Building on success: GRAHAM Construction

Published: 13 Mar 2014 09:30

Special Report: Engineering

We may still only be in the first financial quarter, but 2014 has already proved to be a stellar year for privately-owned construction, asset management and project investment sector specialist GRAHAM Construction.

Pictured are turbine tower sections being unloaded at the quay in Methil and the National Library of Scotland.

Pictured are turbine tower sections being unloaded at the quay in Methil and the National Library of Scotland.

Not only has the UK firm just completed the construction and installation of the world’s largest and most powerful wind turbine, but it’s also been awarded the £10 million contract to replace the exterior of the Edinburgh institution that is the National Library of Scotland.

Having operated in the Scottish marketplace since 2002, GRAHAM, which has offices in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow as well as a number south of the border and in Ireland and Northern Ireland, has grown to have a turnover in excess of £325 million and now employs more than 1,500 staff.

With its proud heritage, where traditional skills and values are fused with professional management, and a support team of over 300 staff in Scotland, perhaps it’s no wonder that Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) tasked the firm with building its very first prototype turbine.

The 196-metre high wind turbine, which is thought to be the largest and most powerful in the world, is set to undergo extensive testing now that it’s been erected 50 metres from the coast of the Firth of Forth.

An S7.0-171 prototype, which has 83.5-metre long blades and a capacity of 7MW, the turbine is the first of its kind to be constructed and installed on behalf of Korean industrial giant SHI, which set up a base at Fife Renewables Innovation Centre (FRIC) in Leven last year.

Built at Methil’s Energy Park Fife, the turbine is taller than the highest peak of the Forth Road Bridge and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2014 after the installation of the nacelle and three blades completed its construction just before the turn of the year.

And GRAHAM certainly had its work cut out since the nacelle alone weighs close to 550 tonnes, while each of the blades, which are the largest ever to be produced, are said to weigh more than 30 tonnes.

Although the 20-strong Korean team based at FRIC led the development, GRAHAM was, of course, drafted in to do the works and, according to the firm, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

It was also a first for GRAHAM, which has unrivalled expertise in building, civil engineering, facilities management and environmental services, as each of the blades had to be transported separately due to their magnitude.

The firm awaited their arrival from Europe, with the 170-kilometre journey from Kirkeby in south west Denmark to the port of Esbjerg in the west taking five hours.

The delivery process even required permission from the traffic authorities to obtain full possession of the freeway.

Thanks to GRAHAM’s expert team, the turbine, which is part of a £70 million wind demonstration project announced by First Minister Alex Salmond in 2012, has taken less than a year to complete and will be extensively tested over the next four years.

Its certification will be completed during this first quarter of the year and will help SHI to measure performance data, such as power output at different wind speeds.

At the time of installation, Maggie McGinlay, director of Energy and Clean Technologies at Scottish Enterprise, said: “This, along with planned investment from other key players such as Areva and Gamesa, is helping to create a potential manufacturing hub on the east coast, which would lead to significant opportunities for our supply chain companies.

“Today marks a key milestone in this work, and we look forward to continuing to work with SHI to support its long-term ambitions for Scotland.”

According to SHI, the Korean firm plans to base its European headquarters and manufacturing operation in Fife if there are sufficient European sales of the turbine.

Before its final installation, GRAHAM, which prides itself on the positive, personal relationships it fosters with its clients, sub-contractors and the communities in which it works, gave pupils from an East Fife primary school a preview of the offshore prototype – arming the 20 primary 7 schoolchildren from Leven’s Mountfleurie school with hard hats and high visibility vests to enjoy a site tour with its civil engineering experts.

The class of 11 and 12-year-olds, who have been studying wind energy as part of their science curriculum, were given a talk on wind turbines before touring the site – learning first-hand details of the groundbreaking construction project from GRAHAM engineers.

Jonny Kerr, project manager, said: “This is a unique project and there has been a tremendous amount of local interest in the turbine.

“As part of the project, GRAHAM is undertaking marine works, transport and offloading of components from quay side, turbine installation, mechanical and electrical installations and all temporary works.

“The team wanted to share our own expertise and enthusiasm to educate youngsters on the nature of this sophisticated project and the challenges of such a large scale construction.

“School visits like this are just one of the ways we are helping local young people to experience the world of work and potentially inspire the civil engineers of tomorrow.”

Councillor Tom Adams, chair of Levenmouth Area Committee, who accompanied the tour, said: "This was an excellent opportunity for Mountfleurie's P7s to get up close to see the scale of this massive Samsung project in Methil.

“Renewables are the future and it's happening right here in Levenmouth. I hope that this visit and presentation by the contractors, GRAHAM Construction will inspire some of the youngsters to work in the industry.

“This project is putting the area firmly on the map and we hope once testing is complete in the next few years that this will result in another jobs boost to Levenmouth."

The development is said to have generated up to £100 million of investment and created up to 500 jobs, but it’s not the only large-scale project the civil engineering division has been working on early this year.

The team has also been working on a number of other major projects around the UK, including two design-and-build contracts for Associated British Ports in Grimsby and Immingham.

And, as for GRAHAM’s latest contract win to refurbish the exterior of the NLS in the Scottish capital’s Causewayside, the company says it intends to take a phased approach.

According to its expert team, the external envelope of the building has experienced problems for several years and significant work is needed to make sure the building remains watertight.

All the building’s curtain walling, rain screen cladding, glazing, stonework and the roof will be replaced as part of the contract, which will also see the building transformed into a low-energy storage space, significantly reducing energy consumption, and extending its capacity to safeguard resources for the nation.

Around two million maps, atlases, gazetteers, and cartographic reference works and periodicals are stored in the Causewayside building, which is the largest property within the National Library of Scotland’s estate and extends to more than 19,000m² over seven levels, two of which are below ground, and opened in two phases in 1989 and 1995.

Over the years, the compound effect of deteriorating materials and complexity of the building design has led to the issues which now require correcting.

GRAHAM will implement a series of temporary solutions to allow the library to remain in operation throughout the works.

Regional director at GRAHAM Construction, Neil McFarlane, said: “The National Library of Scotland is a one-of-a-kind facility, both in terms of its function and its design.

“It contains millions of important documents, many which require to be kept in a climate-controlled environment, and it would be simply impossible to decant the collection to another location.

“We are therefore working to develop a solution which will allow these documents to remain in place while still giving us the necessary access to complete the works.

“We intend to take a phased approach to the project, with the first half of the work completed by the first half of 2016 and the entire scheme completed by 2018.”

NLS is Scotland’s only legal deposit library and can claim a copy of all printed material published in the UK.

The NLS takes in more than 4,000 new items every week, requiring three kilometres of new shelving a year.

Duncan Campbell, NLS Deputy Chief Executive, said: “There are particular challenges in refurbishing the Causewayside building while maintaining public access to the collections.

“We are delighted to be working with GRAHAM on this contract which will create conditions to safeguard the collections for many years to come.”

GRAHAM Construction has a track record of tackling unique construction projects and overcoming design challenges around Scotland.

In Edinburgh, the contractor completed the £37 million refurbishment of the Royal Commonwealth Pool, which involved effectively excavating below the pool’s foundations and transferring loads onto temporary foundations, lifting the entire building 4mm off the ground in the process, and reconfiguring the diving pool by 45 degrees while adjusting its depth from 5m to 6m.

Across in the west, GRAHAM completed the innovative core and shell of the £82 million Scottish Crime Campus building at Gartcosh and has recently delivered the £32 million Port Glasgow Community Campus.

Jump to first paragraph.