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We’re On Top Of The World

Europe’s largest construction site has become a showcase for what Caterpillar can do.


By Caterpillar | Posted: Oct 24, 2022

Everything about the Kühtai Dam Project is huge. From its estimated €1bn cost, to its location, 2,200 meters up in the Austrian Alps, to the number and size of Cat® machines they’re using.

Having been involved in building the first Kühtai Dam in the 1980s, Cat dealer Zeppelin knew just how complicated and demanding building the new dam would be. Simon Husemann, Senior Product Manager of Large Equipment, explains, “As you would expect with something of this scale, the new dam project was a long time in the making and involved numerous customers in the bidding process. Fortunately, at Zeppelin, we’ve gained a lot of experience with heavy construction over the years. This meant our Caterpillar construction and mining reps could get the quotes together quickly.”

This expertise also meant that Zeppelin and Caterpillar could reassure the customers at every step of the way. For example, would Cat machines work at high altitudes? Yes, they’ve been used in the Andes in South America. Would the cold be an issue for them? No problem, they’ve been working in colder conditions in mines in Russia.

Finally, a buy-back option was negotiated that would see the machines returned to Zeppelin at the end of the job to be resold as used machines, with an estimated 9,000 operating hours on the clock.

With 16 large Cat machines ordered at the same time, the full might of Caterpillar and Zeppelin logistic skills were called into action to ensure delivery, with machines coming from Brazil, China, France, Indonesia and the USA. “We were micro-managing every step of the way. In constant contact with the factories in Batam and Decatur, talking with Cat Logistics, twice a day, every day, checking schedules to find the quickest routes to Europe and the machines on the right vessels,” Simon explains.

Cat Machines Used on the Project:
140-ton excavators
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140-ton excavators

 

Luck also played its part; two 140-ton excavators had just passed through the Suez Canal when the Ever Given container ship got stuck and blocked the waterway for weeks. A new Cat crawler excavator 352 was found at short notice and close to the site. Having originally been intended as an exhibit at the SteinExpo Trade Fair, which had just been canceled due to the coronavirus. While the machines coming from the U.S. had to face the worse storm Texas had seen in over 30 years. 

Once they had arrived in Austria, there was still the problem of ensuring machines of this size could make it up the mountain. With only two roads leading to the site, every load and truck combination had to be checked with the local authorities to ensure they could get through any tunnels. 

Finally, with the machines on-site over 2,000 meters up in the Alps, a team of Zeppelin’s service technicians, all experts in large machines, set to work modifying and assembling.

One Cat D8T Dozer had a three-tooth rear ripper added, the other a one-tooth rear ripper. And they were both fitted with 3.9m wide SU blades and PPR XL drives. The Cat 140 AWD Motor Grader also had its blade widened. While all seven Cat 777Gs were fitted with special Hardox steel bodies. The two 140-ton excavators were modified with extra cylinder protection attached to their monoblock HD booms. While all the dump trucks were fitted with digital LED weight displays and modified radio antennas to ensure data transmission was possible in the mountains.

140-ton excavators
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140-ton excavators

 

Another issue specific to machines of this size and number was fuelling. With some tanks holding as much as 1,700 liters, refueling from regular pumps would take too long and seriously delay the work. In the case of the dump trucks alone, it was estimated that it would take seven hours to get the fleet operational again. The solution was to borrow fast refueling technology from Formula 1, which meant refueling the machines could be counted in minutes.

After all the challenges to get this far, it’s important to step back a little and take a moment to reflect, “I love the Alps. I love being up there,” says Simon. “And every time I visit the site, it literally takes my breath away. Projects like this are very special to be a part of.”

Once completed in 2026, the Kühtai 2 dam will span two 3,000-meter-high mountains and store over 33 million cubic meters of water. While the hydropower plant it powers will be a significant source of renewable energy for the region. 

 
Kühtai Dam Project By The Numbers:
  • The total amount of earth moved in four years: 8,000,000m3
  • The amount of earth each machine moved per day: 15,000m3
  • How high up in the Alps the site is: 2,200m above sea level
  • The amount of water the dam will hold: 33,000,000 m3
  • The amount of electricity the site will generate per year: 216,000,000 kWh

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