In the tokamak design of a fusion reactor (as used in ITER), the vacuum vessel provides a hard-vacuum environment for the plasma (which improves radiation shielding and plasma stability) acts as the primary confinement barrier. For a consortium of 3 companies (AMW Consortium), pro-beam was subcontracted, in charge of the electron beam welding of five of the nine sectors to the vacuum vessel. Given the size of the ITER reactor and the different sections, an outstanding expertise in the welding of large component was required. With this objective, pro-beam has upgraded its processes and built two K6000 giant electron beam (EB) welding machines (with chamber of 700m3) in its facility in Burg (Germany) to produce up to 200m of nuclear-compliant weld seam per month. After few years of collaboration, fusion-related projects (ITER and JT60) at pro-beam have led to a total direct and indirect turnover of appr. EUR 10millions.

An opportunity to weld large and complex components for Ariane and Solar Orbiter

Fully reproductible and easy to automate, the welding process is performed only in one step and is perfectly adapted to large and complex components. As it is unique in its size and complexity, the concept of the K6000 machine is being commercialized and has found further applications in aerospace industry. For example, Pro-Beam has welded 6m diameter semi-finished components of an Ariane tank cap from two aluminium plates of 6m length and 3m width each. Another prestigious project leveraging on the know-how and equipment also enhanced during the collaboration with Fusion For Energy is the construction of the carrier structure for the communication antenna at the Solar Orbiter, where the structure element was joined using electron beam technology. Launched in 2020 and operated by the European Space Agency, this observing satellite will investigate the connections and the coupling between the Sun and the heliosphere. Thanks to this EB-welding process, it was possible to weld precise, clean seams and meet the required quality standards as well as the delivery date.

Smoother talent acquisition and readiness for further international cooperation : how positive can be a contract with F4E for a SME

Dealing with ITER helped pro-beam engineers to get used to the complexity and requirements related to a Big Science/nuclear project and to be more confident in working within an international consortium. The contract with F4E created not only a competitive advantage in welding large and complex components (thanks to the design of new concept of machines) but also in the bidding process of large european and international projects. New contracts signed in aerospace, big science and nuclear industries served as growth accelerators for the SMEs and facilitated the hiring process of new talents thanks to this increased visibility.