“It has been the most difficult MRF installation we have ever done because of the complete lack of space in the building that the plant had to be fitted into,” Ebbsfleet Engineering director Mike Hall explains. “The Greenstar Atlas MRF in Edmonton, which we also installed, was at the other end of the spectrum because it was going into a massive building.”
Waste management firm Cory Environmental officially opened the doors to its new £25m MRF in Wandsworth, south London, earlier this month at an event attended by Princess Anne. The facility is capable of taking 84,000 tonnes of waste each year from the Western Riverside Waste Authority.
The plant has three levels that reach 60ft up to the ceiling, rather than being spread out across one storey - which makes it unique in the MRF world
The opening was the end to what had been a complex installation procedure. Because of the restricted space available to the construction engineers, the MRF was built upwards rather than outwards. As a result, the plant has three levels that reach 60ft up to the ceiling, rather than being spread out across one storey - which makes it unique in the MRF world. But the size restrictions also meant that nothing could be stored on-site, so Ebbsfleet had to work container by container during the build, with each being transported from the dock daily as needed.
Hall continues: “Installing the structure of the facility was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There was meticulous planning because we knew that there would be no chance to go back and change any parts of it once it had been fixed in place.”
Ebbsfleet site manager Paul Quested adds: “Each container we received would be a sort of module of the MRF.” In total, the company received 150 containers, working through two per day. Because of the precision nature of the build, the containers had to be supplied in sequence so the parts could then put up in the right order.
“When we received each container we would pull out the drawings, identify the parts we needed first and then fix them into position permanently, so everything was fed to us like a production line,” Quested explains. “At one point we had to install a 140ft-long conveyor. We had to build this up in the air straight off, instead of the standard way of connecting the machinery together on the floor and lifting it in one section.”
The space dictated the technology that was used too. Without enough room for a properly-sized tipping hall that would allow JCBs to level out the waste delivered by refuse trucks, an automated loading system was used. This works using sensors in the tipping floor, which are connected to a crane. The sensors tell the crane when enough waste has been deposited in one place so the crane grabs the top of the pile and moves it to an empty patch on the floor.
Such a complex installation lengthened the build time, which spanned from November 2009 to August 2010, compared with an average build of six months. Due to the site’s size, Ebbsfleet could only use a maximum of 10 engineers at once, rather than the 30 engineers used at bigger sites, such as Atlas.
“The only way we could have built this any quicker would have been to work through the night,” says Quested. “But we had restrictions on this because of a nearby residential area, and we were not allowed to work night shifts or for most of the weekend.”
Despite the complexity, the challenges were overcome and even received the royal stamp of approval.