25% of all nuclear plants around the world use Ahlberg cameras applied systems. This specialist equipment is used in Europe, the USA, China and Korea. 3Soft software is the key element of the solution.
High safety standardsin the nuclear energy sector
Ahlberg Cameras is a Swedish company which for over 30 years has designed and produced advanced inspection systems for the nuclear industry. The products on offer include cameras monitoring cores in nuclear reactors, cameras for measuring radiation and underwater cameras.
Due to specific conditions in nuclear power plants all products must meet the highest quality requirements. That is why Ahlberg Cameras uses the best standards of equipment production based on certificates such as ISO 9001, IAEA 50-C-Quality and U.S. NRC 10 CFR 50 Appendix B.
Protecting both staff and the community from possible effects of accidents in nuclear power plants was one of the tasks that were undertaken from the very beginning of the existence of the plants. Everyone realized the potential threats posed by nuclear energy production. Aware of those risks, the International Atomic Energy Agency declared that one of the top priorities in this matter was to apply all possible measures preventing accidents in nuclear installations.
Huge emphasis is placed on checking the status of control and fuel rods. Even small scratches which occur on these elements may grow bigger at a rapid pace, which in turn can lead to costs increasing.
Possible reasons for the emergence of this type of damage include the so-called thermal fatigue caused by the changing temperature of water surrounding the bars and by defective material. Stopping the power unit even for a short time causes millions of dollars in losses, so it is important to detect and remove any defects at an early stage. Ahlberg Cameras hardware and software produced is used during these inspections.
From left: Joakim Ahlberg- Vice President of Ahlberg Cameras, Michał Krzesiak- 3Soft Member of the Board and Michał Koziara- 3Soft CEO.
Products offered by Ahlberg Cameras, including the software, must create a reliable set that will prove effective in unusual working conditions. In 2008 Ahlberg Cameras signed a contract with a large Swedish software company to design and implement software for monitoring equipment. However, after half a year the cooperation still failed to produce any results due to long delays and problems with the project implementation. Development plans for the Ahlberg Cameras company were under threat. The lack of suitable software and reliable hardware for the produced equipment could result in the loss of customers and have negative impact on the company’s competitive position. In the face of these threats Ahlberg Cameras soon decided to replace the software provider.
Due to the delays caused by previous contractor one of the biggest challenges was to meet the deadline and finish the job on time. Once we got familiar with the unusual conditions in which the equipment was to work and once we analysed the functional requirements, we decided that we were able to meet the deadline which Ahlberg Cameras set for the implementation of the software. After half a year we presented the ready application to our client.Michał Krzesiak
A comprehensive solution enabling image registration by four cameras simultaneously. Source: Ahlberg Cameras
A unique HD solution
The cooperation between Ahlberg Cameras and 3Soft resulted in the creation of several IT solutions for the equipment produced by Ahlberg Cameras. The first of the created systems, integrated with the Ahlberg Cameras hardware, registered images in HD. The function of immediate image compression was added to its next version.
The whole set which consists of a set of cameras and software was integrated with controls. In the next phase of the cooperation we provided equipment in the form of servers. It was also then that we created the software which registers images with four cameras simultaneously.
Shortly thereafter, the device was supplemented with an option of recording in HD.The specificity of work in nuclear plants requires also sound registration and registering panoramic images. To meet these requirements, the software also provides noise reduction and proper lighting of the recorded area. The way in which the material is registered allows subsequent image processing. Each of the created systems has been supplemented with a separate module that allows you to freeze the image, make measurements and classify the damage after the inspection has been carried out.
During capabilities analysis we paid special attention to quality and performance. The image must be recorded without the loss of quality, and this in turn requires a large amount of data and excludes lossy compression. Specific equipment working conditions necessitated an unusual approach to measuring the speed based on an image and adequate lighting of the monitored area.Michał Krzesiak
From the perspective of IT
All systems designed for Ahlberg Cameras have been written in the C + + / CLI language. The choice was dictated by the high potential of technology and the ability to make full use of all the functions offered by DirectShow. Audio and video processing is done through the combination of different filters. These include the FFDShow, H.264 Encoder and our original Overlay 3Soft Transform filter. Thanks to the H.264 Encoder filter the image is encoded and stored in the AVC format. Thanks to the introduction of new solutions by the manufacturer, AVC format compression efficiency is much larger than that of the previous standards. 3Soft Overlay Transform Filter allows you to put objects, including images and subtitles, on the video image. In addition, the filter allows you to create a mirror reflection of an image. The applied algorithms provide ample opportunities for image acquisition. One of the features of the software is ability to create a static and panoramic image of a filmed object moving in front of the camera from a video file. During this operation from the registered recording 2 frames per second are selected, from which margins and OSD elements are cut off. Then the frames are rotated by 90 degrees and on the basis of the first one a correction of the inclination based on the Radon transform is performed. The algorithm allows you to estimate the speed of the camera based on the examination of the image with the histogram method and determines the exact movement of the objects using edge detection methods.
An integral part of the supplied software are dedicated servers whose job is to record images from the camera systems. These servers are based on a dual processor board containing two processors from the Xeon 56xx series. The processes of image acquisition are supported by different types of graphic cards which include: AJA Kone LHE Plus, EMS Imaging XtremeRGB Ex4 + and EMS Imaging XtremeRGB Ex2. In the HD solution two cards are used and the standard design is based on one card. Data resulting from image acquisition are recorded on two SSD drives, each of 120 GB capacity. The solution provides above all adequate speed of the system and ensures safety in case of mechanical damage of the disc. In order to reduce the risk of losing information due to a failure, the data are stored on discs in the RAID 1 technology. The solution includes a controlling and measuring module which controls both the application and the cameras. The operating system is 32-bit Microsoft Windows XP in the English version. The dedicated servers have a 4U type rack casing due to scalability. Its standard size is 420 x 175 x 648 mm, but on customer’s request the depth of the casing is modified and may reach the size of 483 x 177 x 510 mm.
Portable inspection system. Source: Ahlberg Cameras
The combination of expertise in high-tech and IT allowed us to join Ahlberg Electronics in order to develop a reliable set of equipment that will prove efficient even in the most extreme conditions. The company’s offer includes many products, but thanks to solutions that were created in collaboration with us, it has built a competitive advantage, greatly expanded its product range and has won new markets. It is worth noting that the scale and momentum, as well as the extraordinarily hard work of key individuals within the company make the offer comprehensive, and at the same time, each offered product is reliable and of high quality. All of the above contributed to the success that was honoring Ahlberg Electronics with the prestigious Business Gazelle award in 2011.