For its 100-year anniversary in 2014, the Panama Canal Authority is modernizing and expanding the canal between the Atlantic and Pacific. The construction includes installation of new locks, each with 3 lock chambers, allowing larger ships to pass through. Bosch Rexroth is contributing hydraulic system solutions to the modernization process. While not a mobile hydraulic application, per se, this unique engineering feat—and fluid power’s contribution to it—is deserving of some examination.
Modern drive systems have seen the size of ships increase—and 60% of the world’s merchant fleet now no longer fits through the Panama Canal. Once the locks are expanded, ships up to 366 m long and 49 m wide will also be able to save on travel time, costs and CO2 emissions.
New locks conserve regional water supply
As the supplier of the steel construction for the wheel gates, South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries (HSHI) contracted with Bosch Rexroth in late 2010 to plan, construct and commission 158 customer-specific hydraulic units and drive cylinders to operate the water-regulating wheel gates. In this regard, the lock design is aimed at conserving resources. Each lock chamber is connected to three water-saving basins via communicating pipes. To lift the ships, the Rexroth drives open the corresponding inlets and the water from the water-saving basins fills the lock chambers using gravity.
Unlike the previous technology, the water flows back into the basins once the lock operation is complete. Only 40% of the water required for one lock operation comes from the man-made Gatun Lake. By contrast, the existing locks take the entire amount of water required from the lake and then empty all of it into the sea. Despite the considerably larger lock chambers, this means the expansion reduces consumption of fresh water by 7% compared with the existing locks, ensuring the regional water supply is conserved in a sustainable way.
Global capacities pooled
During the international bidding process, Rexroth was able to highlight the experience it has gained in a whole host of major civil engineering projects, as well as how it pools its global production network. In this project, experts from the drive and control specialist are coordinating skills and production capacities from Germany, the Netherlands, China, South Korea and the U.S. The application places particularly high demands on the availability of the automation solution: Over the course of 100,000 operating hours—which equates to more than 11.5 years of round-the-clock operation—the total downtime must be less than only 4 hours.
After a construction period lasting three years, the official opening is scheduled to take place in its anniversary year of 2014.