Navigation, as a human activity, goes back forthousands years. Ships and navigation infrastructure have evolved over time to meet commercial, military, fishing and recreational needs of mankind. This has happened at a pace consistent with the development of knowledge of the marine environment and its unique characteristics. Advances in marine engineering have resulted in deep transformations of portsover centuries. Modern-day constructions are designed to meet the current and future demands of the global economy and market, particularly in terms of logistics.
Modern ports are characterised by their response to the rapid evolution of fleets, such as the spectacular growth of container ships and their capacity to operate increasingly efficient goods-handling equipment. Today’s ports take shape through a set of highly specialised terminals connected to land transport networks to form a genuine intermodal logistics node. The ongoing improvement of breakwaters, navigation channels, berthing structures and cargo and passengers’ handling systems and equipment is made possible thanks to engineering expertise capable of overcoming even the most difficult challenges.
For more than 30 years, FCC Construcción has been at the forefront of development in this sector, implementing innovative solutions on technically complex maritime works. It uses its own equipment and an experienced workforce to deliver each project whilst guaranteeing the highest standards of quality, safety and adherence to deadlines. With an extensive portfolio of works, FCC Construcción has secured its position as one of the leading international companies in the sector. This collection of projects includes the construction and modernisation of breakwaters, quays and jetties, commercial, military and fishing ports, marinas and other infrastructure such as navigation locks, natural gas storage tanks or gas pipelines.
One project that is particularly noteworthy is the floating breakwater of Monaco, the largest of its type worldwide. This fantastic piece of engineering is in fact a double-hull reinforced concrete ship 352 metres long with a displacement of 165,000 tons. The floating breakwater has enabled the principality to improve the sheltering of the Port of La Condamine and significantly boost its capacity.
The world’s most prominent ports
Many of the most important maritime works that have been built recently around the world bear the FCC Construcción seal. The new Port of Açu in Brazil, which is the third largest in the world and the largest in America, is an example of this. On the project, the company led the construction of a 2,438-m breakwater by sinking 49 floating reinforced concrete caissons, sheltering existing mineral bulk berths and providing three new berths for an oil terminal. Compared to alternative techniques the use of reinforced concrete floating caissons fot the Port of Açu proved beneficial, delivering considerable savings on costs, deadlines and the use of natural materials thereby minimising environmental impact.
On the Peruvian port of El Callao, one of the most important on the Pacific Ocean, the company has been building a new container terminal, which is part of the refurbishment project of quays 5 and 11 and the construction of the corresponding buildings. These works, on which more than 1,600 people (95% local manpower) were employed during peak periods, will enable the port to offer new services and improve its logistics offer.
In Spain, FCC Construcción is leading a strategic project to reorganise and boost port activity in Cadiz by building a new container terminal (with a surface area of 22 hectares, a 590-m-long quay wall and a breakwater stretching 320 metres) at the city’s port.
Maritime works are challenging because of the technical complications posed by the maritime environment and determined by storms, tides, the complex phenomena of wave-soil interaction and the severe environmental conditions that challenge the durability of the infrastructure. The research, development and innovation (R&D&I) activities carried out by FCC Construcción help in the development and implementation of the best possible solutions for each situation. An example is its patent for low-reflection vertical wall for caissons for breakwaters and berthing structures, which has been successfully implemented on numerous projects.
The company is also leading the project IISIS that can be translated as ‘Comprehensive Research on Sustainable Islands’. This project focuses in researching aspects of engineering, construction and advanced materials for unique structures in open sea that subject to extreme climate and environmental conditions, as well as their exploitation to obtain energy from waves and currents. The DOVICAIM project, which is also ongoing, will facilitate resources and models to analyse placement manoeuvres of caissons in open sea. This is regarded as one of the highest risk stages in these processes.
FCC Construcción’s strategy to address current and future challenges of maritime works is about continuously seeking cutting-edge solutions that help maritime infrastructure reach ever greater heights.
Floating dry-docks for caisson construction
FCC Construcción makes continuous efforts in terms of investment and development to ensure it has access to its own highly advanced means of implementation. This allows for a high degree of independence and service quality on the projects it undertakes. Included among these assets are the floating dry-docks ‘Mar del Teide’, ‘Mar del Aneto’ and ‘Mar del Enol’, as well as the stone dumping barge ‘Acanto’.
