Rise of the Anibots

Rise of the Anibots_Sellafield_Forth Engineering

Forth Engineering (Cumbria) Ltd began life with a very simple business idea: supply hoses that match customers’ specifications. Fast forward 17 years and the company is a multi-award winning SME developing cutting-edge nuclear decommissioning technology for a worldwide audience.

After starting their careers at Sellafield, Mark Telford and his wife Nicola founded their own business in 2000, believing that going it alone would make a huge difference not only in their lives, but also to the local community by employing local people.

Mark served his apprenticeship at Sellafield and later became a mechanical engineer working in and around the high hazard areas, such as the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond and the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo. Mark said: “We decided it was time to take a leap of faith and really put our past experiences and knowledge to the test by going it alone.”

In 2003, the business relocated to a fully equipped operations centre at Flimby. It included a dedicated warehousing and dispatch area as well as a customer demonstration and training area and an advanced technical centre. Mark is very proud of the facilities they offer and how they have successfully transitioned to become a respected firm.

He said: “We have successfully moved from a local Cumbrian startup to where we are now, acquiring business from across the county, while earning our clients’ trust along the way “Our knowledge of the Sellafield site and its complex decommissioning programme has really made a difference in the way we think. We are very much driven by what our clients tell us would be useful to them as there’s no point in developing technology that’s just going to sit on a shelf. We take a real pride in being problem solvers, and this is usually achieved by using technologies combined with common sense and past experience.

“We’ve developed many products and services to support the programme through the years, and continue to develop specialist camera systems, scanners, lighting systems and remotely operated vehicles.”

Their work at Sellafield includes the development and deployment of remotely operated vehicles, using just some of the 150 vehicles that they have designed and manufactured over the past 20 years. The company also invested in a deep recovery facility that replicates nuclear ponds, making good use of funding from Britain’s Energy Coast.

The facility holds more than 1.2 million litres of water and is believed to be the largest scale wetted pond research and development facility in the UK. It was used for testing the equipment to remove the very first radioactive sludge from the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond back in 2015.

In 2015, they joined forces with the University of Manchester, through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. The scheme is a flagship programme of innovation and enables them to develop new technologies. Mark said: “It’s aimed at working together on a project central to our needs and offers ongoing collaboration supported by experienced staff and academics. The programme enables us to take new ideas forward or find innovative solutions to business challenges by working with the university.”

Rise of the Anibots_Sellafield_Forth Engineering

Mark said: “The natural world is often the best inspiration for how to solve industrial problems. We have been looking at how different animals use their senses and how we can capture that to create their robotic counterparts. For example, we have developed a robotic spider that can deploy equipment in harsh environments within the nuclear, marine, gas, oil and subsea industries.

“We have also developed an army of robotic ants that can be used to map out a radiological environment that people can’t physically access.”

Through the collaboration, Forth and the University of Manchester will soon be opening a new Robotics Laboratory on a brand new site in Cleator Moor, West Cumbria.

Mark said “I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved to date, and even more excited for an equally promising future as the business continues to expand. We are proud of our small to medium enterprise status and our employees are absolute key to our success. We have a brand new trade counter which will open very shortly and have just acquired some more land at the north of our site which will enable further development when opportunities arise.

“We will obviously strive to work on more projects with Sellafield Ltd and other NDA estate sites, but we are keen to seek opportunities beyond the site and in other markets such as oil and gas, marine and offshore wind.”

What advice would Mark give to other people thinking of setting up their own business or expanding to take advantage of the growing global decommissioning market?

“Don’t think that you have to know everything about Sellafield, or even that Sellafield is the only show in town. There is a multi-million pound global decommissioning market out there and if you have an idea that can be commercialised to capture some of that; go for it! Also, don’t think that you have to do it alone. There may be other organisations out there that are already established that you can partner with to make your idea a reality.”


This article has been reproduced with permission from Sellafield Ltd. The article featured in Sellafield Magazine, Issue 7, and can be seen here in its original context