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EEJ Digital Engineering

Superheroes in the cape

Digital Engineering is transforming delivery practices at the latest phase of works at Cape Lambert, one of western Australia's biggest mining operations

Cape Lambert Site under construction

Mining in Australia is big business. The country is blessed with rich natural resources, which have been responsible for driving economic prosperity over recent decades. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore and coal, the world’s largest producer of bauxite / aluminium and opal and the second largest producer of gold, nickel and zinc.

Western Australia is the heartland of the iron ore mining industry, boasting 97 per cent of the country’s riches and 22 per cent of global resources. The biggest operator in the region is Rio Tinto. Its operations in the Pilbara region include a world-class, integrated network of 15 iron ore mines, three port facilities, a 1,500km rail network and related infrastructure – all designed to respond rapidly to changes in demand, supported by its operations centre in Perth. The group is expanding its operations in the Pilbara and introducing next-generation technologies to deliver greater efficiency, lower production costs and improved health, safety and environmental performance.

Laing O’Rourke has a long history with Rio Tinto, having delivered numerous mining infrastructure projects for the company since 1975. Recently, it successfully completed the first phase of the structural, mechanical and piping (SMP) works for the in-loading and out-loading conveyors and transfer towers at the Cape Lambert Port B stockyards, one of the seaports used to export iron ore from the region.

Existing conveyor (left) constructed in Phase A. New conveyor CV665 (right) Phase BModularisation was key to minimising time spent working in relatively close proximity to live plant

The business is currently performing the second phase of the SMP works at Cape Lambert Port B and is also engaged with Sandvik Machines in the delivery of four stackers, three reclaimers and two ship loaders as part of Rio Tinto’s expansion of the port. The scheme will increase Rio Tinto’s export capacity from its Pilbara operations to 330 million tonnes of iron ore annually by 2016.

Laing O’Rourke is also delivering the conveyors and transfer stations that take the mined iron ore to the port some 2-3km away. It is using fabrication partners in Thailand to make the steel conveyor and transfer stations, which are then broken down to be transferred by ship to Western Australia to be reassembled onsite. Nine transfer stations and 13 conveyors are being installed as part of this project.

The works will result in 11km of conveyors through the stockyards and out to the export jetty along with link conveyors to the existing port facilities. The project also includes the fabrication and installation of 12km of fire-and dust-suppression piping associated with the stockyards.

The latest AUD$161 million contract for the SMP works has seen Laing O’Rourke adopt state-of-the art techniques that have raised the bar for delivery of industrial / infrastructure projects of this scale. The project team wanted to implement a digital engineering strategy that supported its Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approach (specifically the use of preassembled modules), while enhancing safety, planning, sequencing site work and quality control.

Cape Lambert design engineer, Tom Phillips, joined Laing O’Rourke’s DE team in Sydney for a month and was trained in digital engineering workflow, technical applications and tablet-based set-up. A strategy for the project was developed that fitted with the scope of work, the delivery model and the project team. Now back onsite, Tom is leading the digital engineering charge at Cape Lambert, further evolving the process to fit the needs of the project.

The project has included a host of digital engineering techniques, including: 4D models, use of tablets onsite, 3D-integrated radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging of equipment from the fabrication plant in Thailand to port to delivery onsite and customisable viewing ‘heat maps’ to show information such as project status and critical paths.

Cape Lambert ScreenhouseUnder construction

Steel fabrication in Thailand

 "The team was able to draw upon Rio Tinto’s 3D models at the outset of the project," explains Ian Hardcastle, Digital Engineering Lead for Laing O’Rourke’s Australia Hub. "We then applied our expertise in DfMA techniques to model the preassembly works for BJC, our partners in Thailand. The key here was to model where to integrate additional steel supports and handrails which enabled safe and efficient transportation and lifting."

The steel is fabricated at BJC’s facility and then moved approximately an hour away to a modularisation plant where it is fully assembled and then broken down into smaller parts for shipping to Australia. The 3D model was integral for the coordination of exactly where to position the steel supports for both clash avoidance and ease and efficiency of removal once the modules arrive onsite for reassembly. The model includes the ability to calculate where the centre of gravity of the assemblies was going to be, facilitating safer transportation during both shipping from Thailand and transport over land.

"The digital engineering models allowed the team to adopt an iterative design process with a focus on eradicating many potential fabrication and construction issues before they arose, thus leading to more holistic design solutions," comments Laing O’Rourke’s Structural Design Engineer, Ryan King.  

Lee Warren of the digital engineering team spent a week in Thailand learning to deploy tablets and associated technology to the fabrication and preassembly team – as well as rolling out the requisite training. "This has set the stage for us to map out how the DE process (and technology we are developing) can assist the Thailand team from steel detailing to fabrication to preassembly to shipping," he says. "I was also able to provide an overview of how the Cape Lambert site team (and the wider Laing O’Rourke business) is using digital engineering and other technologies."

It allows us to build projects twice - first in a digital environment and then on site, creating efficiencies in project delivery and operational performance.