The company’s floating dry-docks, which are designed for the construction of floating reinforced concrete caissons can be towed by sea to the location of works, have played significant role in its latest maritime projects. In the construction of the Port of Açu project in Brazil, FCC Construcción used both ‘Mar del Aneto’ and ‘Mar del Enol’, two enormous structures covering an area half the size of a football field and measuring more than 25 metres, to manufacture 40 out of all the 49 caissons required to build the dock. These structures are between 46 and 59 metres long, up to 29 metres wide, up to 35 metres high and weigh close to 10,000 tons (without ballast).Caisson manufacturing on the dry-docks takes between seven and ten days.
It is also important to mention that the first 11 caissons for the Port of Açu were casted in Algeciras (Spain) and transported by sea to Brazil on semi-submersible boats alongside with the floating dry-docks. Their placement allowed for the generation of a temporary sheltered area so that the floating docks could start to safely manufacture the remaining caissons in optimal conditions.
Q&A – Francisco Esteban Lefler
– What is the edge that sets FCC apart on maritime works?
Our distinguishing value is based on the combination of technical knowledge of maritime engineering itself together with the necessary geotechnical and structural engineering; availability of our own equipment to implement the projects, designed and developed closely by the company and operated and managed by internal specialists; as well as the training of highly specialized construction teams. Other factors also play an important role, as the critical analysis of subsequent experiences, the search for fields where the generation of knowledge can enhance our competitive edge, as well as focusing our innovative activities on management and mitigation of the risks inherent to the environment.
I should also add orientation to client needs and committing to their priorities as if they were our own. This enables us to team up with the different agents involved in the maritime work (owners and operators, engineering and construction companies), placing us in an optimal position in order to achieve the work goals. This involves deepening in port management and operation knowledge to find the optimum common ground between the construction proposal and the client’s priorities.
– How has the sector evolved in recent years?
The maritime construction sector has evolved dramatically over the last few decades.
Insofar as engineering is concerned, statistical design methods have been significantly improved to allow for more efficient management of climatic risks. We have also advanced in terms of knowledge of the dynamic interaction between waves, structures and soils, and made outstanding progress in the reliability of marine climate forecast that is an essential limiting factor for marine construction.
Another crucial factor is the fast-moving evolution of underwater survey methods, which are essential in the design, execution and control of a project.
Construction equipment has also radically evolved (dredgers and working ships). The field of offshore construction, where the high economic impact of activities has justified significant investment in equipment, has enabled the development of resources that, once amortised and reduced their cost and rates, can be used in the port construction sector, where ranges of acceptable costs are significantly lower.
The development of logistical aspects driven by the need to drop costs and manage just in time supplies, as well as the opportunities that arise from Big Data, have fostered the fast evolution of fleets, good-handling equipment and challenging intermodal requirements. This has an impact on marine and land manoeuvring areas and on the structures themselves, and sets the demand to refurbish and reinforce current port infrastructure.
– How does the company see the future of maritime works? What will the next challenge be?
The future of on-shore maritime works will be determined by the market, basically by the evolution of demand resulting from global commerce, as well as by the capacity and adaptability of existing infrastructure to address future demand. From the perspective of sustainability and minimising the environmental impact, the main priority will always be to boost the infrastructure available in order to achieve optimal productivity. Doing this requires prioritising specialist terminals over general purpose ones.
The future of maritime works will be determined according to the basic priorities of each geographical region in line with the abovementioned variables. For example, the major actions involved in the port expansions carried out in Spain since the 1990s have resulted in a current excess of sheltered water. Bearing this in mind, key actions will be carried out inside wharves and will be focused on building new terminals, modernising current ones and improving land-side accesses. When the capacity limit of sheltered water is deemed insufficient in the medium-term, it will be time to start working on new breakwaters. In this regard, we must bear in mind that the timeframe to obtain sheltered water from the planning stage to the execution stage is very long.
In other locations where natural ports prevail, as in much of America, the evolution of the fleet, with demands for larger draughts and manoeuvring areas, may exceed the capacity of natural ports to adapt to new capital dredgingdue to dimensional or environmental restraints. This is when the demand for open sea ports comes into play, where the floating reinforced concrete caissons are a highly competitive solution for breakwaters, depending on the marine climate conditions and the availability of suitable foundation soils.
A new common field for all geographical areas will be the construction of small Liquefied Natural Gas terminals and the adaptation of current facilities for bunkering, as the demand for the cleanest fuels such as LNG will become widespread in the near future.
– What is the focus of R&D&I at FCC Construcción?
