Idled Australian plant meets its fate

30 November 2011

A cutting edge development at the time, the Boodarie Iron plant in the Pilbara region of Western Australia took fines from the iron ore process and turned it into a hot-briquetted feedstock for electric arc furnaces. What was once little more than a waste product suddenly had value, albeit a lesser value than lump iron ore. And in fact, for five years, that new product, called Boodarie Iron, was successfully processed with more than 1.03 million tonnes of briquettes produced in the first half of 2003 alone-a product that was both used domestically and shipped to Asian markets. But a combination of rising iron ore costs and reduced demand led to the facility being shut down in 2004 and eventually slated for demolition. Today, New South Wales-based Liberty Industrial is heading up what is being touted as one of the largest, most challenging demo projects in the southern hemisphere, and thanks in large part to a veritable arsenal of Genesis mobile shears, is well on track to meeting a challenging timeline.

Ghosts of productive pasts

Built in 1999, the Boodarie Iron plant sits on 120 hectares in Port Hedland, a coastal town in the iron ore rich Pilbara region of Western Australia. At one time the plant employed nearly 500 workers and was one of the area's most productive undertakings. Since the shutdown and subsequent decision to raze it, however, the plant has sat idle, a mere shell of its former self. According to Simon Gill, project director for Liberty Industrial, the sheer size of the project, coupled with the onsite materials and stringent safety standards demanded by the plant's owner, BHP Billiton, have made the Boodarie job a real challenge. However, it was one they met head-on, never looking back.

"The Boodarie Iron demolition is one of the most technically challenging projects ever undertaken in Australia, due both to the size of the structures and the remaining contaminates within them, in this case, highly reactive direct reduced iron (DRI)," he said. "To effect the demolition in as safe and efficient a manner possible, we have taken a number of unique approaches. One is the use of cutting edge Extreme Loading 3D simulation technology to model our demolition methodologies. Doing so helps ensure that the structures collapse precisely as we envision."

Gill says Liberty has also brought a lot of new equipment to bear on the job, including six new Volvo, Hitachi and Liebherr excavators ranging in size from 33 to 200 tonnes. Depending on the facet of the job for which they're needed, they're fitted with grapples, a hammer or any one of five new Genesis mobile shears.

"At 220 tonnes, the Liebherr 994 we have at the Boodarie site is the largest demolition excavator currently working in Australia," he said. "Similarly, the Hitachi EX1200 is a massive unit weighing in at 120 tonnes, and it has been paired with a Genesis XP 990R Maxx shear, one of the larger and more powerful shears Genesis offers. This is a very potent - and valued - combination, given the hardiness of much of the steel we are encountering."

Big time tonnage

Demolition at the Boodarie Iron site is focused around four main all-steel structures. The briquette structure, which is approximately 60 m (197 ft) high and will yield about 7,000 tonnes of scrap, the reactor structure that is about 100 m (328 ft) high and contains more than 15,000 tonnes of steel and a 30-40 m (98-131 ft) high gas plant and adjacent 100 m tall stack, which together will yield approximately 4000 tonnes of scrap.

"All told, we are expecting to pull about 25,000 tonnes of steel from this site," said Simon. "That's one of the reasons we are relying so heavily on the GXP mobile shears. At present, we are using them to process better than 75% of the material we encounter. Only the ultra-heavy beams - we've had some cruciform columns with four flanges, each 50mm (2 inches) thick - are being cut with a torch."

Mobile shears have actually been Liberty Industrial's tool of choice for some time, though Simon said they have only recently become Genesis users.

"There really is no substitute for what a shear, or shears, can do on a demolition site, and in the past, we've used shears made by another manufacturer. But, we'd been hearing good things about Genesis from colleagues in the demolition industry from around the world and looked into what they had to offer. We also had a number of meetings with Pacific Materials Handling of Melbourne, the Australian representative for Genesis products, and were impressed with their level of product knowledge, as well as the backup support they offered."

To hit the ground running on the massive Boodarie Iron project, Liberty committed to a total of five shears through Pacific Materials Handling, and as the project reaches the midpoint of its 14-month timeline, currently has them all at work onsite.

Iron giants

The range of shears at work on the site is fairly broad and includes a GXP 500 mounted on a Volvo 330, a pair of GXP 660 Maxx shears on Volvo 360 machines, a GXP 660R Maxx mounted third member on a Volvo 700 (or second member on a Volvo 360), and the aforementioned GXP 990R Maxx on the Hitachi EX1200. According to Gill, they were expecting a lot out of the shears and have not been let down.

"We are on a very aggressive schedule here and have been really pleased with how the shears have been able to help keep us on track so far," he says. "The quick cycle times and the cutting forces they bring are impressive. However, we've been equally pleased with the reduced wear on the blades, which has led to less downtime and increased productivity. It's been really good for us."

The reduction in downtime, said Simon, is due in part to the fact that the shears came equipped with Genesis Jaw Armor, a proprietary abrasion-resistant protective system designed to virtually eliminate build-up and hardsurfacing. Bolt-on wear parts, an inherent component of each Genesis shear's design, have also kept downtime to a minimum. He said that changing out blades and piercing tips, once a real headache, is now easy and fast

"All of these features provide a great advantage when working in remote areas like Port Hedland, where the running costs of plant, equipment and labour are so high. Our shear blades are now lasting approximately twice as long as those on the shears we used before this project. That obviously translates into cheaper running costs and much better efficiency at the work face."

Future benefits

Despite the presence of thick concrete slabs to support the massive steel-making machinery, Liberty Industrial is only required to demolish structures down to grade, not below. The small amount of concrete they are encountering in the project is being hammered using an Atlas Copco 4700 hammer, pulverised and stockpiled on-site for future use. As for the more than 25,000 tonnes of scrap being recovered at the site, it is all being loaded out onto ships at Port Hedland and sent to China for recycling.

"This has been a great job for us so far on many levels," said Simon. "We are at the midpoint time-wise, and we already have the briquette structure and half the gas plant down. Keeping in mind the level of DRI with which we've had to contend we are making great progress and remain confident we will have things wrapped up by the mid-2012 deadline. We've invested a lot in this project but have no doubt that all this technology we've acquired will continue to pay dividends for us long after the Boodarie Iron site has been cleared."

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