Virtual Demolition

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-By John Boley

Many years ago in the UK there was a demolition company whose slogan – emblazoned on the sides of its fleet of heavy trucks – was “Watch it Come Down”. Well, the business of what is today called ‘deconstruction’ has become a bit more scientific since those days of just swinging a wrecking ball at a structure and hoping it would collapse in the optimum manner and direction. Nowadays you can model your preferred effects on computer in advance to watch a 3D model come down before transferring the engineering involved to the real thing.

But if that’s what you want, you can’t exactly just go to Harvey Norman to buy the software. You will have to knock on the door of a fast-growing New South Wales-based company called Liberty Industrial, which is the exclusive Australian agent for Applied Science International and its Extreme Loading for Structures software that models the demolition of structures along with many other stress situations.

Applied Science International (ASI) is an engineering analysis company based in the US. ASI’s Extreme Loading for Structures software is next generation from finite analysis – three dimensionally modelling and analysing the demolition of structures. It also has the capability to analyse and model structures to withstand extreme loading events such as earthquakes, terrorist attacks, cyclones or explosions.

This software enables Liberty Industrial to model specific demolition scenarios long before site work commences. It has the potential to revolutionise the way in which demolition methods are developed, and serves as a key risk minimisation strategy for clients with large, technically challenging projects.

Liberty’s two directors, Clinton Dick and Simon Gill, have a background in demolition themselves and know how to implement what the programming tells them, backing it all up with what Clinton told us is “the best fleet of equipment in the country,” which includes “the largest demolition excavator in the country at 230 tonnes, a fleet of Hitachi 120 tonne excavators, and a fleet of Volvo excavators ranging in size from 70t to 46t and 36t.”

These potent weapons are now deployed in the Boodarie HBI closure project for BHP Billiton near Port Hedland in WA, “the largest demolition project in the southern hemisphere and most technically challenging project this country has seen in more than 15 years.” This is a structure that is more than 100 metres high and weighs in excess of 25,000 tonnes. “It’s cyclone rated; it’s just very, very strong and difficult to weaken.”

With the ELS software, “we are able to refine our demolition methodologies using computerised 3D simulation on any structure that we’re demolishing. We can model the weakening of a structure and pinpoint when and how to remove structural elements so that it doesn’t prematurely collapse. We can refine our methodologies to take inherent risks completely out of the project. And we can do this months in advance, so we have time to modify our models. We can explain to the client in finite detail how we’re going to execute the works, and prove that it is safe. No other company in the country has that in-house capability. It’s hugely popular with our clients because it removes the risk, and in a high risk industry such as demolition, that’s something that they warm to very quickly. It’s also something that sets Liberty apart from its competition.” In the current case of Boodarie, “undertaking a project of this magnitude, it is paramount that we use [this software modelling] to reassure us that our methods are sound. So far we’ve completed all of the large technically challenging drops with 100 per cent success.”

Clinton agrees that the “watch it come down” approach is still popular in the demolition industry. “We like to think we’re elevating the industry, by providing a far more professional service to clients in such a high risk industry. That’s what we think will set us apart from everybody else, to be able to offer these advanced services. We look for innovative solutions.”

Liberty has been providing innovative solutions for numerous clients across many mining operations, and one such client in a variety of capacities. Clinton explains that the company began by carrying out some demolition work in a “tricky situation” and then addressed a problem where the client had a large amount of copper that had been spilled on the floors of the furnaces over the years – around 2,000 tonnes of pure copper in thicknesses from 100mm to around 350mm – and that quantity of copper is worth recapturing.

“They had no way of processing the spilt copper to get it back into their furnaces, so we designed and built a copper saw that fits on an excavator as you would mount any other hydraulic attachment. We were able to cut the copper and process 2,000 tonnes in about four weeks and generate many millions of dollars for our client. That was just a massive boon for them and a very popular solution to a problem that they had had for the best part of 10 to 15 years.”

Developing from that, Liberty Industrial has now produced another piece of plant providing innovative cutting solutions which has itself just completed a trial. “We’ve custom built this plant for cutting copper products and we’re hoping to take this concept to the next phase and implementing that system into their day to day activity in the processing facility. That’s extremely exciting,” and an example of how Liberty is prepared to look at solutions which best suit the client. Not just demolition, then? “Not at all. We’ve been discussing with structural engineering firms to assist in the design of their structures around the use of this [ELS] software because it provides a solution and instant results for earthquake codes. It’s able to ensure that structures are designed in accordance with design standards and not over engineered. It has so many applications.”

Liberty sees the defence sector as a major future client who could utilise the ELS software for many applications, but the concept can be used to model and predict “anything that has an extreme load that can be devastating. It propagates and measures instantly those results. No other software can do this. It’s in its early stages and we’re gathering momentum. We’ve used it extensively for what we do in demolition, but we believe there is a more diverse market for it.”

Both Simon and Clinton have a background in knocking things down, but Clinton notes a major difference in that they used to operate in the commercial sector (in and around Sydney) where the job was essentially cost-driven, whereas now the massive projects in the mining and resources sector are not just more demanding but involve much more in the way of safety procedures and systems. Clients in these sectors really appreciate the skill set that a quality demolisher brings to such a highly potentially dangerous industry “and that’s a lot of the reason it is a great attraction for us, because they appreciate what we do.”

There’s a lot that goes into planning to demolish large and challenging structures, often within a facility where operations are continuing around them. “We enjoy that challenge. We enjoy working with really large machines, and in this industry we get the opportunity to apply large excavators and custom built demolition machinery into this market as it minimises the risk in the project – because you’re not using as many people.” This sector uses more machinery and fewer people compared to the commercial industry which “is very labour intensive; they use much smaller equipment. We like to use the bigger machines and fewer people and provide that service as well.” The machinery is portable – the 230-tonner, for example, fits into seven low loaders and can be trucked right across the country for its next assignment. Clinton says Liberty’s aim is for a fleet on either side of Australia, which he sees as being both feasible and cost-effective given the amount of work that is likely in coming years.

Paying for it, says Clinton, has been made a little less daunting thanks to an enlightened attitude on the part of St George Bank, where – unlike, he says, other financial institutions – “they were very pleased to be able to offer us their service and help us finance our machines. They have helped us along beautifully and the guys we are dealing with are fantastic.”

Much of the increasing business will be due to expansion and refurbishment of mines and resource facilities. In addition, “the power and energy sectors are our clients, planning for future closures. In the next few years we hope to be involved in numerous power system projects because of the extent of their life cycle.” Indeed, Clinton is confident the future for knocking things down cleverly is bright. “We believe that we are a young dynamic company with a wealth of experience. So far we have been able to demonstrate that very clearly to our clients and provide a premium service. We’re extremely excited to do it. It’s a really good time for us.”

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February 27, 2020, 3:20 AM AEDT

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