Québec industrial upgrade chosen as Project of the Year

The AP60 Phase 1 project, involving new aluminum-smelting technology in an upgraded facility in Jonquière, Que., was named Project of the Year by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Photos courtesy PMI
The AP60 Phase 1 project, involving new aluminum-smelting technology in an upgraded facility in Jonquière, Que., was named Project of the Year by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Photos courtesy PMI

The Project Management Institute (PMI) announced AP60 Phase I, an aluminum smelter in Jonquière, Que., as its Project of the Year. The Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA)/SNC–Lavalin/Hatch joint venture beat out contenders from around the globe to claim the top spot.

Montréal-based RTA developed new aluminum-smelting technology that promised to be both more efficient and more environmentally responsible, but had not yet implemented it. In 2007, its Jonquière facility was reaching the end of its life and had to be replaced. Since a capital investment needed to be made, the company decided to roll out its technology in the new plant. When completed, the AP60 Phase 1 project would provide a template for the company’s future plant projects.

“PMI congratulates the RTA/SNC-Lavalin/Hatch team on this well-deserved honour,” said PMI president/CEO Mark A. Langley. “In overcoming numerous roadblocks to achieve a successful launch of the very ambitious AP60 project, these professionals have exemplified project excellence and teamwork to illustrate, on an industrial scale, how projects are the true engines of innovation.”

The $1.3 billion project included construction of 38 smelting pots with an annual aluminum production capacity of 60,000 tonnes, an immense electrical substation, and a gas treatment centre.

The team relied on detailed preliminary studies to develop its project plan, including how to transfer information from RTA’s R&D lab in France to the Canadian office, and how to most efficiently build the components. During its initial research, the team identified six aluminum smelter reference projects, and analyzed the lessons learned while also interviewing associated parties to better understand risks and avoid setbacks.

From the onset, there was a challenge in integrating and maintaining communication with more than 100 equipment suppliers and 50 installation contractors simultaneously working onsite. Project leaders encouraged a collaborative working environment, outlining roles and responsibilities and sought to improve information flow. For example, the project team facilitated open communication by co-locating the technology and engineering teams that collaborated to scale up the technology to the industrial level.

Due to its immense scope and use of new, untested technologies, the project posed unique risks to contractors onsite. Still, the project team was able to achieve a lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) of .27, which means only one out of 100 workers was injured every four years on the project. This safety record represents a 99 per cent reduction of Québec’s construction industry average.

As construction was underway while a labour reform law was being implemented across the province, the team also employed a full-time labour relations expert early in the project and established a steering committee designed to respond quickly to related concerns.

From left, André Noël (project manager, Hatch), Michel Charron (project director, Rio Tinto Alcan), and Marc O’Connor (vice-president of projects, North America mining and metallurgy, SNC-Lavalin) received the award on behalf of the project’s team.
From left, André Noël (project manager, Hatch), Michel Charron (project director, Rio Tinto Alcan), and Marc O’Connor (vice-president of projects, North America mining and metallurgy, SNC-Lavalin) received the award on behalf of the project’s team.

At one point, when leaders learned the project would have to reduce spending for an extended period, the team instead found ways to reduce the project’s overall cost and improve its business case. The $280 million in potential cost reductions the team identified kept the project off the chopping block.

In July 2011, RTA requested a $75 million scope change to increase plant capacity because it wanted to take advantage of rapid growth in the aluminum industry. Rather than lose production time during an expansion project at a later date, RTA wanted to roll the increase into Phase 1. In November of that year, the team added one month to the schedule and revised the project plan, leveraging as much base work as possible to minimize delays and cost overruns. Monitoring progress carefully and taking corrective action quickly also allowed the project team to control costs.

They made up the additional month it had added to the schedule and handed the project over to the operations team in December 2012—the original project delivery date. Along with proving the viability of RTA’s proprietary technology at full production scale, the project provided lessons learned during the plant’s construction that can be leveraged during later installations.

These factors helped earn the Jonquière job the Project of the Year prize. Along with various professional awards, the prize was given out at the PMI Global Congress 2014−North America in late October. Nominees for the 2015 program open on November 1. Visit www.pmi.org/awards.

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