How do you set 400 large Alberta-size industrial construction modules in a single afternoon? The trick is in analysis, automation, and accessing the fourth dimension.
The heavy lift plan is an industrial construction project’s backbone. Its preparation requires the analysis of thousands of variables, including the physical conditions of the site, the dimensions and weights of the modules to be lifted, as well as the lift capacities and dimensions of available cranes.
What once took weeks now takes only a few hours. PCL’s four‐dimensional heavy lift software suite, HeviLift, developed in‐house, has reduced the production time of module lift plans to a fraction of what it was. Hundreds of thousands of scenarios can now be thoroughly analyzed, and efficiently produced and presented, allowing PCL’s project teams to choose the most cost‐effective delivery for our clients.
“We’ve found that it’s become a self-evident rule of thumb that construction services are best provided by construction contractors,” said Roger Keglowitsch, senior vice president, Heavy Industrial. “The involvement of the contractor early in a project’s development builds accountability and ownership into both the process and the end result.”
Modularization of heavy industrial plant construction in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries is a standard mode of operation used to reduce costs, mitigate site congestion, and shorten the project schedule. The standard Alberta-size module is 20 feet wide, 80 to 120 feet long, and up to 24 feet high, with weights ranging from 50 to 160 metric tons.
“PCL has been in the module fabrication and assembly business since the 1970s,” said module construction manager Jeff Holt. “We are proud to be a recognized leader in the industry. We have constructed more than 2,300 modules for a wide variety of owners over the past 20 years, primarily in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries, and I think that, with the capacity we have available in our module assembly yards, we are large enough to tackle any problem a client can throw at us, however large or small.”
PCL’s module fabrication and assembly facilities—primarily based in Nisku, Alberta—have recently reached a new milestone with the addition of 40 acres of land in northeast Edmonton, bringing the total to 115 acres. The combined capacity of PCL’s three facilities, each located adjacent to Alberta’s high‐load transportation corridor, is among the highest in Canada.
PCL also owns and operates a 145,000 square foot pipe spool fabrication facility located on 13.3 acres in Nisku. This facility is one of the largest and most modern of its kind in North America, with experience in fabrication of all material types and wall thicknesses. Its annual production capacity is approximately 1,250,000 diameter inches or 11,000 tons of carbon steel and 1,700 tons of stainless steel. This proximity to PCL’s module yard allows for larger spool sizes, thereby reducing costs.
Once those modules and other pieces of equipment have been fabricated and built, they are transported to the construction site and lifted into place. This involves the use of expensive mobile cranes and ground preparation crane matting to lift large and heavy pieces of equipment and modules. Some of these pieces can way as much as 1,000 tons. Lifting these modules and pieces of equipment is usually on the critical path of a project.
Construction Services by Constructors
In order to service the demands of our projects, PCL has a staff of construction engineers with decades of combined lift engineering experience. Our in‐house design capabilities, which include three‐dimensional modeling and finite element analysis, allow us to provide truly custom solutions to unique problems. PCL’s construction engineers provide service and experience to our projects from planning to onsite heavy lift execution coordination.
“The engineering group is continually researching and developing process improvements to provide solutions and training to our field forces,” said manager of construction engineering Rick Hermann. “We believe that every new construction challenge provides us the opportunity to seek new approaches to how we do what we do. We can always be safer. And we can always find a better way to approach the work at hand.”
Various other factors such as transport, lift sequence, crane relocation, and rigging modifications must also be considered to provide an efficient and cost-effective plan. Specialized engineering knowledge is required for the selection of the crane with the right configuration(s), available positioning, as well as the centers of gravity and the available pick (lifting) points of objects to be placed.
Traditionally, lift planning methods for a large construction project involving many lifted objects is a tedious and time-consuming process, and its recommendations can have significant impacts on the cost and safety of the construction project. Due to the magnitude of such large projects and the fast‐tracked nature of the project, the analysis and selection of mobile cranes is often performed during the pre‐construction phase when limited data is available.
Plot plans—usually in two‐dimensional CAD format—are made available, along with a list of equipment including their weights and dimensions. Some preliminary elevation views may add a third dimension to the project, or a three‐dimensional model is provided.
To perform the analysis, the lift engineer identifies the likely piece or pieces of equipment or modules to establish the size and configuration of the crane and develops a preliminary lift study without analyzing all the potential lifts or crane options. Less than five percent of the lifts are checked when determining the crane size, due largely to the time involved in performing the lift analysis. Commercial applications work on single-lift concepts only, thus preventing the performance of a more rigorous analysis.
HeviLift: A New Approach to Lift Planning
PCL has spent several years in collaboration with the University of Alberta to develop an automated method of analyzing all of a project’s lifted objects using various crane configurations at a multitude of crane locations. This analysis provides thousands of crane options and, through an optimization routine, determines the best crane configuration, location, and lift sequence. In this analysis PCL can check the crane capacity, boom clearance, rigging height, tail swing, and pick and swing ability for each location.
The engineering team then reduces the locations to optimize the crane positions, thus reducing crane movement, ground preparation, and matting costs. A four‐dimensional heavy lift animation is also automated to visualize the analysis for validation and presentation.
“The earliest version of HeviLift provided us with the building blocks of the heavy lift plan, specifically the crane sizing and general sequence of lifts,” said Jamie Feuffel, operations manager for PCL Industrial Management. “That left the more substantial work of producing the hundreds of lift studies to do. We challenged ourselves to improve the automation of creating these documents as well, and we succeeded to the point that, instead of producing the studies manually, the system creates the drawings and the construction engineer merely reviews, adds any additional information, and approves the study. With HeviLift we have seen a 50 percent improvement in the time it takes to produce a lift study.”
On one recent project, PCL was able to save a client approximately $10 million by going to a larger crawler crane and avoiding superlift requirement on most lifts, thus saving substantial ground and crane matting costs. On two other major projects, PCL’s engineering team was able to provide the crane analysis, crane locations for all heavy lifts, and four‐dimensional animation at the bid stage. These cranes are in high demand and therefore need to be booked up to 12 months in advance. By being able to perform this analysis in a timely manner, the ideal crane can be selected. To the best of PCL’s knowledge, no one else in the world can provide this type of detailed analysis.
“The concept of lift planning automation began in the late 1990s and has evolved into a sophisticated high-end application,” said Hermann. “These applications are able to meet the increased demand for heavy lift planning and engineering for today’s megaprojects.”
To further support this heavy-lift program, PCL has automated the majority of the engineered lift study documents using the result of the above-noted analysis. It uses the AutoCAD API to link into the crane project database and generate the lift study within a few minutes, requiring only minor aesthetic cleanup and checking of the drawing. This substantially reduces the engineering time to develop lift studies allowing focus on value-added lift planning and scheduling.
Several peer-reviewed journal and conference papers have been written as a result of this research work. This new method of heavy lift crane analysis is now the normal operating procedure for PCL’s industrial projects.
“HeviLift is more than lift study automation. It has embedded planning and sequencing functionality and its analysis of various scenarios allows key decisions to be made to properly select the right crane and to reduce schedule and save unnecessary cost,” said Hermann.