November 2009

Engineering Exchange

Building inside the beehive: Communications and training drive Hatch’s success at Escondida Norte

By H. Ednie

Intermediate ore bin between the primary crusher and overland conveyor

To complete any major construction project on schedule and within budget demands broad expertise and extensive coordination. Hatch, the engineering, procurement and construction manager (EPCM), met that standard when it finished the full ramp up of BHP Billiton’s Escondida Norte and E3 Project east of Antofagasta, Chile, in October 2005 — and along the way, it raised the bar.

“The unique challenge was constructing a new project within an existing operation,” says Gerardo Reveco, Escondida Norte project manager for Hatch. The initial project involved the design, construction, and ramp up of a new primary crusher station, seven-kilometre overland conveyor, distribution conveyors, and surge and distribution silos. The new materials handling system was designed to deliver up to 8,800 tonnes per hour to the existing Escondida process facilities from the new pit, located seven kilometres north of the existing one. The scope of the project later grew — added to it was the creation of the E3 conveyor pushback, consisting of the construction of two parallel 1.2-kilometre conveyors, the extension of several existing conveyors and two 10-day tie-ins.

Even before ground was broken, Cesare Celle, regional managing director, Latin America, recalls, “Coordination was a real challenge. To start excavation and construction, a lot of permits were required, and a lot of safety requirements had to be addressed. BHP Billiton has very strict safety protocols, so we had to be very diligent working within the operation.”

With all the pre-construction preparatory work done, executing the project then depended on attention to the cascade of details and the thorough training of the workforce in everything from traffic control to safety. At the peak of construction, Reveco says the project staff nearly doubled the staff from ongoing operations. And traffic control on site became a major task. “We had a group of people designing and redesigning the traffic flow on a weekly basis.”

The key to success, he says, was communication, and the Hatch team became experts at it. “We had to coordinate with two groups: the operators in the concentrator and those in the mine — and they often had different priorities. The logistics to coordinate shutdowns and have all managers in agreement were challenging.” From emailing to door knocking and wielding whistles, they applied whatever tool matched the task to ensure everyone knew what was going to happen. They also learned the value of repetition, especially when it came to the principles of safety. “The messages must be repeated so they remain a priority,” says Celle.

The Hatch team got innovative when it came to training. An 11-day shutdown was planned for the relocation and reconnection of the conveyor systems between the mines and distribution centre. In preparation, Hatch developed training videos for every contractor onsite. By incorporating 3D models, photos and videos, they simulated the situation that a specific contractor would be dealing with during the move. Driving courses taught workers the special signals that would be used on the road during the project, explains Celle. “The contractors were able to sit down and learn their task, the sequence of events and what to expect. This way, they were much more prepared when it came to the actual shutdown.”

The training efforts paid off. In the end, the planned 11-day shutdown was completed within less than half of that time, allowing an extra six days of production — that’s money in the bank.

As the EPCM manager, Hatch was committed to creating benefits for their clients. Through value engineering, they enabled the client to save money. The development of a materials distribution centre — including moving the conveyors farther from the pit — accommodated feed from both the original and new Escondida pits. Two silos were erected onsite, and product was brought in by conveyors from the new pit to be redistributed between two concentrator sites. “Through the relocation of the conveyors and creation of the distribution centre, we created a flexibility that allows for better interaction between the two pits and the two concentrator facilities,” Celle says. “That project alone saves the client several millions in operating costs.”

Celle highlights that Hatch has enjoyed a long-term relationship with BHP Billiton, which has led to the two groups really understanding each other today. “We enjoy a synergy from repeat business,” he says. “We have a good understanding of their definitions of scope, capital budget and scheduling — we know how to work with the BHP group. And this leads to strong safety, design, budget and scheduling performance — the cornerstones of successful project management.”

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