Hundreds of trains arrive at Drax every month
Hundreds of trains arrive at Drax every month
Richard Bell

UK’s biggest power station Drax embarks on robot tech trial

The UK’s biggest power station is piloting new robot technology that could transform some of its key operations.

Train movements at Drax in North Yorkshire could soon be managed by a robot, slashing the time taken to check-in fuel deliveries by up to six hours a day.

Beginning this month within the facility’s commercial services team, the project will trial the use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to help book-in the millions of tonnes of fuel delivered to Drax every year.

Around 20 freight trains arrive at the power station each day carrying biomass and coal, enabling Drax to continue producing enough power to keep the lights on in six million homes.

As Drax is predominantly a biomass power generator, over 70% of the electricity it produces is renewable.

The current booking-in process involves the use of eight separate systems and 167 individual steps per delivery for one member of staff to handle. As a task, it takes between four and seven hours.

But a purpose-built digital robot could reduce the process to just 40 minutes, allowing staff to focus on other tasks.

Drax Power CEO Andy Koss said: “We’re constantly looking for new ways to improve our operations, to increase efficiency and make staff roles as fulfilling as possible.

“If we can use this robot technology to free up time and allow people to put their skills and expertise to good use, so they’re not getting bogged down in the admin we all love to hate, then I think we’ll see all sorts of benefits, both in terms of efficiencies but also in levels of staff motivation.”

He continued: “Innovation is at the heart of our business – we were pioneers in transforming the UK’s largest coal-fired power station to become the biggest decarbonisation project in Europe, and are exploring the use of bioenergy carbon capture and storage to help us deliver negative emissions and tackle climate change. The use of RPA is another example of how we’re using new technologies to deliver our strategy.”

Commercial services supervisor Beth Clifford, who will be trialling the new tech, commented: “Potentially, this could massively reduce the more mundane and tedious parts of my job.

“Having more time to focus on other tasks will hopefully mean I feel like I’m adding more value, will enjoy my job more and can also take on new work which will be more interesting.”

She added: “I can’t wait to see how this goes and my colleagues are the same.”

Project lead Vicky Harris, commercial service centre manager at Drax, explained: “We’ll be measuring how effective the trial is and whether it delivers the savings we expect before a final decision is made about rolling it out.

“But we’re confident this is going to be a really positive development and we will be scoping out other processes at the power station which we think would also benefit from this kind of automation.”

The pilot project will run for up to a month.

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