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EXPANDING

The panama canal

It's been called one of the seven wonders of the modern world. A century after it first opened, the Panama Canal continues to be a vital shortcut for global commerce – but now, almost half the world's cargo ships are too large to fit through it.

This year, MWH Global's redesign will change that.

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Replay Video

Video footage courtesy of Radiant Features

 

 

A
MONUMENTAL
PROJECT

 

In 2009, engineering firm MWH Global began designing one of the largest and most ambitious construction projects in the world: the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The new design will nearly triple the capacity of passing ships. It's a quantum leap. The $6 billion megaproject, which is set to open this year, uses the equivalent of 26 Eiffel Towers worth of steel and enough concrete – 190,000 tonnes – to construct the skyline of a major city.

Common Questions

 

Common Questions

What's the Panama Canal?

A 48-mile-long passageway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

Why was the Panama Canal built?

To ship goods between the 2 coasts quickly, cheaply and safely

Who built the Panama Canal?

After an initial attempt by France in the late 1800s, the US built it from 1904-1914

 

$1.8 BILLION

AMOUNT IN TOLLS COLLECTED EACH YEAR

 

140

NUMBER OF TRADE ROUTES SERVED

 

OVER 1 MILLION

NUMBER OF SHIPS THAT HAVE CROSSED SINCE OPENING

 

8-10 HOURS

NUMBER OF HOURS IT TAKES TO CROSS

THE CHALLENGE

The Panama Canal rises 85 feet above sea level. That is about nine storeys high.

To pass through the canal, a ship enters a lock – think of it as a massive boat lift. Once the ship enters the lock, water from a man-made lake is pumped in, which lifts the ship. The vessel then sails across the channel and is carried back down by locks on the other side.

It will be an engineering and construction feat to lift and guide today's supersized ships – over 1,000 feet long and 40 feet high – through the canal and then back into the ocean, all without damaging the surroundings. MWH Global was up for the challenge.

PACIFIC

GATUN LAKE
26m / 85ft

ATLANTIC

Photo courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority

THE PROJECT

Expand existing channels:
Widen 21.3m / 70ft
Deepen 5.4m / 18ft
Lengthen 121m / 400ft

 

Create a new channel, with 3 new lock chambers on each side

 

Raise the maximum operating level of Gatun Lake, the primary water source for the locks

Photo Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority
Photo courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority
A RACE
WITH REALITY

How many engineers does it take to change a canal? More than 400, all of them under pressure to stay ahead of construction.

With a project of this scale and urgency, work needed to proceed on several fronts at once. Excavation had to start before the designs were even completed. Using civil engineering and building information modelling software, the MWH Global team mapped sites and performed critical clash detection that saved thousands of re-work hours and millions of dollars.
 

ENGINEERS ON THE PROJECT

 

CUBIC FEET OF EARTH EXCAVATED

 

HEIGHT OF EACH LOCK

 

DEPTH OF CHANNELS

"The most daunting challenge was meeting the high design performance requirements. This is the Panama Canal. We could not afford to make a mistake. And the clock was ticking."

— Mike Newbery, project lead, MWH Global

Illustration of boat in canal
Illustration of boat in canal

A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

Can a project this massive also be minimalist?

It had to be. Gatun Lake not only helps operate the locks, it's a major source of drinking water for Panama. With so much fresh water being used by the canal, MWH Global had to find a way to expand the passageway, which would require significantly more water, all while using significantly … less water.

How did they do it?

By installing three new water storage basins – the largest in the world – the largest in the world—MWH Global will be able to:

RECYCLE 60% OF THE WATER USED IN THE LOCKS
REDUCE WATER USE BY 7% EVEN THOUGH THE NEW LOCKS ARE 1.5 TIMES LARGER THAN THE ORIGINAL ONES
DOUBLE THE CANAL'S CAPACITY WHILE INCREASING WATER RE-USE
...and make a whole lot of Panamanians happy.

A WORLD
OF DIFFERENCE

When it was first built, the Panama Canal changed the world of commerce. Thanks to MWH Global, it will do it again.

The Panama Canal expansion is a global undertaking with some very local ramifications. It's estimated that the Panamanian economy will experience an eightfold increase by 2025. But the impact will extend far beyond Panama.

Bigger ships need bigger ports. More cargo means more jobs. The global cost of shipping will go down while the worldwide flow of products, grain and natural resources will go up.

It seems a brighter future for the region and the world, one made possible by the intersection of design, technology and massive collaboration among multinational organisations. Is this the new world order? Stay tuned, but in the meantime, welcome to the future of making things.

 

Learn more about some of the products MWH Global used to design the Panama Canal Expansion Project

 
 

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