When transporting massive nuclear generators, there’s only one chance to do it right.
At least that’s what Jim Meehan says, the product manager and engineer of Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting, which deals in hauling heavy and long objects. The company recently moved four massive steam generators for a nuclear power plant, weighing more than 760,000 pounds.
To do this, Perkins took three years designing a 400-foot-long, dual-lane truck and trailer for the sole purpose of transporting the old steam generators from Southern California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to a site in Clive, located in northwestern Utah.
The truck has 192 wheels and 48 axles that rotate independently, which allows the massive vehicle to move on turns and different road grades. “It’s the most practical answer,” Meehan said in a phone interview.
Meehan said the company is in the process of submitting a Guinness World Record for the heaviest load transported over the longest distance, for moving the four generators. Perkins generally moves massive objects weighing in excess of 200 tons including oil drilling equipment in northern Canada and other nuclear projects.
Minding the road wasn’t the only problem though. California has some of the most strict transportation regulation standards in the country, and the truck had to be designed according to the state’s regulations to gain approval from the Department of Transportation, before it was constructed, said Meehan.
He credits virtual prototyping tools from design company Autodesk for making the whole project work. The software allowed engineers and designers of the truck to find “areas that were weak, and needed further reinforcement,” before it was even contracted, Meehan said.
“The ability to produce renderings was very helpful,” said Meehan, noting that during the design process, they had run the project by several agencies to get the green-light.
“We’re actually not risk-takers. We’re very methodical in what we do,” he said, adding that the entire transportation route was drawn using 3-D design software. “For a while there, our product only existed digitally.”
The company commissioned police escorts through the three states, which Meehan referred to as “a parade with a lot of flashing lights.” Police kept traffic from moving, and kept it out of the way of the massive truck.
Most of the travel in Southern California, which has some of the busiest roads in the world, was done late at night.
Choosing the right roads was a process in itself. “We actually did what we call a route survey. The straightest path rarely works because turns are a major consideration,” he said. “Fortunately, Southern California has streets with very generous turns.”
The team also had to check weight limits on every bridge they planned to drive the massive truck over.
Designing and planning wasn’t everything though. Meehan said with a laugh that as the truck passed through certain towns, “some of the communities saw it as a revenue opportunity … they kind of levied a tax on us for passing through their community.”
With reporting by Joshua Philipp.