The Panama Canal: Steel Wonders of the World

Welcome to the first post in our Steel Wonders of the World Series. To begin with, we’re looking at The Panama Canal, one of the largest man-made development projects the world had ever seen, made possible through the clever use of steel.

This 77 kilometre waterway provides access for vessels to go between the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Before the Canal’s opening in 1914, ships would have to go around the southernmost tip of South America, a hazardous and often lethal journey for seafarers.

A Massive Operation

The Canal works as a series of “locks”, similar to airlocks in a submarine or spaceship, due to the vast differences in sea height along the passageways. A ship would enter on one side and the locks – massive steel gates that are designed to withstand an incredible amount of water pressure – would close behind them.

The water level is raised through an incredible series of pipes that take in from the nearby Gatun Lake. Once the water level is raised sufficiently to match the height of the next passageway, the other lock is opened and the ship passes through.

Built To Scale

The size and complexity of the Panama Canal is not only staggering but it also makes many parts of the project tourist attractions for the locals. Each enormous gate leaf is over two metres thick, almost twenty metres wide, and ranges from 14 to almost 25 metres tall, made of a mix of concrete and steel.

To provide security against floods or wayward ships crashing, there are two sets of gates leaves at each lock. They are made to withstand the incredible pressure of over one hundred thousand cubic metres of water filling the gate, and are continually maintained to prevent deterioration.

Getting the Job Done

Construction started on the Canal in 1881 by France and was later taken over by the United States in 1904. Material for the locks was sourced from local material (mainly excavating almost four million cubic metres of rocks from nearby mountains).

Specially designed steel frameworks were used to make the moulds that concrete was poured into to construct the gate leaves and drainage pipes. A mammoth undertaking that required man power and, of course, fresh engineering skills to solve problems that nobody had ever seen before. Thanks to the versatility and durability of steel these moulds were able to be used over again over the length of the Canal.

The team at ShapeCUT knows a thing or two about projects that require thorough design skill and tough components. From custom steel cutting to providing the materials and experience for your next major project, ShapeCUT will get the job done. Contact us for a quote today.