Large Hadron Collider demands development of new maintenance techniques

When the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes live in 2007, it will comprise millions of assets and extend 17 miles in circumference.

When the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes live in 2007, it will comprise millions of assets and extend 17 miles in circumference. Scientists from around the world will use the LHC to conduct sophisticated experiments in which they can reproduce the forces present at the dawn of the universe. The results of these tests will give the world new insight into the formation of the universe and its matter.

“This is an incredibly complex machine to maintain, not only because of the enormous number of assets involved, but also because it uses cryogenics and superconductivity to transmit the energy to the particle beams,” says Pedro Martel, electrical and computing engineer for CERN. “Repairing the LHC is not like repairing an airplane or other large system. It can take weeks to make even a simple repair and a replacement part might weigh 15 tons, which makes preventive maintenance absolutely critical to the ongoing performance of the system.”

According to Martel, CERN must shut down the LHC during the winter months because of the high price of electricity from its sources in France and Switzerland. Additionally, the LHC is the coldest facility in the world, with cryogenic technology keeping the system cooled to almost absolute zero (-459° F. If there is a breakdown in the LHC, it takes three weeks to warm the system to the point where workers can make repairs, and another three weeks to cool it down again so research can resume.

With roughly a six-month window to operate the LHC each year, preventive maintenance and system uptime are critical. “If we have just four critical breakdowns per year, there simply will be no advanced particle physics research that year,” Martel adds. “We are literally inventing new maintenance procedures because there never has been a machine like this before.” He says they chose Datastream 7i from Datastream Systems (www.datastream.net) because they believe the software can provide the scalability and flexibility to support the complicated maintenance requirements of the LHC “no matter what they are.”
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