By R. Bruce Striegler

Alberta oils sands fuel high-capacity lift and transport demands

From his office in Edmonton, Alberta, Keith Guiochet, Vice-President Operations, Transport Division Mammoet Canada Western explains that Mammoet is a Dutch company with roots going back to1807. It is a company built for heavy lifting and multimodal transport, and Guiochet says, “We operate on all continents focusing on six market segments which encompass the petrochemical industry, the power generation sector, mining, offshore, civil and marine projects.”

In addition to Edmonton, Mammoet has two other operating centres in North America, one in Ontario, the other in Texas. Mammoet Canada Western Ltd. is a Division of Mammoet BV of the Netherlands, formed through several mergers including ETARCO (Engineered Transportation and Rigging Company), an Edmonton heavy transport company established in 1998. In 2002, Mammoet Crane Inc. was created, offering crane rental services. Since then, that fleet of cranes has increased more than tenfold. Internationally, Mammoet employs about 4,500 people, of which 750 are employed in western Canada.

Mr. Guiochet continued, “In western Canada we have two divisions; transport and cranes. On the transport side we look after specialized projects, but in both companies we find the bulk of our work is focused on the petrochemical and mining segments, which has a lot to do with the Alberta oil sands.” He notes that the Transport Division is heavily involved in moving pipe rack modules and process vessels from Alberta fabricators out to the oil fields.

One measure of the volume of oil sands heavy transport may be taken from Alberta government statistics. In 2012, over 16,000 permits were issued to heavy haulers like Mammoet to move over-sized loads up Highway 63 to oil sands sites north of Fort McMurray, and Guiochet says that Mammoet Canada Western is currently averaging between twenty and twenty-five loads per week to the Fort McMurray area.

A solutions-minded company takes on industrial-size problems

Mammoet can claim prominence as the world’s leading heavy lift and multimodal transport solutions specialist. Its reputation was gained through more than 45 years of experience combined with the company’s custom-built rolling, lifting, rail, jacking and skidding devices and high safety standards. Globally, the company has over 1,600 cranes ranging from five- tonne lifting capacity to 3,600 tonnes and has the world’s largest fleet of self-propelled modular transporters (SPMT’s), in excess of 2,000 axle lines and more than 1,900 axle lines of conventional trailers. SPMT’s revolutionized the heavy transport industry in the 1980’s, and Mammoet’s innovative tactics refined the units during this time, making them easier to assemble and more economical to use. Guiochet adds that the largest configuration the company has utilized for one move in Alberta was in excess of 180 axle lines of SPMT.

A self-propelled modular transporter can have a grid of several dozen computer-controlled wheels. Each individual wheel can swivel independently from the others to allow it to turn, move sideways or even spin in place. SPMT’s may be delivered by conventional transport as modules of four or six axles and are quickly connected on site to form transporters of the required size and capacity. Mammoet’s combination of cranes and transport equipment has been used, among hundreds of similar projects, to assemble massive steel framed buildings for mines in northern Canada, replace the main bearing supporting the 230 tonne top of the South Pole Telescope, and to assemble and move massive offshore oil platforms into place in the Gulf of Thailand.

“We’re known as a solutions-minded company”, Guiochet says, “On behalf of our clients, we frequently deal with schedules which have been up-ended, by new weight or dimension specifications for the cargo we’re lifting and transporting, changes which often come during design or fabrication.” He explains how in the crane business, elements are usually installed in a pre-determined sequence during construction of a plant or other large industrial facility. “If components are delivered late, our crane expertise is such that plant construction continues, but we are able to come in later and execute an alternate solution to install that piece.” He notes this can turn a simple lift job into a complex rigging and hoisting venture.

Acknowledging that Mammoet has competition in the heavy lift and transport fields, Mr. Guiochet says, “We do have local and global competition, there are companies that offer similar services although not all may be able to offer the capacity we provide.” He says that Mammoet maintains excellent working relationships with industry members and reciprocal attitudes exist when there may be specialty requirements on individual projects.

Exceptional coordination and logistics key to big moves

Modules are the building blocks of the Alberta oil sands processing plants. Often described as ‘refineries on wheels’, the modules hold piping, electrical cables, valves and other equipment. These components are transported to the sites and linked together to create enormous plants. Each module can be up to 30 metres long and between 6 to 7.6 metres high. Depending on plant design, as many as 25 modules may comprise a single building. In addition to the plant modules, each operation includes pipe racks. The pipe rack is the main artery of a process plant. They carry process and utility piping and may also include instrument and cable trays as well as additional equipment mounted over elevated support structures. They are big assemblies and, if placed end-to-end, four pipe rack modules would be the length of a football field. While the size of modules varies, Guiochet said the maximum load allowed in Alberta is 7.4 metres high (9 metres tall when loaded on the trailer) and 41.5 metres long with a maximum weight of 156 tonnes.

