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Panama Canal Celebrates Anniversary with New Locks

Panama Canal Celebrates Anniversary with New Locks

In 2014 for its 100-year anniversary, the Panama Canal Authority is modernizing and expanding the canal between the Atlantic and Pacific. The construction includes installation of new locks to the two oceans, each with three lock chambers, and will allow much bigger ships than before to pass through the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal Celebrates Anniversary with New Locks

Bosch Rexroth is contributing hydraulic system solutions to the modernization process. With an availability goal of 99.99 percent, the new design will guarantee a smoother flow of traffic on one of the world's busiest waterways. But although the new locks are much bigger, they will use less fresh water than the current technology and conserve the region's water supply.

"The engineering challenges on this project have been able to design our equipment to comply with the specified seismic loads, working conditions or environment and the uptime requirement," says Antonio Osio, application and civil engineer and co-project manager for the Panama Canal Project.

Bosch Rexroth will provide the operating machinery for the culvert, conduit and equalization valves. "These valves are responsible to let water in and out of each lock chamber or water basin," says Osio. "Our scope consists of hydraulic power units, cylinders and electrical controls. This equipment has been designed to a certain level of redundancy that will guarantee the uptime required by The Canal."

When the Panama Canal began operating in 1914, steamships and sailing ships still ruled the seas. Modern drive systems have also seen the size of ships increase and 60 percent 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.

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.

Each lock chamber is connected to three water-saving basins via communicating pipes. To lift the ships, 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 percent 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 percent compared with the existing locks, ensuring the regional water supply is conserved in a sustainable way.

This 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 four hours.

After a construction period lasting three years, the official opening is scheduled to take place in its anniversary year of 2014.
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