Modularization – Optimize or Maximize?

Construction of a nickel mine and processing plant in New Caledonia did not progress effectively using traditional construction techniques, and the Owner sought alternatives.

Lowther-Rolton were engaged to carry out route and logistics studies required to assess the feasibility of delivering large Modules to the remote site. It was determined that quantity of structures and equipment assembled as modules, away from the site location should be maximized.

The absence of a local labor force in this island location signaled a clear driver towards Modularization.

Fabricating Modules in a dedicated facility provided the Project a supply of trained labor in a location with established skills and abilities, organized within to an accredited Quality Management System. This reduced risk and increased quality. It also meant that less construction machinery and equipment needed to be mobilized to the island. The lower work force required to piece together the jigsaw of large modules kept the requirement for camp accommodation under control, as well as lessening environmental impact and disruption to local communities/transport systems.

The opportunity to fabricate and assemble large sections of the plant in weather proofed and controlled environment, reducing man-hours at a bust construction site with ever present simultaneous operations naturally provided a safer more controlled method of construction.

These factors, combined with the absence of a local labor force in this island location, therefore signaled a clear case for a maximized Modular approach.

Based on the plant configuration and relative cost of various shipping methods, the design maximum Module weight of 650Te and envelope dimension limits were optimized, to suit the lifting and stowage capability of available self-geared lift-on/lift-off vessels. High ship deck space utilization was achieved by stowing the largest process Modules on deck with a mixture of smaller modules and pipe spools/stick built steel on the lower and tween decks.

The general cargo/Module delivery jetty and the road route from jetty to site were designed to accommodate the derived Module parameters. The road was cut into steep terrain, with a design gradient limit in certain sections of 10%, to achieve the 550 feet of climb over the 2 mile route. This presented challenges for power, traction, braking, cooling, stability and securing of Modules on SPMT. A fleet of heavy lift crawler cranes installed the Piperacks, Process Modules and other equipment items.

While the plant has been a mixed success in operation, latest news is that it may gain new ownership, taking advantage of the increasing importance of Cobalt in battery technology for electric vehicles in the age of renewables.

L-R can guide you successfully through the development of your modular construction scheme, and assure the safety of the shipping, transportation, and installation of the Modules.

We are well aware of the effects the approach can have on conventional workflows for engineering, procurement and construction activities, and experienced in the mitigation of these changes to help create a successful execution strategy.

Lowther-Rolton is the premier independent  engineering consultancy for Heavy Lift & Construction Engineering, providing original in-house design and third party verification services.

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