Noting that Alberta most definitely has four seasons, Mr. Guiochet goes on, “Winter brings shorter periods of daylight, extreme cold and adverse road conditions that can all be challenges for over-sized loads, however, winter is also the time when we have the greatest allowable axle loadings.” On the hoisting side of the operation, he says that cranes have manufacturer specifications for operation during weather or temperature extremes and if exceeded, the cranes cannot operate. “Spring brings seasonal road bans which mean that either customer loads must be reduced or we must increase the number of wheels under the loads.”

Each oil sands operation (as of January 2013 there were 127 operating projects, five of which are mining, processing 1.7 million barrels per day) incorporates immense processing vessels and getting these on-site present significant challenges. In February this year, Mammoet moved a vessel with a total gross vehicle weight of 780 tonnes and twice the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool from a manufacturer’s yard in Edmonton to a site north of Fort McMurray. The load had to be routed along several different provincial highways and took five days to complete. Guiochet says that vessels can typically range from 8.5 to 9 metres in diameter and up to 48.7 metres in length.

“Coordination and logistics are the main challenges. We have to meet client ready-to-ship and arrival on-site dates.” He went on to list other coordination efforts required to get the big cargoes on to high-load corridors. “We work with utility companies to move or raise hydro and telephone lines, rail companies at highway crossings, regional or local governments are engaged since in some communities, street lighting and other street assets must be removed and then replaced.”

Keith Guiochet went on to describe how Mammoet also moves loads from the west coast. “We do heavy load transports to Alberta through the port of Vancouver, Canada, and the ports of Tacoma or Vancouver, Washington. In the case of Vancouver, WA, cargoes are trans-shipped by river barge inland to Lewiston, Idaho. We completed a major project last year transporting pipe rack modules built in Korea. From Idaho, we hauled the modules to Edmonton where they were re-assembled to Alberta-size components and then we traveled them to the oil sands project, an undertaking that took two years to complete.”

The need for heavy lift and transport beyond the oil sands

In November 2012, Ridley Terminals Inc. took delivery of a new coal stacker/reclaimer. Located in Prince Rupert, B.C. the northernmost deepwater port in North America, Ridley Terminals, a federal crown corporation, is undergoing a capacity expansion from 12 million tonnes of thermal coal to 25 million tonnes. The 1,500 tonne stacker/reclaimer was built in China, measured more than 140 metres long, over 30 metres tall and arrived in five pieces. Guiochet says, “Using a combination of SPMT’s and crawler cranes, we handled the equipment off-load from the ship and did the assembly on-site. The largest piece we unloaded was 560 tonnes.”

He went on to explain that although Mammoet does not maintain an inventory of equipment in B.C., (there is a sales office in Vancouver), the company mobilizes manpower and equipment to tackle such projects. “If we can procure local equipment or expertise in any region of the world we’re working in, we’ll try and utilize those resources. For example, with the stacker/reclaimer, we worked to ensure the equipment rigging was done in accordance with our standards and then allowed maintenance crews who were intimately familiar with assembly of that machine to finalize the assembly.”

Guiochet says that, in western Canada, Mammoet works in almost every segment, pointing as an example of the company’s marine activities to the lift and move operations at CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C. on the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine refit program. Continuing, he says, “In the power industry, which continues to grow, we’re quite often involved in transportation, hoisting and setting up power components such as turbines, generators and transformers.

We just did some turbines and transformers for the City of Calgary. The gas turbines weighed 735,000 pounds, and arrived via the port of Duluth. We worked with the shipyard in Duluth and CP Rail to get them to Calgary, and then did a land transfer from rail siding to the site, using a trailer consisting of 288 wheels. To complete the project, we installed the turbines using tower and gantry cranes.”

Another area that Mr. Guiochet says is becoming increasingly important to Mammoet’s crane business is plant maintenance. ”We provide crane services for several facilities throughout western Canada when plants go into shutdowns or turn-arounds and we’re able to quickly ramp up personnel and equipment. In May and June, we go from 750 employees to a thousand for this business. The work involves replacement of plant parts, complete overhauls or expansion and construction. Mammoet has devised a unique concept based on pre-engineering of all lifting and transport work, requiring rigorous adherence to schedules, budgets and quality of work.

Guiochet explains that Mammoet has a new mission statement, “Mammoet Moves”. He explains, “We move deep, we move up, we move scope”, all reflecting the company’s dedication to excellence in service. “By deep, we mean move deep with our relationships with clients, ‘we move up’ goes to improving our organization, and ‘we move scope’ reminds us to keep improving the scope of service we provide.”