Dutco McConnell Dowell T he partnership that is Dutco McConnell Dowell ( DMD) is an equal joint venture between Dutco, one of the oldest businesses in the United Arab Emirates, and McConnell Dowell Corporation of Australia. Dutco is a highly diverse group with interests in leisure, manufacturing, construction and, naturally enough, the oil and gas industries. McConnell Dowell employs approximately 5,000 people and, with headquarters in Melbourne, is a world- class engineering, construction and services company operating throughout Australia, Asia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East. Collaboration between these two groups started in 1978. Since then, DMD has established a strong reputation as a mechanical and pipeline contractor operating in the Arabian Peninsula and the former CIS states. The company has extensive mechanical and fabrication facilities at Jebel Ali and a large plant holding that enables it to undertake significant major projects. Now it has started to re- engineer its processes, says operations manager Jim Connor. " Our aim is to reduce overheads and focus on our core business." This means making the most of its outstanding fabrication workshops by taking on civil and marine work as well as plant installation in these resource- rich economies. While much of the work it has carried out in the past has been related directly to oil and gas, DMD is now heavily involved in an opportunity many won't have seen coming. As aluminium smelters in North America and Europe close down capacity, hit by metal prices that are less than half what they were a year ago, Middle East producers are actually building new plants to leverage their cheap energy. Dubai's Dubal is the oldest, marking 30 years of aluminium production this year. From a relatively small smelter operation utilising three potlines which produced 136,000 tonnes of aluminium per annum in 1979, Dubal has expanded its operations to encompass nine potlines with the capacity to produce more than 960,000 tonnes of primary aluminium each year for clients in more than 48 different countries. Volumes are expected to approximate one million tonnes by 2011. DMD has worked on potline expansion, upgrades and electrical and mechanical fabrication at Dubal's 1,180- acre site since the late 1990s. But the current flagship projects for the company are at greenfield developments in Qatar and Abu Dhabi that are expected to bring 1.5 million tonnes in new smelter capacity online over the next two years. The first of these is Qatalum, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Norsk Hydro, which is building a 600,000- tonne smelter north- east of Mesaieed Industrial City, approximately 40 kilometres south of the capital, Doha; it will start production before the end of 2009. The second, at Taweelah in the July 09 www. bus- ex. com 77
78 www. bus- ex. com July 09 Emirate of Abu Dhabi, is even bigger at 700,000 tonnes annual capacity and will be the world's largest single- site aluminium smelter. Each of these projects represents an investment of around $ 5 billion, and that's just for the first phase: a second phase is planned at both Qatalum and Taweelah, doubling the capacity. The first phase at Qatalum comprises two buildings, or potrooms, more than a kilometre long, housing the group of cells in which aluminium is produced by electrolytic reduction. The parallel potroom buildings each house two rows of 176 electrolytic cells, known as potlines, totaling 704 cells in the first phase of the plant. DMD has been contracted to fabricate the 704 busbar assemblies that deliver power to the cells. These are not small assemblies, explains Connor. " Each assembly is around 10 metres long, and they probably stand about 3.5 metres high." They are manufactured in their entirety at the Jebel Ali workshop from sections of aluminium bolted to the carbon cathode and comprising variable conductivity elements. " For this contract we purchased a computerised guillotine from Europe for cutting the aluminium sheets so that we could fabricate what they call the ' flexibles' for the busbars." A key part of the assembly is the transition block, welded to the flexible aluminium element that joins the busbar to the carbon cathode rods that pass the current to the alumina powder in the pot. " Traditionally, these transition blocks are only provided by specialist suppliers in Europe and North America. We are trying to pursue niche markets and compete with specialist suppliers," says Connor. By developing and qualifying its own innovative methodology for welding copper to the steel and aluminium transition block, DMD has been able to take control of the production schedule and quality management for this important item, saving something like four- fifths of the cost of sourcing the transition blocks overseas. " There's a huge advantage in " We employ mainly fabricators and welders, but even if we can find experienced people, we have to give them up to four weeks of comprehensive training in- house"