Field book



The new Panama Canal

The Panama Canal links in 77 km the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, it was one of the most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

Traveled in 5 to 9 hours, it has changed the maritime trade by providing a 13 0000 km shortcut ! (At the time the ships had to sail around Cape Horn all the way down to the southern tip of South America.)

Large-scale work, launched 6 years ago, will greatly expand its capabilities. The company JEAN LUTZ is not totally unknown there...


A task gone down in history

With their achievement to the Suez Canal, French engineers, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Gustave Eiffel, try to realize the work in the late nineteenth century, but in 1889, after various setbacks, coupled with a politico-financial case, the company went bankrupt. The United States resumed the construction site under the direction of George W. Goethals and the canal opens August 15, 1914.

Epic journey, the construction encountered many adventures, from epidemics of malaria and yellow fever to landslides, and would cost the lives of almost 30,000 workers.

The canal zone remained under U.S. administration until 1979, when it was reassigned to Panama.

Strategic importance

Since its opening, the canal has been a huge success. With the rising cost of petroleum products, it remains a strategic crossing point for navigation, especially for freight. 14 000 ships, carrying more than 300 million tons of cargo passes through each year.

Widening of the canal was launched in 2007 to make way for larger tonnage vessels. To this day the largest eligible boats admitted into the canal are referred to as « Panamax » ; yet a growing number of vessels exceeds this size: in late 2011, with 600 post-panamax, the world fleet consists of 37% of boats who can not use the current canal.

The technical device and the third set of locks

The canal consists of two artificial lakes, Lake Gatun and Alajuela, and locks on which ships are pulled by locomotives. The latter come in pairs: two parallel sets of locks are on all three sites, normally allowing the passage of ships simultaneously in both directions.

In practice, traffic is alternated and two lanes of locks are used only in one direction at a time.

The current development project is the creation of a third set of locks.

They will include sliding doors, doubled for safety, and will be 427 meters long, 55 meters wide and 18.3 meters deep, allowing the transit of large vessels of 49 m, a length of 386 meters and a draft of 15 m, a container ship of 12,000 TEUs.

Water and rock games: the Dialog PVD as cornerstone

The construction of the new locks involves two critical operations, which involve treating the ground to seal the channels, so the water will not flow from one to the other, and consolidate the ground which will host the new locks of larger dimensions. The engineers will fill the natural cracks in the rock by grout injection.
The company JEAN LUTZ has equipped the injection pumps with DIALOG PVD. units. They will drive these pumps, automatically adjusting the quantity and the grout injection rate down to 35 meters deep. The pressure is controlled by the Dialog about 80 times per second.

If this material has been selected, it is in response to two major technical constraints, increased by adverse weather conditions (heat and humidity). On one hand, extreme reliability: the job site is at work 6 days on 7 and 24/24h, so that each delay implied by any failure would result in a significant additional cost. On the other hand, the injection points are scattered over the site area, in constant motion, and it is impossible to use cables: the radio transmission system was adopted.

Each Dialog is controlling 4 grout injection spots. 12 transceivers transmit information by radio to the control room linked to Dialog.

The injection is performed by the so-called apparent Lugeon method, a technique very used overseas, which calculates in real time the permeability of the ground.

An engineer from JEAN LUTZ went to install 3 DIALOG on site. Once the instrumentation in place, he has trained operators and presented the device to the American regulatory body, URS, which ensures the reliability of each operating business in this huge project with a thousand sub-contractors.

The opening of the new locks is scheduled in 2014, for the centenary of the Canal...

To go further:

- Panama Canal

Crédit photo : © Jean Lutz SA