Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Bosch Rexroth completes 7-year project to modernize the Welland Canal

June 25, 2009
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

It’s been seven years coming: Bosch Rexroth Canada has completed a comprehensive engineered hydraulic and controls solution to revamp the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Welland Canal, a project Manufacturing AUTOMATION has been following for years.

The St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the world’s busiest inland waterways, connecting the Midwest with the Atlantic Ocean, and the Welland Canal allows safe passage around Niagara Falls. There is a 100-metre height difference between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and that difference is overcome by eight locks over a distance of 44 kilometers.

The original electromechanical drives, gears, chains and steel cables that controlled the locks were 70 years old, and in 2002, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. (SLSMC) realized it needed to upgrade all the locks. The SLSMC had Bosch Rexroth Canada undertake a two-year pilot project to help upgrade the hydraulic systems and the controls on two of the eleven locks that make up the Welland Canal as the new technology was more cost efficient than replacing the traditional technology. When the pilot project was successfully completed, the SLSMC contracted Bosch Rexroth to upgrade the remaining nine locks over five years. Bosch Rexroth has now completed the entire project within the planned timeframe and has met the project’s requirements.

“The SLSMC didn’t just buy hardware and software from Bosch Rexroth,” says Wayne Scutt, contract manager with Bosch Rexroth Canada. “They got our expertise as well. We worked together to solve problems and find new answers when something didn’t go according to plan.” The expertise came not only from Bosch Rexroth Canada, but also from the Netherlands and Germany, where Bosch Rexroth has experience equipping locks with the latest technology.


Bosch Rexroth Canada used the latest design technology, including Autodesk Inventor, to create three-dimensional previews of all parts for the SLSMC. That allowed all the parties involved to communicate well throughout the process, as well as optimize access for maintenance.

Over the course of the project, Bosch Rexroth supplied approximately 73,000 litres of oil, 360 electrical panels made up of PLC, motor control, operator and terminal stations, 130 hydraulic cylinders and more than 40 hydraulic power units. The Bosch Rexroth team spent from April to December of each year designing and programming the PLC, HMI, electrical and hydraulics, then was on site from January to March for start up, commissioning and installation support. Bosch Rexroth worked closely with both the SLSMC and the site contractor to ensure each and ever lock was operating at peak performance within the predetermined timeframe.

“The key was planning ahead,” says Tom Vermelfoort, Engineering Manager of Bosch Rexroth Canada’s Automation Business Unit. “We spent a great deal of time perfecting the electrical control design process to come up with a concept that was modular and can be used year after year. By planning ahead, we were able to ensure the installations went as smoothly as possible in the tight time frame required by the SLSMC.”

The new Bosch Rexroth solution uses hydraulic cylinders to provide drive and control to the locks without any additional mechanical elements. The SLSMC operators can constantly monitor essential parameters through the PLC, helping them fine tune positioning accuracy, speed and power.

The project was completed in March 2009, and today the locks are not only running smoothly, but also with less downtime, and potentially providing a longer shipping season. And, after seven successful years of partnership, the relationship between Rexroth and SLSMC will continue on into the future. The companies have embarked on starting maintenance programs for the hydraulics and controls, providing additional training to the SLSMC employees to ensure the equipment stays running at its peak performance for another 70 years.

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