Construction in confined spaces


As population expands and rushes to the city, there is increasing demand for resources and living space. We examine what effect this is having, and how the energy and construction industries can evolve to meet the challenges.

The world's urban population became larger than its rural one in 2009, and the UN predicts that by 2050 over 68% of us will call the city our home.

The wealth created during this migration has given rise to an expanded global middle class, demanding access to reliable infrastructure, to travel, and to consumer goods.

A battle is being fought on two fronts. Energy demand as well as civil infrastructure complexity have skyrocketed alongside population – with a 1% rise of energy demand per year predicted until 2040 by the IEA. At the same time, legislation produced in response to the Paris Agreement of 2001 makes permits for energy providers and construction companies harder than ever to obtain; especially in developed economies.


Keeping the lights on

The impact of this is most strikingly visible in the petrochemical sector, where refineries have been forced to vastly increase output, but without the freedom to expand. What’s more, in order to meet the requirements of environmental legislation process equipment has been replaced more often to facilitate production of cleaner fuels. As such, the last decade has seen facilities become crowded, with active plant occupying every square meter of space – some of it operating well beyond its intended lifecycle.

Yet we are some years away from becoming fully reliant on renewable sources; a collection of 47 peer-reviewed research papers published by Stanford University late last year suggested a 30-year timeline for total fossil fuel independence. This means we still need existing facilities for the foreseeable future to balance the peaks and troughs of supply. 

Jacques Stoof, Global Innovation and Market Development

So, it is no surprise that brownfield spending has risen sharplyJacques Stoof, Director of Innovation and Market Development at Mammoet, explains:

"Refineries across Europe and the US are reaching the end of their design lives, yet demand continues to rise. This presents owners with a choice: do they close down these existing facilities and build anew, or do they explore how to expand and prolong the life of these assets? Until recently, both options would result in significant downtime - and therefore high costs."

An engineering challenge presents itself that grows more serious with each passing year: how to execute critical path lifts when site space is becoming harder and harder to find.

Owner/operators have been facewith a stark choice: to perform time-consuming and often unpredictable civil works or to close sections of the plant entirely while work is carried out.


Keeping cities moving 

A similar but related issue has been developing in the world’s cities. The world’s population is congregating – in the year 2000, there were 371 cities globally with 1m or more inhabitants. Now, there are over 540.

The last 20 years have seen a ferocious period of change - particularly in the eastern hemisphere – with urban planners doing what they can to keep up. The modern city has become a maze, littered with a spaghetti of metro and road tunnels, rail lines, communications and power wiring.

What’s more, infrastructure built before this growth period was simply not designed to bear the loads now required of it. So, its lifespan falls, and replacement must take place in an environment where it’s near-impossible not to cause disruption.

Javier Martinez, Commercial Director at Mammoet, clarifies:

“By 2050, the population of the world is expected to be 10 billion. This continued rapid growth means that the infrastructure in many city centers will need replacing to accommodate the needs of larger populations.Yet these areas are amongst the most hectic and congested on earth.

The space required to erect a piece of lifting equipment typically results in the closure of roads and other transport links, which can have a big impact on the smooth running of the city. Understandably, local authorities place tight restrictions on this type of activity and, where possible, alternative methods are often used.”

Javier Martinez, Commercial Director

Mammoet recognized that a new lifting solution was needed to better support these two very different environments, sharing similar challenges. This solution would need to be assembled and operated in confined spaces but deliver lifting power large enough to support maintenance of the heaviest petrochemical modules as well as infrastructure components, such as bridge or tunnel parts. 



Engineering the future 

This led to the development of the FOCUS30 crane, which has been designed specifically to operate in areas with a combination of complex infrastructure and space limitations, such as petrochemical plants and inner cities.

This is where we identified that the FOCUS30 could help most”, observes Stoof. “Its ability to operate around key site infrastructure prevents refineries and chemical plants from incurring the typical production losses while upgrades are made. That means quicker and lower-cost refurbishment work to help meet demand.”

In the refinery, the FOCUS30 allows more product to flow during maintenance and turnarounds, as its footprint during lifting (and especially during assembly) is only 30x30m. No sterile area must be set aside for the crane’s construction: a genuine innovation in petrochemical lifting technology.

Civil works, which can be expensive and occasionally discover hazardous substances, can be avoided thanks to the crane’s low ground bearing pressure, at 10t/m2

Finally, project risk can be lowered, as fewer maneuvers need to be performed over existing pipe racks, live plant, and surrounding people.

As the FOCUS30’s boom is assembled using modular sections, the crane can be brought to site and maneuvered into position quickly, shortening its erection time and therefore helping refineries keep schedule and save money.

In the city, less space must be cordoned off for projects to take place, as no sterile area must be set aside for assembly of a crane boom. This helps to lower the permitting burden on construction companies, as less disruption is caused overall. 

The FOCUS30 also helps to reduce the safety risk to nearby homes and businesses, as it does not overhang surrounding homes, businesses and people as it is being assembled. In cities increasingly packed with communications lines, tunnels and street furniture, its low ground-bearing capacity ensures that the surrounding environment can be protected.

As the FOCUS30 heads to its first project, Mammoet has redefined lifting in confined spaces; through an increase in cost-efficiency, making projects feasible where they seemed impossible. Further models in the FOCUS range are planned, with demand for the FOCUS30 at such a level that a second crane is already being considered for production. Stoof concludes: 

"Alongside a second FOCUS30, our third crane in the series will most likely be a FOCUS50. This will be similar in capacity to the 30 model, but with a bigger reach, to enable even greater flexibility while occupying a compact footprint. Based on the feedback we’re received to date; we believe the benefits to customers are such that we would progress the range even further after the 50 model.”


Play Video
Watch the time-lapse of the FOCUS30 being assembled in South Africa