Inside the project
So massive and complex was the project that the definition phase alone had took year and a half and required collaboration among engineers from 15 countries, including China, Singapore, Japan, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, and the United States.
Site preparation began in late 2002, with crews moving more some 21 million cubic yards (16 million cubic meters) of earth—a volume equivalent to the amount of concrete poured to create China's Three Gorges Dam.
The centerpiece of the project is the naptha cracker, which uses heat and pressure to decompose heavy oils and separate the lighter ethylene, which is then used to form polyethylene—familiar plastic. In addition to the chemical processing units (styrene monomer, propylene oxide, and polypropylene), Nanhai includes a polymer warehouse and packaging facility, and a waste treatment center, and 56 other buildings.
Designing an efficient diagnostics and control system to keep production running smoothly became a project in itself.
Early in the front-end design phase, our consortium's plant-automation group optimized a way for control systems to shift computing power away from central controllers out to such field equipment as sensors and actuators, effectively creating a local area network.
The new method for monitoring equipment reduced operation and maintenance costs because it makes instruments “smarter” so they can report diagnostic information—equipment fouling or a cavitating pump, for example. And because it’s an open standard rather than a proprietary one, it enables instruments from different vendors to communicate with each other.
Bechtel in China
Bechtel has been active in the People’s Republic of China since 1979, completing dozens of projects there—including a microelectronics facility, a paint factory, a nuclear power plant, and an automotive glass plant. Bechtel China received a construction license in China in December 1994, making it the first U.S. company to obtain such a license.