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vessels such as those of Dockwise or a similar operator. Their installation will take place once the construction of the chamber is concluded by end 2013-early 2014. ‘We have approved the design for the first gates since each gate type is reviewed prior to acceptance [by the ACP],’ explains Quijano. The fabrication of the first gate should be finished by summer 2012.

As of end August 2011, the Panama Canal expansion project is 30% complete. Its major component, the design and construction of the third set of locks, is 14% complete. Dredging of the Atlantic side runs at 4% while the dredging of Gatun Lake and Gaillard Cut (the narrowest part of the channel, undertaken by the Panama Canal


rupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), led by Madrid-based construction company Sacyr Vallehermoso, with Italy’s Impregilo S.p.A, Belgium-based Jan de Nul n.v. and the Panamanian Constructora Urbana, S.A. CUSA [the developer of the expanded Panama Canal], has a new man in charge of the world’s largest construction project. On May 22, 2011, Bernardo Gonzalez, a Spanish engineer who previously oversaw construction of the locks on the Atlantic side of the Canal, has replaced Antonio Zaffaroni, who had been at the helm of GUPC since the bid for the third set of largest locks was won.

GUPC reached the all-important stage of placing structural concrete in July 2011. In January 2011, GUPC started pouring lean concrete at both lock sites to level the surface in preparation for the permanent concrete work. ‘I am convinced we will conclude on time and on budget. We are committed to delivering a quality project,’ says Gonzalez. Some 5m cu mtr of structural concrete will be necessary to build both locks complexes. This particular concrete must meet ACP requirements, verified through a series of tests that will prove its durability to 100 years, low permeability to salt water and high compressive strength.

The mix design for the structural marine concrete took longer than expected since it is based on specific qualifications but ‘we are comfortable because we have the client’s approval for the concrete for the upper and middle chambers, in both the Atlantic and Pacific locks. The concrete for the lower chamber will be ready by September 2011,’ explains Gonzalez. The concrete is poured into specialised industrial formwork by a


Authority Dredging Division, Jan de Nul and Dredging International) has reached 60% of its execution.

Another critical part of the locks system is the construction of the valves since they control the flow of water through the culverts and conduits. ‘They will be fabricated at the Huyndai Samho shipyard in Gwangju, South Korea. A first prototype of a valve body will be fabricated in October 2011 and we expect to have the production of 152 valves in 18 months,’ he explains.

When the expansion is completed in 2014, the navigational channels will allow transit of what are presently described as post-Panamax containerships; Suezmax liquid-bulk tankers; Capesize drybulk carriers; larger

system of conveyors belts with a high delivery capacity of 80cu mtr/hr, it also includes a significant amount of rebar [steel bars or rods used to reinforce concrete], to ultimately shape the blocks that make up the lock floor and chambers walls. ‘I don’t know of any other major public work that has this type of rebar concrete,’ he says.

sizes of LNG carriers up to 160,000cu mtr; passenger ships and other vessel types, within the established locks and channel dimensional limits. Each of the new lock complexes will have three chambers. The chamber dimensions of the new locks will be 427mtr long, 55mtr wide and 18.3mtr deep. The corresponding maximum dimensions for vessels that will transit these locks are 366mtr LOA [length overall], 49mtr in beam and 15.2mtr draught in tropical freshwater. The third set of locks will double the capacity of the waterway currently capped at 330m- 340m tonnes PC/UMS to around 600m tonnes but it will also reduce water consumption, improve safety efficiency and profitability growth.

Consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) Bernardo Gonzalez

The consortium faced two unforeseeable difficulties: the composition of the basalt that delayed the design of the concrete mix and led to changes in the crushing plants, and a larger than expected geological fault located under the upper chamber of the Pacific lock, but ‘every large project has its unforeseeable events. What may change is the size of such difficulties,’ says Gonzalez.

The two Atlantic and Pacific crushing plants, worth $230m, had to be modified at an increased cost of 30%, because the quality of basalt extracted during the excavations produced 30% sand – twice the 10% expected from the geological tests performed.

The different aggregates required for mixing the concrete are produced at the enormous batching plants, which can deliver up to 540cu mtr/hour, said Gonzalez. A monthly average of 100,000cu mtr to 110,000cu mtr will be poured in each site increasing from 20,000cu mtr to 100,000cu mtr to reach the ‘peak period’ starting February 2011 that will last for 19 months, he explains. The cement is bought in Panama from the two major suppliers, who import the klinker mainly from Colombia; GUPC puts together the final concrete mix including pozzolan, silica fume and aggregates. The design of the concrete mix for the lower chambers requires more silica fume as it is ‘the perfect sand to provide greater impermeability and avoid that sodium choride (CLNA) penetrating and damaging the lower chamber walls that are in contact with salt water,’ he says. ‘We have two important targets on the horizon: the concrete and the fabrication of the gates since the dry excavations are already something of the past,’ says Gonzalez.

GUPC has awarded the fabrication of the gates – designed by Netherlands- based IV Groep under the direction of Montgomery Watson Harza – to Italian shipyard and bridge builder Cimolai. Construction will take two years for the 16 gates, to be fabricated using 49,000 tonnes of steel, with dimensions of up to 57.6mtr x 10mtr x 33mtr and weighing up to 3,700 tonnes each. The gate design varies between the Pacific and Atlantic locks. The gates to be used in the Atlantic locks will weigh 2,700 tonnes each, while those on the Pacific side will weigh 1,000 tonnes more because of more robust seismic requirements and higher tides.


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