Which companies built the Panama Canal

The 81.6 km long Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean at Colón with the Pacific Ocean at Balboa. It leads through the dammed Gatunsee. The Panama Canal serves as a "shortcut" for ships which otherwise would first have to drive through the Strait of Magellan (since 1881 to Chile), which lies between the South American mainland and the island of Tierra del Fuego. The "shortcut" through the Panama Canal shortens the sea route to be traveled from New York to San Francisco, for example, from 30,000 km to around 10,000 km. The regular transit time is eight to ten hours, due to the heavy traffic today, an average of twelve hours. The price of the passage is calculated based on the type and size of the ship and averages $ 48,000. Ships of the so-called Panamax class, i.e. ships that barely fit through the locks of the canal, pay around 150,000 US dollars per passage. Payment of the passage fees is usually made in advance by the shipping company to a local Panamanian bank. The sewer company had annual sales of $ 1.36 billion in 2005.

Source i.a. Wikipedia article Panama Canal

New waterway for ocean liners

Over 60 percent of the container ships in use today no longer fit through the Panama Canal due to their size. This is why this is being expanded and also getting new, water-saving locks. Bosch Rexroth supplies all drive-relevant system components for their roller gates. They ensure an extremely high level of availability.


30.01.2012 - Author: Joachim Vogl, editor fluid - (Thank you very much for the great article and the permission to use it here on www.SchiffundTechnik.com from me at this point)

Almost 100 years ago (1914) it was a sensation, in 2014 it will be again: the Panama Canal. For ships operating between the east and west coasts of North America, the passage is the shortest route.

The Panama Canal is one of the most important waterways on our planet. It shortens the way from Europe to the west coast of the USA by 20,000 kilometers and it saves seafarers the dangerous Cape Horn at the tip of South America. The average travel time through the 81.6 kilometer long waterway between the ports of Christóbal on the Atlantic and Balboa on the Pacific is between ten and eleven hours. However, today only less than 40 percent of all ships in the world merchant fleet (ships with a draft of more than 12 meters) can use this abbreviation.

Most of the container ships are too big for the canal. Its sole width varies between 192 and 300 meters, depending on the section. The passage between the artificially dammed Gatúnsee and the Gaillard Cut lock was repeatedly widened and deepened in the 1960s and 1990s. For many of the ocean liners, however, the 152.4 wide and 14.3 meter deep channel is still too small. With a massive expansion, the Panama Canal Authority wants to remove this bottleneck by the 100th anniversary of the waterway. The costs for this amount to around five billion euros.

Passage slots will be auctioned

The Panama Canal is now not too small for most ships, it is also busy. And while a tanker is waiting to pass, its cargo, such as oil, can quickly lose its value. Two million euros are not uncommon. Therefore waiting times have to be accepted. Customers who are particularly in a hurry buy so-called passage slots at the last minute. Such auctions take place once a day in Panama. The maximum bids for a passage then fluctuate between $ 20,000 and $ 220,000, but in addition to the regular fees. 40 percent of Panama's state revenue now comes from the canal. So far, around 14,000 ships have sailed the Panama Canal every year. After an expansion, there should be twice as many. And five percent of the global movement of goods has to go through this bottleneck - and the trend is rising.

Locomotives with 1000 hp, called mulas (mules) by the locals, haul the huge ships into the locks. So that the locomotives do not pull themselves off the rails when they are heavily loaded, they have been equipped with a specially designed gear system. This engages in a special third track and thus ensures a secure hold. There is only a little less than two hand's breadth of space between the ship's side and the canal wall. 100 years ago the dimensions of the lock chambers were so gigantic that even the Titanic could have passed through the canal without any problems. It's different today. Almost every ship fills the lock basin almost completely. And that is exactly what makes it so difficult for the pilot and the captain. You have to start against high water pressure in the lock and still stop in time. On average, there are one or two accidents every month.

In addition to the existing locks, new lock systems are being built on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, through which ships up to 366 meters in length and up to 49 meters in width can continue their voyage through the Panama Canal. Not an easy task for the engineers and the partner companies involved - technologically and in terms of time: In the anniversary year 2014, the expansion of the fairway and the construction of the locks should be completed. Another requirement: the new locks must protect the water balance in the region. Because around 208 million liters of fresh water are currently required for each lock passage - and the new locks are much larger than the old ones. That is why each of the three lock chambers is equipped with three water saving basins.

