Autodesk > Case Studies > Revolutionizing Global Trade: The Expansion of the Panama Canal

Revolutionizing Global Trade: The Expansion of the Panama Canal

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Technology Category
  • Functional Applications - Transportation Management Systems (TMS)
  • Sensors - Utility Meters
Applicable Industries
  • Cement
  • Transportation
Applicable Functions
  • Logistics & Transportation
  • Product Research & Development
Use Cases
  • Construction Management
  • Intelligent Urban Water Supply Management
About The Customer
The customer in this case is the Panama Canal Authority, the agency of the government of Panama responsible for the operation and management of the Panama Canal. The canal is a critical component of global trade infrastructure, providing a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It serves over 140 trade routes and over a million ships have crossed it since its opening. The canal collects $1.8 billion in tolls each year and takes 8-10 hours to cross. The expansion of the canal was a crucial project for the Panama Canal Authority, aimed at increasing the canal's capacity and accommodating larger container vessels.
The Challenge
The Panama Canal, a century-old marvel of engineering, was facing a significant challenge. With the advent of larger container vessels, almost half of the world's container ships were too large to pass through the canal. This limitation was a significant bottleneck for international trade, as the canal provides a crucial shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 2009, engineering firm MWH Global was tasked with redesigning the canal to accommodate these larger vessels. The project was monumental, requiring a significant increase in the canal's capacity, from 4,600 containers to 12,800. The challenge was not just in the scale of the construction but also in the complexity of the engineering required to lift and guide these supersized ships through the canal without causing damage.
The Solution
To address this challenge, MWH Global embarked on one of the largest and most ambitious construction projects in the world. The firm used Building Information Modeling (BIM), a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. This was one of the first large-scale civil works projects to use BIM, enabling a diverse team of engineers in five design offices around the world to collaborate efficiently. The team was able to map sites and resolve design conflicts prior to construction, saving thousands of rework hours and millions of dollars. Additionally, MWH Global designed three new storage basins, the largest in the world, to recycle 60% of the water used in the locks and reduce water use by 7%, despite the new locks being 1.5 times larger than the original ones.
Operational Impact
  • The expansion of the Panama Canal has had a profound impact on global trade. By doubling the canal's capacity, the project has significantly reduced the global cost of shipping. This has led to an increase in the flow of products, grain, and natural resources. The expansion has also necessitated the evolution of transportation infrastructure to handle the increased volume of trade, leading to the creation of jobs and opportunities at the intersection of design, technology, and massive collaboration among multinational organizations. Furthermore, the project has transformed Panama's economy, which is estimated to grow eightfold by 2025, and has turned Panama City into a modern maritime hub.
Quantitative Benefit
  • Increased the canal's capacity from 4,600 containers to 12,800.
  • Saved thousands of rework hours and millions of dollars by using BIM to resolve design conflicts prior to construction.
  • Recycled 60% of the water used in the locks, reducing water use by 7%.

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