Dam cool technology could be a game-changer for hydroelectric project planning

December 11, 2017

A strong community relationship and cutting-edge technology could reshape the way future large-scale projects are planned for FortisBC’s hydroelectric dams—and other organizations are paying attention.

The group effort between FortisBC, Austin Engineering and Selkirk College created a 3D-printed model of FortisBC’s Corra Linn dam near South Slocan—a collaboration that was recognized by Clean Energy BC with an award for Operational Excellence.

These 3D models could help shape how future large-scale operations are planned because of their ability to demonstrate complex systems in an easy-to-understand format.

“I could teach the power generation process to a kindergartener in five minutes,” said Mary Austin, Director of Business Development at Austin Engineering. “The model is so remarkable. People can interact with it to get a fuller understanding of how the project will work. This technology is a business game-changer.”

The project came together because of strong relationships between FortisBC, Austin Engineering and Selkirk College. Roger Austin, Principal of Austin Engineering, is a past employee with FortisBC, while Mary serves as chair of the college’s engineering committee in addition to her role at Austin Engineering.

Mary approached Blair Weston, Community and Aboriginal Relations Manager with FortisBC, to ask if the company would be willing to provide funding for a 3D printer for the college’s engineering students. Through FortisBC’s Community Investment program, the printer was purchased, ultimately leading to the development of the Corra Linn model.

FortisBC will be replacing the spillway gates of the Corra Linn dam in 2018. The Corra Linn spillway gates are critical for safely operating the dam and controlling the reservoir levels on Kootenay Lake. These gates control the release of flows from Kootenay Lake into the Kootenay River and are essential for protecting people, habitat and infrastructure.

Selkirk College student Ben Marken had access to Austin Engineering’s research and development lab to create 3D printed models and schematics of the Corra Linn dam. The model is now being used for work planning, stakeholder engagement and environmental planning.

Darren McElhinney is FortisBC’s senior project manager on the Corra Linn gate replacement project and was impressed by the 3D model. 

“This technology provides real-time modelling of the Corra Linn dam against numerous factors, which is a powerful tool in portraying project concepts and details to diverse audiences,” he said. “Our team believes that 3D modelling is a cost-effective and innovative method that can be used on projects from concept through to completion, and we are excited to see how it develops.” 

The next step is introducing the model to the Applied Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Structures at UBC’s Okanagan campus, where shake table tests could determine the potential damage during an earthquake and identify critical locations for future upgrades and retrofits.

The Austins believe that they are only beginning to understand the ways in which 3D-printed models could enhance project planning, engagement and risk assessment. “We’ve just cracked the door on this technology,” said Roger.

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