved in quality control: how can deviations occur?

    Though everything is done to avoid it, deviation from reference standards can occur. Employees are asked to report any deviation, and confirm it formally so that it can be analyzed and processed. This is one of the key elements to a culture of quality. Such a culture is also founded on teams adopting a questioning attitude which in particular allows them to identify weak signals and prevent quality problems from occurring.

    What is the end-of-manufacturing report?

    The end-of-manufacturing report is the document which is sent to the customer: it contains the documents attesting that the contractual requirements have been met according to the provisions agreed with the customer. Without this body of evidence substantiating the compliance of the equipment, compiled as the manufacturing process proceeds, a piece of equipment cannot be put into service.

    By whom is the external monitoring of manufacturing activities carried out?

    Monitoring is carried out by several parties. Firstly, by Framatome’s inspection team, known as EIRA, which is an independent and accredited team of inspectors. Then by the customer, which is involved right throughout the manufacturing process at hold points or in spot-check inspections. The safety authority ensures the regulations in force are applied and may delegate part of the monitoring to Authorized Notified Bodies.

    What does an inspection involve?

    Depending on a number of parameters, including the criticality of a part, the inspection plan drawn up for its monitoring may extend to cover the whole supply chain. Spot-check inspections may also be carried out in addition to these scheduled inspections. An inspection in particular looks at the supplier's capacities, its technical proficiency and its quality organization.

    How is the independence of the Framatome inspection team (EIRA) guaranteed?

    Framatome has decided to structure its inspection team, known as EIRA, in such a way as to formally implement the requirements set out in the ISO 17020 standard, which is the international benchmark for inspection bodies. This accreditation granted at the end of 2005 by the COFRAC is recognition of the entity's organizational capacity and technical competence to carry out monitoring activities. EIRA is an inspection body which is recognized by many nuclear safety authorities worldwide: the ASN in France, STUK in Finland, the ONR in the UK, the NRC in the USA and the NSSA in China.

    With around one hundred inspectors, EIRA takes part in all projects managed by Framatome, for monitoring of both the supply chain and the manufacturing operations carried out in its plants.

    In 2015, EIRA carried out nearly 8,000 inspections worldwide.

    What is the typical profile of an AREVA NP inspector?

    An inspector is first and foremost a technician who receives training throughout his career to develop knowledge which is more in-depth and more technically relevant, whether it is in welding, non-destructive testing or manufacturing processes. He is trained in the main construction codes and standards, regulations, etc.

    An inspector’s role is not just to "put stamps on things", but to create added value for all manufacturing techniques. He must be capable of providing technical support and advice when necessary.  The monitoring that he carries out in plants provides a guarantee of compliance, which is used by projects and customers and must be a relevant technical judgment and assessment.

    All inspectors have to follow an in-depth program of training (standard code, NDT and welding techniques, etc.) and mentoring. They are qualified (as IWE or IWTs, International Welding Engineers/Technicians) as a result, then are given a level of authorization depending on their results.

    Given the anomalies discovered on the Le Creusot site, what actions have you taken to reinforce quality control for your products?

    As soon as the first anomalies were discovered at Le Creusot site in 2015, Framatome reinforced the traceability of the manufacturing operations in progress and the organization on the site. Inspectors were dispatched on the ground to carry out ongoing monitoring in addition to the audits entrusted to third parties. Based on the conclusions of these audits and an analysis of the causes of the anomalies detected in the manufacturing records, a quality improvement plan has been defined by Framatome. This plan is being deployed in particular in the form of a strengthening of safety culture, a robust quality management system, a reinforced organization and manufacturing processes which are fully checked and controlled at every step in manufacturing. By the middle of July 2017, all the actions necessary under the improvement plan for the Le Creusot site to resume manufacturing operations for the Hinkley Point C EPR had been implemented.

    Framatome has developed new goals for quality management on its sites with the deployment of systematic mechanisms for the gathering of operating experience, as well as preventive actions to detect symptoms of potential quality problems (the "Right the First Time" program)

    In addition to this plan, a whistleblower and reporting system has also been set up. As part of this system, a compliance officer has been appointed within each entity of Framatome.

    An independent stream for the development of expertise in safety is also going to deployed, the aim of which will be to firmly anchor a safety culture in everything all of our teams do.

    Are you developing new processes to exert better control over manufacturing parameters and their traceability?

    Within the framework of its strategic action plan, Framatome has defined the investment and research & development goals that will enable it to maintain and develop its industrial capacities and strengthen the global performance of its plants. To this end, Framatome is developing digital applications in all its plants to exert closer control over operations, ensure the better traceability of such operations and reduce risks of errors: a digital platform in order to bring the assessment of compliance with independent bodies into the digital age, with workstation ergonomics, the introduction of robots, etc.