A deeper path between the seas

June 5, 2015

South America

The Panama Canal has served the world well for the past century, but today’s larger ships require a wider, deeper passageway. An expansion project now under way will double the canal’s annual capacity.

Panama Canal Staff

When the Panama Canal was built a century ago, the massive undertaking was ranked among such manmade marvels as the pyramids of Egypt, the aqueducts of Rome and the Great Wall of China. Now the canal is becoming even more impressive through a project that will double its capacity. Modern machinery, including an array of Atlas Copco construction tools, is making the monumental task possible. More than 250 000 people from all over the world flocked to Panama to work on the first project, which began in 1903 and was completed in 1914. From the start, the canal yielded big savings in time and energy, as ships that once had to sail around the southern tip of South America could now pass quickly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Today, however, some 37% of the world’s container ships are too big to pass through the canal. Those that don’t fit either have to go around South America or off-load their cargo at one end of the canal, sending it by train to the other side. A consortium of four companies is working on what is called the Third Set of Locks Project, which will double the capacity of the canal by 2014. The consortium, called Grupo Unidos Por El Canal (GUPC), includes companies from Spain, Italy, Belgium and Panama. To maintain the specific shape of the canal wall, the companies have brought in the Atlas Copco HB 3000 hydraulic breaker. “I have never seen rock like this,” says Gerd Casteleyn, GUPC plant equipment manager. “It varies from meter to meter.” He says the breakers have helped his crew demolish boulders too large for the jaw crushers on site. “It’s necessary to have the right tools,” he notes.

It’s impossible for me to explain the intricacy of the final canal face,” he says. “The plans are extremely intricate and change all along the project.

Pieterjan Versteele, Assistant Equipment Manager , says accuracy is crucial, and the Atlas Copco HB 3000 gets the job done.

Ultimately, as many as 7 000 people will be working on the locks at the project. Hand work will be necessary to carve away smaller imperfections and to work in tight places. To this end, GUPC has purchased 150 Atlas Copco handheld pneumatic breakers, chosen for their light weight and durable design. “It’s expected these will get lots of use over the life of the project, and we needed a quality breaker,” Versteele says. When complete, the Third Set of Locks Project at the Panama Canal will benefit the world through reduced shipping time, increased convenience and lower energy consumption and emissions compared with sending large ships on the long journey around South America. “It’s expected these will get lots of use over the life of the project, and we needed a quality breaker.” Pieterjan Versteele, Assistant Equipment Manager. Written by Atlas Copco

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