Ian HardcastleDigital Engineering Lead (Australia Hub) Laing O'Rourke

Integrating the piping

Laing O’Rourke’s piping design team, led by Shawn Huber, has integrated the piping and structural models, removing the risk of any coordination issues onsite. "Our responsibilities included checking the pipework for clashes against the already fabricated steelwork and also where to break the piping to suit easy site installation / erection," says Huber. "The checking process began with importing the shop detailer’s 3D structural model. This model was used as the final design with all identified clashes and misalignments corrected to suit this model." These piping systems included fire, potable water, wash-down and dust-suppression elements.

Module structure with piping Modelled by the Sydney design office

Tablets achieve site innovation

Digital engineering has brought massive changes to site practices too. "Digital engineering work on this current project started back in April 2013, and the site supervision team has embraced the technology as well as the use of tablets with 3D modelling, to check construction progress and identify new steelwork modules for installation," explains Declan Larkin, Project Leader within Laing O’Rourke’s Western Region.

3D video presentations have been implemented for construction planning workshops, showing a digital model of the site to work crews and helping to understand the construction sequencing prior to the arrival of the ships and their modular cargo.

"The project has also implemented a material tracking system, where modules and steelwork are tagged for easy on-site verification of their location and incorporation into the structures," says Larkin. "This provides an efficient and planned distribution of the components and avoids losses – either through time spent searching for the material or the cost of reordering."  

Dr Scott McGovern, Digital Engineering Lead for Laing O’Rourke’s Engineering Excellence Group has been instrumental in developing the tracking system, in partnership with a radio frequency identification service provider called RAMP. The module location is updated on a cloud-based system that overlays the data on a geographic information system map. As the system uses active RFID tags, the location of the tags can be updated with a mobile reader attached to a site vehicle. "This reader has a reliable range of over 100m, so that every time the vehicle moves within range of a module the tag is automatically read and the module location is updated on the cloud server. This means that wherever a module is moved to a new location onsite, its location will be updated within the next day or so by the roving vehicle," says McGovern.

"The system uses a combination of both the internal GPS on the reader (combined with the received signal strength of the active RFID tag) to predict a GPS location onsite. This gives us the ability to determine the module location using the roving device to an accuracy of between 10 and 50m (depending on obstruction noise in the surrounding area). When searching for a particular module, users will go to the GPS map location onsite and use the mobile reader or one of the many hand-held readers to further pinpoint the location and find the module in question."

The site embraces use of tablets to allow real-time coordination of the 3D models with day-to-day work planning to give a 4D sequencing installation methodology. Laing O’Rourke has also developed customised 3D viewing software that gives engineers the ability to see project information in real time – for example, critical path analysis, overall project status and planned progress versus actual. "Site engineers can easily see how a module is designed to go in, and go in safely," says Ian Hardcastle. "We use ‘heat maps’ to give a three-week look ahead. The first week might be coloured yellow, week two is orange and the third green."

Site vehicle with materials tracking RFID scanner mounted on board

The team uses Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field software for electronic task completion check sheets, defects checking and electronic sign-off on health and safety forms. The team has the ability to customise the output of check sheets to match the exact appearance of the client’s standard sheets. "Our digital delivery of projects relies on a network of applications, with direct, automated access to the data collected by each system, in an interconnected environment," says Nic Gombault, lead DE engineer at Laing O’Rourke, Sydney. "To better integrate BIM 360 in this network, we used its Application Programming Interface (API) to write custom code, allowing more flexibility in the analysis of data and formatting the outputs to the exact requirement of our client." The models are also used by the project team to demonstrate compliance with Australia’s Safety in Design reviews.

As the project moves towards completion in September 2014, the team can reflect on the many advantages that digital engineering has brought to the scheme. "There’s no doubt that we’ve seen major benefits at Cape Lambert," says Senior Project Engineer Morgan Stevens. "Elimination of clashes, the ability to accurately determine the best possible construction methodology, detailed construction reviews where we picked up many more safety issues than we otherwise would have and the time spent searching through drawing files has been minimised. It also gave us confidence to do more preassembly offsite than we have done in the past."

"The project has been scheduled around four shipments from our fabricators, and we are around 4 per cent ahead of schedule," says Declan Larkin. "This is the result of lessons learnt on the previous stage of the project now being implemented on current works, along with a team that has worked together for 18 months, and our modularisation effort being maximised through early engagement with a collaborative client. Achieving these milestones reflects the hard work of the site team, with support from the engineering expertise in Perth and Sydney and from our well-practiced resources in Thailand. It shows what can be achieved with strong upfront planning and a DfMA focus."

Clearly, Rio Tinto is impressed – it has now awarded Laing O’Rourke the contract for the next phase of the Cape Lambert Port B expansion. "Digital engineering provides our clients greater levels of assurance by demonstrating our understanding of the complexity of the construction process, risks, logistics and programme, as well as maximising the safe delivery of a project on time and to cost," says Liam Cummins, Director of Laing O’Rourke Australia’s Western Region. "It allows us to build projects twice – first in a digital environment and then onsite, creating efficiencies in project delivery and operational performance."

Ian Hardcastle


Existing transfer station With existing tug harbour in the background
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