An unexpected late afternoon phone call began the association between a remote Nickel producer and an Australian, mid-tier engineering consultancy. Chief Operating Officer Jim Allan of SOTO Consulting Engineers listened intently as his caller anxiously described a worsening situation that if left unchecked, could lead to a catastrophic failure of an essential asset at a Nickel refining plant in New Caledonia.
The depiction given to Jim that afternoon was of a Boiler in structural distress. The power station of the Nickel refinery needed to partially shut down as damage and danger increased daily as it remained online.
The engineers of SOTO in Wollongong NSW would likely only consider the Pacific islands as a holiday destination and not a location where a massive Nickel refinery was in danger of suffering potentially catastrophic damage to part of its infrastructure…One of its primary Boilers had developed cracks in the vessel shell and was in distress.
In the phone call, the Director of Supply & Logistics urgently sought expert engineering support to aid Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS) and requested the on-site attendance of a senior structural engineer from SOTO Consulting Engineers to assist the site engineers to develop a scope of work, determine solutions and identify the deliverables necessary to overcome the structural defects in the boiler structures.
Within hours of the call, arrangements were made with the Koniambo representative enabling the SOTO senior structural engineer to attend the plant for inspections of plant elements, specifically identifying the severity of numerous defects and to classify priority issues.
Inspections of accessible plant elements were completed in six days with significant issues determined. The principal source of defects throughout the structures were found to be associated with thermal expansion and inefficacy of expansion joints, resulting in excessive forces via downward and upward vertical expansion.
To prevent possible catastrophic failure of the Boiler, remediation of apparent thermal expansion issues were urgently required. This requirement led SOTO to utilise their Advanced Analysis team to conduct modelling and global analysis of the ducting, cyclone and seal-pot utilising Finite Element Analysis (FEA) thereafter applying the results as an input to determine rectification solutions.
Koniambo management invited the Principal Engineer of SOTO to collaborate on-site with their engineers in developing a scope of work for the boiler remediation process. This scope included a global structural analysis using FEA to determine stress affected areas and methodology to overcome the issues caused by the stressors. The summation of the analysis by SOTO was presented to the site engineers with its conclusions aiding to further refine the steps in the remediation project being planned for mid-year 2016.
Although SOTO had been unknown to Koniambo prior to the phone call by the Director of Supply & Logistics, he and his company placed their belief in the specialised capabilities of SOTO Consulting Engineers to provide excellence in thermal structural analysis combined with pragmatic engineering for effective solutions to the potentially devastating issues surrounding their Boiler.
At Valè in Gore, New Caledonia, SOTO are recognised after completing several Advanced Analysis assignments including an undersea, ocean-outfall pipeline and other studies related to overland pipelines also SOTO had previously been invited to bid on refractory design for major CBR vessels at Valè.
Earlier this year, SOTO being a member of AUSTMINE took part in a mission to NC Nickel Industries to meet and interact with senior representatives of Eramet-SLN, Valè and Koniambo and visiting the operations of these three majors. The AUSTMINE members met with AUSTRADE representatives and Mr Paul Wilson, Australian Consul-General, to discuss methods of developing business in New Caledonia with a chain of opportunities being presented.
Over the last five years or so, SOTO has sought to understand the drivers of the New Caledonian economy and to seek opportunities to service the Nickel industry. By continuing to forge new relationships with the people of New Caledonia, SOTO can provide very responsive and cost effective design engineering services to the Nickel refiners while augmenting their own engineering capability.