A bucket elevator running through the centre of a 10-storey factory needed replacing, having been in operation since the 1960s. The unit was 40m-high, packed with asbestos and absolutely essential to production in the factory. How could it be replaced safely and with minimal impact on production?

This was the challenge given to Royal HaskoningDHV by Aluchemie, producer of high quality anodes for the aluminium industry. Our solution needed to meet technical and safety aspects, while addressing the needs of maintenance, production and processing departments.

Raising the roof in a five-day operation

Our plan involved removing the roof, opening up space within each of the 10 floors of the building, reinforcing the elevator and lifting it out of the factory in sections. Once outside, we had the space to remove the asbestos safely and demolish the vertical conveyor. The new one was inserted in the same way, building it up from bottom to top in sections hoisted into position one by one.

The whole procedure was carried out over the space of just five days, with contractors working round the clock to complete the work in the allotted time.

Safety was, of course, paramount. The unique constraints of the factory environment and confined space meant that conventional approaches to the removal of asbestos could not be followed. An independent safety officer therefore oversaw and checked all our arrangements. In addition, the entire factory was cleared during each of the 14 hoists as an extra precaution.

Solution is special because it achieves what appeared impossible

The new elevator was made as future proof as possible with special coatings to protect the casing against abrasive products and designed for easier replacement of parts. During the shutdown, the maintenance team took what was a rare opportunity to access parts of the factory that were unreachable during daily operations. We also worked with production planners to identify operational scenarios to minimise production loss during the shutdown and to build up stock levels beforehand.

“Our solution was special because we managed to do what looked impossible in a period of just five days,” said Sander van den Brand, dry bulk and logistics engineer. “It was vital to co-ordinate closely with Aluchemie throughout the entire process so they understood the issues and the health and safety precautions. After a year of preparation, the operation proceeded as planned and the new elevator is in operation.”