New “heart valves” for world trade
The Panama Canal was opened on 15th August 1914 and was described at the time as one of mankind’s most ambitious developments. More recently, it became necessary to expand this key marine transport route in order to accommodate the 21st century’s much larger vessels.
The artificial waterway divides an entire country and connects the Atlantic to the Pacific with around 5% of global maritime traffic currently passing through its locks, equating to approximately 14,000 ships per year.
On average shipping companies currently have to pay about 250,000 dollars for the passage. The fees for the transit of the canal are one of the small Central American country’s main sources of income. In 2013, around one billion dollars flowed into Panama’s coffers.
250,000 dollars per passage
However, currently only ships which were constructed to match the so-called Panamax dimensions - which are modest by today's standards - can use the canal. Modern cruise liners and container ships are much larger.Therefore, the Panama Canal is getting ready for “post-Panamax” ships, whose maximum size is 49 m wide and 366 m long. After completion of the new locks from Gatun on the Atlantic to Miraflores on the Pacific, cruise ships like the Queen Mary 2, or cargo ships with a transport capacity of up to 14,000 instead of the current 4,000 containers can also sail the 80 km long channel.
3,300 ton weight per lock gate
The new locks look like the giant heart valves of world trade – constantly pumping passenger ships, tankers and freighters through the water. The lock gates are about 60 metres long, 20 metres high, 10 metres thick and weigh about 3,300 tons.
The new lock basins are 427 metres long, 55 metres wide and have a working depth of 18.3 metres. To fill them, around 430,000 m3 of water are needed.
Controlled by valves, tremendous amounts of water from the higher retention basins flow through the pipes (which have the diameter of a railway tunnel), into the lock basins.
To minimise the risk of downtime, the operator, ACP (Autoridad del Canal de Panama), must ensure that only the highest quality materials and equipment components are used.
All plant monitoring within the machine buildings and management of the six valve stations is carried out in eight control centres. Battery supported DC power supplies ensure that all monitoring and control devices are secured against power faults or failure. Moreover, these mission-critical applications require customised applications and secure UPS systems with individual circuit designs.
Reliable for decades
The reliability of a battery-supported power supply is determined by the quality of the battery used as, well as the reliability of the power supply system.
When assigning the relevant components for lock operation, the commissioned construction company, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), chose a concept that the system integrator, Energia Integral Andina (EIASA), had introduced from Colombia.
In this instance, battery-supported power supplies are based on a combination of monoblock rectifiers (BENNING’S THYROTRONIC series) and modular inverters (BENNING’S INVERTRONIC modular series). The systems are equipped with special adaptation transformers for mains voltages of 480 V and voltage stabilisers.
The THYROTRONIC rectifiers supply the DC loads and charge the batteries in standby mode. This rectifier series, developed by BENNING, has proven to be extremely reliable for many decades and a very economical replacement power supply in industrial, petrochemical and power plant technology applications.
High availability, low TCO
The three-phase INVERTRONIC modular inverters – using hot plug plug-in technology – are equipped with IGBT and MOSFET power semiconductors and DSP processors, with n+1 redundancy to ensure maximum availability. Changing the plug-in module can be performed during the power supply’s operations (hot plug). This results in a shortened MTTR (mean time to repair). Due to the high level of efficiency, the required redundancy results in partial load energy savings and reduced space requirements compared to conventional systems. This also reduces the TCO (total cost of ownership), whilst the smaller physical size and weight simplify transportation and installation.
Earthquake proof - UBC Zone 4
Due to the tectonic situation within the Panama Canal’s region, all systems are designed to earthquake-proof UBC Zone 4 and manufactured according to UL standards. The individually adapted reporting philosophy is based on Modbus-TCP technology and is connected by fibre to a central control centre.
After a detailed planning phase and close cooperation with the customer, production release was issued to BENNING in the summer of 2014. The first systems were installed in Panama in December 2014. At the opening of the new lock, which is planned for the end of 2015, 80 THYROTRONIC rectifier systems and 8 UPS systems will contribute to ensure a fail-safe operation.
What the future will bring
Even though the new locks have not yet been opened, discussions are being held about renovating the old locks and building another lock basin, with Nicaragua also planning to build an alternative route to the Panama Canal with Chinese assistance.
contact: Dirk Meyer
telephone: +49 (0) 28 71 / 93 -261