The design saw extensive use of the Revet pipe module for AutoCAD to fit the massive 2-ft to 3-ft diameter piping into a very small space. Images courtesy MT Højgaard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Residing 750-mi north of the Arctic Circle, Thule Air Base, Greenland, and its residents are completely reliant on Jet Propellent-8 (JP-8), a kerosene-based fuel. However, after jumping 92 cents to $3.95 per gallon (a 30 percent increase in one year), it is increasingly difficult to afford the expense that consuming more than 10 million gallons annually brings. Most of the JP-8 is used primarily in the two steam/condensate heating plants and the 15-MW power production plant, M-Plant. With the Air Force’s increasing emphasis on decreasing Thule’s JP-8 consumption, Air Force Space Command Civil Engineer, Col. Joe Schwarz, and the base civil engineers engaged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to bring innovation to the arctic.

USACE and Air Force engineers collaborated to reduce the base’s JP-8 consumption by 1.5 million gallons a year by installing exhaust gas boilers on each of the five 3-MW engines. In this way, the exhaust heat is used solely to convert water into steam to be distributed across the base for heat, reusing the existing heat’s potential energy and converting it to kinetic energy.


The 3D modeling and layering was essential to ensuring the project could fit into such a small area

Identifying Challenges
Due to strict construction timelines and the need for incredible accuracy in the already complex maze of industrial piping at M-Plant, the project used an industrial modeling and piping design program named MagiCAD, a Swedish add-on to AutoCAD. Through its use, USACE and their contractor, MT Højgaard (MTH), have been able to design the project to incredible accuracy using extensive 3D modeling. Moreover, the design system allowed for better 3-D visualization while creating the information necessary to conduct flow simulations.

Thule has many restrictions for construction due to its remote arctic location. The construction season only lasts from mid-May to mid-September. During this time the only way to get construction materials to base is by ship during the two month port season of July and August. Due to limited space for contractor billeting construction must happen quickly, and with accuracy, making little room for mistakes, lest the project be postponed for another year. MagiCAD was introduced by the drafters at MTH for its ability to map piping, apply specifications and run simulations to show where errors may exist.


The 3D modeling and layering was essential to ensuring the project could fit into such a small area

Generating Success
The objective was precision. Creating a piping system inside a very confined space for five boilers that also shared space with five massive generators was a daunting task. Designers were able to construct a system in which 24-in piping would be passing within inches of existing piping. The extensive layering system allowed for more than 600 layers to be made inside the program, adding engineering restrictions to ensure fittings and correct pipe runs connect perfectly and properly in the small space, allowing for 100 percent accuracy. The vast 3D rendering capabilities of the program also allowed the designers to see exactly how every aspect of the layout would be, especially when allowing for work space clearances.


The 3D modeling and layering was essential to ensuring the project could fit into such a small area

Where the designers were most impressed with the software was in its ability to engineer piping specifications based upon input data. For example, improper flow and back pressure of exhaust on the engine will cause a decrease in efficiency. Designers input variables into the system, and were able to maintain flow rates of the exhaust, back pressure on the engine, heat levels and pipe classification. With the given input, the software was able to automatically size and spec the piping for maximum efficiency saving valuable time and providing a starting point for engineers. This included the pipe size, composition, insulation and heat shielding, as well as proper interior diameters on pipe bends for proper flow rates, in accordance with manufacturer parts archived in the program’s massive parts inventory. The system is designed for exact parts, and their subsequent assembly, ensuring better supply chain management and constructability absolutely critical in Thule’s short construction season.

"The USACE engineers used three dimensional modeling successfully on this project to review the geometry of the piping, as it has been for years on industrial projects,” noted Maj. Pat Suermann, Ph.D., P.E., LEED AP, M.SAME, 821st Support Squadron Commander. “What is really exciting is the ability to conduct flow simulations that make us better engineers designing better projects in less time. This intersection of ideas is the future of engineering and design."

USACE and USAF engineers’ ability to model and simulate the industrial piping at M-Plant has been essential to success in the Exhaust Boiler project at Thule Air Base. It has saved the government time and money to be able to design a project with accuracy and certainty in the close confines of an existing power plant. The 3D modeling and layering was essential to ensuring the project could fit into such a small area. The engineers benefitted from the software’s vast inventory of manufacturer parts and its intuitive design and simulation software ensured every part could be pre-constructed prior to shipping, decreasing the construction time at Thule.


Capt. Robbie L. Marcucci, USAF, is the Civil Engineering Flight Commander, 821st Support Squadron, Thule Air Base; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..