R&D&I at FCC Construcción is focused on improving the company’s competitiveness. To this end, our aim is to generate and implement knowledge that is directly connected to the company’s best suited technologies and export opportunities by adapting to standardisation areas that are currently outside their scope. In the field of maritime works, the aims are basically centred on technology related to floating reinforced concrete caissons. In this regard, emphasis can be placed on two key lines:
- Improving their performance and functional conditions with the aim of expanding their applicability to a wider range of situations. The development of the abovementioned low-reflection walls for breakwaters and quaywalls respond to the needs of this line.
- Reducing construction-related risks normally linked to operations in the open sea, such as the transportation and placement of caissons, as well as to the maritime climate information management. This not only aims to reduce the risk of accidents, but also increase the reliability of operations, thus minimising the risks of delays and cost overruns.
R&D&I projects implemented by FCC Construcción on maritime works involve collaborating with engineering companies that are renowned for their innovation and expertise, as well as with universities and global benchmark technological institutes.
– What projects and innovative solutions is FCC Construcción working on?
We have just finished the IISIS project (Comprehensive Research on Sustainable Islands) in which we have made progress on new marine construction technology and the dynamic interaction between waves and structures, including the generation of wave energy, as well as on sustainable modular building technology. On top of this, we worked alongside the different business areas within FCC on issues of self-sufficiency in water management, agriculture, waste management and sustainability in every sense of the word.
We are currently working on the DOVICAIM Project (Methodology for the design and optimisation of the lifecycle of caissons in maritime infrastructure), on which Environmental Hydraulics Institute of Cantabria (IH Cantabria), a world reference technological research centre is partner of FCC Construcción. This project is geared towards generating knowledge and analytical tools of the different construction phases of floating reinforced concrete caissons from the finalisation of casting to their final installation. The project includes physical model testing, on-site actual measuring and the application and development of numerical models.
When assessing new maritime projects, key areas are detected from the perspective of the need to improve competitiveness by generating knowledge. This knowledge is then used to help develop the necessary R&D&I projects on time before being implemented on site, or even to certify the innovation implemented in the construction itself.
One focus area for the immediate future is improving the durability of floating reinforced concrete caissons in order to mainstream their use to sustain severe environmental conditions.
– What is PIANC?
PIANC is the “World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure”, which is the global reference technical organisation for ports and navigation channels, both river and maritime. In addition to its management bodies it has four Technical Commissions: Maritime (MarCom), Inland Navigation (InCom), Recreational Navigation (RecCom) and Environmental (EnviCom). The commissions set up working groups formed by world standard specialists in technical areas. These working groups release publications that serve as the main global reference for port and waterway engineering.
PIANC was founded in 1885 and is made up of National Sections (currently around 40) over five continents. The Spanish Section, which currently stands as the largest, is constituted by the Technical Association of Ports and Coasts (Asociación Técnica de Puertos y Costas ATPYC). The First Delegate is the chairman of the Spanish National Ports Authority, and the chairperson of the association is elected by its members. In Latin America, there are active National Sections in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, and other National Sections are currently being formed in more countries such as México and Chile.
What is your role at PIANC?
Since May 2011, I have held the position of Chairperson of the Maritime Commission (MarCom), which is responsible for maritime ports and navigation channels. In June 2015, I also took the chair of the Technical Association of Ports and Coasts (ATPYC) which, as I previously stated, serves as the Spanish Section of PIANC.
How does PIANC contribute to FCC?
First, it entails an active presence in terms of management, as Chairperson of the Maritime Commission, in selecting issues to address, in creating and developing working groups and producing benchmark technical publications that are published by PIANC. It facilitates direct access to the most current technical topics from the moment they are selected to be studied to the publication of results, whilst maintaining a strong presence throughout their development. It guarantees access to future technological trends and challenges.
The global technical scope thanks to PIANC enables FCC Construcción to be recognised as a benchmark company in maritime work technology by potential clients, leading engineering companies in the market and labs, universities and prestigious technological institutes across five continents. It also promotes FCC’s skills and highlights its technical expertise and commitment to excellence. It also involves tapping into the expertise of prospective partners and their skills in the construction, engineering and technology sectors to participate in tenders and other globally renowned calls for proposals. Chairing the Technical Association of Ports and Coasts (Spanish National Section of PIANC) underpins this role by adding Spanish representation and its visibility in the Spanish-speaking world, aside from its importance in a national context.