Conserve resources

To raise the ships, Rexroth drives open the corresponding supply lines and the water from the savings basin fills the lock chamber by gravity. In contrast to the previous technology, the water does not flow into the sea after the lock process, but back into the basin. Despite the larger locks, around 290 million liters of water are saved per lock. This will reduce the fresh water requirement by 60 percent in the future, the remaining 40 percent of the fresh water required for a lock comes from the artificially created Gatunsee. The technologically sophisticated solution is convincing with a double benefit: It is more economical and at the same time conserves the region's resources.

The demands on the closures are high, after all, they have to reliably transport large volumes of water from one lock chamber to the next. The South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries (HSHI) supplies the closures for the water-saving basins, the circulation closures for filling the lock chambers with water from Lake Gatun or from the adjacent chambers and the equalization gates between the lock chambers. A so-called roll gate forms the central element of the locks. These vertical steel structures, weighing tons, regulate the flow of water by moving them up or down in order to retain or convey water.

As a long-term partner of Hyundai, Rexroth equips the 158 roller gates with drives and the necessary control technology. The partners benefit from expert knowledge from Panama Canal projects that have already been implemented, such as the renovation of the technology of the existing locks twelve years ago. The first partial delivery is to take place in April of this year. This can only be achieved because at Rexroth you can fall back on the respective strengths of global development and production. For example, engineering and project management takes place in Germany and the development of hydraulic cylinders in Holland. The hydraulic power packs and the associated controls are manufactured in the Rexroth factories in the USA and Korea. The hydraulic cylinders are produced in China. An important requirement on the part of the client was that the products conform to the US ASME standards (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), which is not a problem for Rexroth as an international system supplier.

Up on one side and down on the other

“Originally the Panama Canal was supposed to do without any locks,” says Rolf Glösemeier, captain of the German container ship America, reports: “The canal was supposed to cut through Central America flat at sea level. And with this aim, construction began in 1881. But after nine years of construction, these plans had to be discontinued. It just didn't work. Because the underground of Panama is too rocky. The foothills of the Cordilleras weren't so easy to blow away. The only possible way was to cross the mountains. So with the help of locks up on one side and down again on the other. ”In between there is a height difference of 26 meters.

So that the previous bottleneck does not become a bottleneck again due to technical failures, the greatest challenge for the technology is availability. That is why all important systems are redundant. For example, only two closures are technically necessary for emptying a water-saving basin. However, each of the nine water-saving basins in a lock has four locks. The same applies to the closures of the circulation channels for filling the lock chambers. Rexroth is delivering a total of 158 drive units to Panama. Because every roller gate is equipped with a drive cylinder and an associated unit. The unit in turn consists of two motor pump units, a hydraulic tank, the filter system and valve technology, the associated piping and the redundant PLC control technology. Rexroth also supplies two replacement units for the economy basin, circulation and compensation locks. In addition, another German company is indirectly involved in the construction of the new Panama Canal: "We supply the hydraulic fluids," says Milorad Krstic, CEO of Kleeniol Panolin. This solution ensures the required high availability.

Thank you very much for the pictures

Equipped in this way, the roller gates will ensure smooth travel through the lock in the future. In the first step, a ship coming from the Atlantic is towed into the lower lock chamber. If the outer lock gate is closed, the water flows from the three water saving basins into the chamber. At the same time, the water level in the middle lock chamber is lowered to the level of the lower one. Then the gates open and tugs bring the ship into the middle lock chamber. If the gates are closed, the same process is repeated again: water from the upper chamber and the saving basin flows into the middle chamber until the level of both lock chambers is the same. The gates open and the ship is towed into the upper chamber. When the chambers are closed again, the three associated water-saving basins are emptied and the rest is filled with fresh water from Lake Gatun. When the exit height is reached, the outer lock gates open and the ship continues its journey towards the Pacific.

The German captain will pass the Panama Canal often and he has the opening of the expanded canal firmly in view. “I actually wanted to retire in 2014, but maybe I'll make another trip there and then say goodbye to seafaring”.

The full article including an exclusive interview with Dr. Karl Tragl, CEO of Bosch Rexroth AG, can be found in fluid 1-2 / 12 (publication date: February 23, 2012). - www.boschrexroth.com -