Cape Lambert Dolphin Upgrade


Cape Lambert is a major port facility operated by Rio Tinto in WA. The “dolphins” are critical infrastructure elements used to berth and safely moor vessels. Considering existing site conditions, design of the replacement dolphins and interconnecting walkways was based on 3D digital surveys achieving implementation within budget and schedule.

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  • Cape Lambert is one of the largest iron ore export facilities in Australia. Previous dolphin structures were unsafe needing replacement, situation within a forest of existing and demolished piles, and other obstructions under water. A significant challenge on this project was installing new dolphin/walkway structures within a brownfield site. This required an innovative design approach right from inception, considering spatial site constraints. While focusing on design requirements imposed by the up to 300-metre-long iron ore vessels, the underlying theme was to ensure that prefabricated structural elements can be safely and efficiently installed within an operating wharf environment.

  • Collaboration and digital engineering were at the heart of the entire design process. Multi-layered geological and spatial survey data was developed into a 3D-digital twin to inform design decisions and provide early detection of potential installation clashes. This innovative and non-intrusive approach was necessary due to round-the-clock port facility operations. Model data was converted into a virtual reality simulation for the client and non-technical stakeholders to gain a better appreciation of the project’s construction and operational risks, design features, and proposed mitigation measures. Collaboration with the installation contractor ensured that design risks were minimised prior to fabrication and construction commencing.

  • Iron ore is Australia’s largest export commodity, and the majority is mined in Western Australia, and Cape Lambert is one of the region’s largest ports. Considering this commercial importance, replacing the dolphin structures within schedule was of utmost importance. Through digitally identifying and mitigating risks/problems on the construct-only project, Aurecon unlocked design, construction, budget, and timeframe value by providing a structural system that was easily installed, and is efficient and safe to use and maintain. The new dolphins extend the life of port operations, makes them safer, and maintains iron ore exports for Rio Tinto Iron Ore.

  • Aurecon’s design led thinking approach considered the end goal from the very beginning of the design. The design of the new, third-generation dolphin structures provides greater strength, and resilience to, 1-in-500-year cyclonic events, prolonging the service life of this critical infrastructure. Aurecon generated a digital twin model that brought together spatial data, geotechnical data and designs which could be used by the multidisciplinary design team, client and the construction contractor. The digital twin modelled the precise geospatial positioning of structural elements within millimetres of the real-world positioning, such that the new design and construction plans could be created to prevent clashes with existing infrastructure. Reference data from LiDAR and Sonar surveys (different datasets), underpinning the digital twin, were used to validate its accuracy. In addition, manual surveys were performed to confirm tie-in levels. In addition, the installation contractor carried out an independent survey to confirm the accuracy of the digital twin. Aurecon’s design used durable materials and resilient features that will withstand the inherent volatility of the sea, and the actions of the massive vessels that utilise the port. This project enhanced the productivity and life of Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s outloading facility for their future operations with minimal disruption.