A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in logistics, when moving something that weighs 150 tons across the world, all links need to carry their own weight.
As part of its multibillion-dollar North American Growth Project in Baytown, Texas, ExxonMobil “movers” were responsible for transporting 228 furnace units, each averaging 150 tons, that are now installed at the company’s newest ethane cracker. Each furnace, now heavier with added components at the ethane cracker, weighs about 10,000 tons.
The journey started in Thailand, where the units were fabricated, and by the time they arrived at Baytown, they had traveled more than 12,000 miles on 13 vessels.
Progress was incremental, and the furnaces’ movement was planned with such exacting measurements and choreography that the operation was coined “the ballet” by those on the project.
But why are these furnaces needed anyway? Well, in order to “crack” ethane molecules into ethylene molecules, the ethane molecules need to be heated for only a split second – in furnaces that can reach 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Those resulting ethylene molecules are then transformed into the building blocks for hundreds of products, from medical devices to lightweight auto parts. The new ethane cracker is part of ExxonMobil’s largest chemical investment in the U.S. to date, with more than 10,000 construction jobs and 4,000 jobs in nearby communities created as a result of the expansions in Baytown and Mont Belvieu, Texas.
Each furnace at Baytown can produce 175 kilotons annually in the production of ethylene and operates with ultra-low nitrogen oxide burners to keep emissions as low as possible.
In some ways, the production of ethylene is its own ballet, reliant on precise movements, exact coordination and thousands of small elements perfectly orchestrated for the final product.
Video footage courtesy of FLS Projects and Hohenthal Films