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Power play: The teamwork behind the world’s largest nuclear fusion reaction site

Potain tower cranes are playing a vital role in creating one of the largest and most complex energy plants ever built. At the ITER project in France, a perfect partnership between Dodin Campenon Bernard and Manitowoc is helping realize a groundbreaking new experimental facility.

In Saint Paul-lez-Durance, southern France, 35 nations have come together to create the world’s largest tokamak, ITER. This huge new power plant features a magnetic fusion device at its heart, based on the same principle that powers our sun and stars.

The idea for the joint international fusion experiment dates back to 1985 and in 2010, work finally began on a 42-hectare construction site. By 2014, initial site preparations were complete and contractor Dodin Campenon Bernard, part of VINCI Construction, deployed its first six Potain tower cranes to start construction.

Careful coordination

Given the complexity of this €18 billion project, Manitowoc is not only supplying Dodin Campenon Bernard with the cranes for the job but also complete project support via its Lift Solutions service. This holistic service provides total support to customers, from crane selection and installation through to lift planning, operations, special requirements, service and teardown. It requires a special mix of tools, talent, expertise, and experience, as Jean-Claude Guiter, key accounts director at Manitowoc and project lead on the ITER job, explains.

Laurent Moustraire, equipement director at Dodin Campenon Bernard, in front of the MD 610 with Manitowoc Crane Care staff.
Jean-Claude Guiter, key accounts director at Manitowoc and project lead on the ITER job.

“This kind of job site presents challenges every day, not only for the contractor but for us as a manufacturer. It is an intense and high-pressure environment, but we are creating a world-class facility, so it’s expected. My role in the ITER project is not just a sales manager but more of a project manager and long-term partner to our customer,” he said.

For the ITER project, Manitowoc is supplying specially-designed Potain cranes via its Lift Solutions team, total customer support through Manitowoc Crane Care and financing with Manitowoc Finance. Construction on the job has presented numerous logistical and engineering challenges because in addition to Dodin Campenon Bernard, there are eight other contractors involved in construction, so the exact sequence of assembly has been carefully orchestrated.

“A complex site cannot afford unpleasant surprises,” said Laurent Moustraire, material director for Dodin Campenon Bernard. “Manitowoc paid attention to our needs throughout the process – from the specification of the cranes to their assembly and commissioning. The expertise and flexibility shown by Manitowoc made our lives easy and strengthened our confidence throughout the project.”

Manitowoc designed and developed technical solutions to meet the needs of the job site. These were also revised and updated as the project progressed and requirements evolved.

"We particularly appreciated the technical expertise provided by the Potain engineering teams,” Moustraire added. “Whether it was the study to place the MDT 308 in the center of the Tokamak on the raft, or to find anchoring solutions for the MD 560 and MD 485, which were on foundations overlapping galleries, each time the Lift Solutions team found technical solutions, and even anticipated constraints we had not envisioned.”

24/7/365 support

Another crucial part of the project was ensuring the cranes’ reliability and performance. Manitowoc established a dedicated Crane Care team in Vitrolles close to the job site to take care of all the erection, dismantling and servicing needs. As a result, Dodin Campenon Bernard has 24/7/365 support, which includes after sales service, parts and help with technical solutions

“Manitowoc has a long history in the business and some of the brightest and best engineers and experienced lifting professionals. There have been challenges on the ITER project, but we managed. For us, success is when you have delivered on time and met customer expectations. We’ve been committed to this project from before it started and we’ll be right there until the end,” Jean-Claude Guiter said.

The first cranes installed on the project were an MD 175, MDT 308, MDT 368, MD 485, MD 560 and MD 610. These worked together for five years, pouring concrete and assembling more than one million components.

In September 2019, with the first phase of work complete, the MD 175 and MDT 308 were disassembled. The MDT 368, MD 485, MD 560 and MD610 have remained on site and were recently joined by an MDT 389 to complete the buildings around the reactor.

By January 2021, the cranes will be progressively dismantled and ITER will be switched on to create its first plasma in December 2025. Scientists hope this experimental facility will demonstrate the feasibility of nuclear fusion as a large-scale clean energy source.

Visit the Manitowoc website to learn more about the Potain MD 175, MDT 308, MDT 368, MDT 389, MD 485, MD 560 and MD 610 cranes involved in the ITER project, as well as Manitowoc Lift Solutions.


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