Soft Pellet Loader
The Soft Pellet Loader was a prototype system built to demonstrate proof of concept for a system to handle green nuclear fuel pellets. Fuel pellets are created through a sintering process, but the customer was having yield problems due to breakage of the pellets before they were sintered.
The Soft Pellet Loader corrects this problem by placing the green pellets into the sintering boats in controlled layers. The pellets are fed out of the sintering press in a stream, and tipped onto a metal belt conveyor, in a single file line, end to end.
On the metal belt, the pellets enter a slot cut along the bottom of a large plastic cylinder. When the slot is full, a row of pellets is ready for loading. The cylinder then gently rotates, sweeping the pellets off the metal belt into a grooved tray. The grooved tray is mounted onto a motorized slide, and as each row is filled, a new empty row is exposed.
When the tray is fully loaded, the layer is ready for transfer, and a grooved vacuum gripped is used to transfer the entire layer en masse, into the sintering boat.
In the full concept, the gripper was mounted onto a robot, and the system was fully automated. However, the client was so surprised that it worked that they immediately took delivery of the prototype, by loading it into the back of a pickup, and installed it into the factory.
So, the prototype was so successful, we never actually were able to build the complete system.