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How structural engineering draws flexible conclusions

The Aasta Hansteen spar platform installation in the Norwegian fjords – the largest of its kind in the world – presented a highly complex engineering challenge: the scope was vast. Senior structural engineer for Boskalis, Anthony van Ginkel, was responsible for the design and analysis of the steel structures required. “We had to ensure accuracy and safety during transport and installation,” Anthony explains. “This included repeated adaptation and verification throughout the project, so that all stresses on the structures remained within allowable parameters. We ran computer models on all procedures, for instance to ensure the material wouldn’t buckle under induced wave loads.”

Deskwork and engineering design and analysis were not the only interesting aspects of this unique project, Anthony discovered. “Normally structural engineers are involved at the beginning, before handing over to operations. In this case we had very specific challenges that required on-going adaptation.” Since design engineering for the loadout of the topside onto the White Marlin was handled in Shanghai, and a team in Houston was responsible for the supports used during deballasting onto the barges, Anthony travelled regularly between the Netherlands, China and the USA. “Working with people of different cultures required understanding and adaptability to different management styles. I was continually rediscovering my role, how to make it work, and how to improve,” he says. “No project is 100% sunshine, of course,” he adds. “We had our difficulties, but we all gained understanding, and the teams achieved excellent results.”

The teams achieved excellent results.

Anthony also expanded his functional skills on this 5-year long project. “I was faced with new challenges in terms of balancing steel qualities with cost issues over time, and the need for innovation. Take welding, for example, which is usually a straightforward operation based on the design provided. On the Aasta Hansteen we couldn’t do welding at sea from two constantly moving barges. We came up with a different solution by splitting the task into two parts – which in turn led to new challenges!” Anthony changed the design to be more flexible, allowing continual adaptation to actual conditions, while work could continue as planned at the following stage. “Engineering has to be feasible,” says Anthony. “A good design gives you flexibility. It’s that adaptability to the actual situation that was key for the completion and success of this project.”

“We did something extraordinary,” Anthony concludes. “It was amazing to see everything in place, this massive structure that started out as a sketch on my drawing pad, working perfectly. I’m proud of the whole engineering team. Proud for myself and for everyone else.”