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30th October 2019

Looking back on the VPI shutdown

Igor Scalas, Heavy Cranes project engineer, Ainscough Crane Hire

One of the great privileges of working at Ainscough Crane Hire is the huge variety of jobs that we work on. Our services are in such demand that once one major project has finished you are soon thinking about the next.

It can therefore be beneficial to take a step back and reflect on what has been achieved on work that was completed some time ago.

For example, one such project is shutdown that took place in Immingham last year for VPI Immingham, owned by Vitol – the global energy and commodities company. This would eventually become one of the biggest undertakings in Ainscough’s history. In this blog, we’re going to look at the story behind the work that took place, and also hear from the team members that helped make the job such a success.

VPI Immingham is a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant near Immingham, on the South Bank of the river Humber. It is one of the largest CHP plants in Europe, capable of generating 1,240 megawatts – about 2.5% of UK peak electricity demand and up to 930 tonnes of steam per hour, which is used by nearby oil refineries to turn crude oil into products such as gasoline.

Completed in 2004 and expanded in 2009, VPI Immingham is one of the cleanest and most efficient power plants in Europe. At full capacity, it saves 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent emissions of one million cars, compared with a conventional coal plant. The plant is fuelled by natural gas and surplus refinery gas, with liquid fuel as a backup.

Every four years, the gas and steam turbines must be shut down for essential service checks to be carried out – these range from general safety inspections to the replacement of machinery and equipment.

Ainscough has extensive experience of shutdowns, and our Immingham depot and Heavy Cranes team was appointed to ensure the required work was delivered to the high standard required.

While jobs of this size are often complex, this particular task had extra difficulties as the site was not designed for large cranes to operate in. Therefore, we designed a lifting program that deployed a dozen different cranes and configurations in order to complete the lifts.

“The project had several obstacles in terms of complex lifts and restricted areas to work, but we established great communication and teamwork between ourselves and VPI, ensuring we met the daily targets set by the client,” explains Paul Elms, who operated a 500t crane on the scheme.

The cranes were deployed over 24 hours shifts ensured the work was kept on track. A huge part of the credit for this must go to the team at our Immingham depot, such as Kayleigh Shurmer, the depot’s Hire Desk Controller.

“The project was very challenging and demanding,” said Kayleigh. “But had fantastic results for the depot.”

Each single lift was unique, and there was no room for complacency amongst our team.

Every component that was being removed had to be numbered and individually serviced. All pieces of machinery that we were responsible for moving were hugely valuable and critical to the running of the power station, and it was therefore imperative that caution and precision were paramount for every single lift.

As an example, for one particular lift there was just 30cm of counterweight clearance on one lift using a 750t crane on Vario-Base while a lift using the 500t to remove and re-install a 65t generator rotor was extremely tight, and was surrounded by obstacles like low pipes, fences, an adjacent building, fire services below, low ground pressure and crane booms working in close proximity.

Anyone with experience of working on special projects like this can tell you these are not simple complications to overcome. That’s why the planning precision and ingenuity our crew showed during the job was such a source of pride to me.

As my colleagues, Dominic Stamp and Brian Lonegan, who operated a 750t on the shutdown said: “The challenge that we undertook was difficult, but trusting in the planning the team made helped us ensure that all the lifts were completed safely and professionally.”

In total, the job took 12 months, 30 of our biggest cranes and over 1000s of lifts to complete. We would not have been able to complete it to the standard we did if it wasn’t for the commitment and skill shown by all of our team.

Every element of the project went like clockwork, and we finished the work on time and without a single safety incident or near miss. That’s an incredible achievement, and one which everyone involved can be very proud of – it’s a real testament to how Make the Safe Choice sits at the heart of everything we do.

Many of our team lived and breathed the shutdown for many months, and it is a great example of the brilliant work we can achieve when working together. As Dave Hodgson, who operated a TC2800-1 and LR1300 at the shutdown said: “This was an inspiring project with a new daily challenge to meet. It was a great team effort and well planned.”

Luke Savill, who is based at the Immingham depot and operated a 55t crane, said “It was a very well organised project, with a lot to learn from – I was happy to show and develop my skills”, while Steve Stones, who operated at 100t and is also based at Immingham, said “It was a great experience for me – although the lifts were complex, all went as planned.”

VPI were delighted with the service we provided, and the work that we delivered for them continues to inform the service we provide for other shutdowns around the country. Gaining experience on such a project was a great source of personal development for many members of our team, and it has helped to make us a stronger team, adept at working together to devise solutions to complex problems in order to deliver results for our clients in a safe and efficient manner.

Personally, this was by far the biggest accomplishment I have had in my career. The combination of good technical preparation along with a focus on creating efficient solutions while providing support to the client in this complex and challenging job resulted in an excellent outcome for all parties.

The VPI shutdown was a privilege to work on, it’s a source of huge pride to look back on what our team achieved. Sometimes the most complex jobs can be the most rewarding and we look forward to continuing to utilise our skills, teamwork, and ingenuity to deliver results for industrial clients.

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