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Maintenance Wonders of the World: CN Tower Maintenance

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Maintenance Wonders of the World:

CN Tower Maintenance

Every time an out-of-town friend visits Toronto I already know they’re going to want to go to see the CN Tower. Most of my friends know I’ve been up there dozens of times and been in the line-ups and gift-shops more that I care to remember. But there’s also something they don’t know. For me, there’s something magical about that 37 year old illustrious slab of cement that makes me want to ride the rocketing elevator to the big bulge in the middle of the tower again and again. I could say it’s the blur of city lights that reach out for miles to the North, the red-glowing sun in the west at sunset or the surrounding skyscrapers that look like lego blocks when peering through the 64mm (2.5″) thick glass floor. But I think more than anything, it’s the opportunity to see the awe on the faces of the people I’m with. It really puts me back to the times I was a boy and when I was first taken up Canada’s tallest structure. I remember how mind blowing. it was I may have been young, but at the same time I was very aware that this giant cathedral to human accomplishment was built and maintained by people like my engineering minded father.

Over the years, I’ve developed an intrigue in the construction and maintenance of the tower, but more specifically pondered, what are the challenges faced by a team of maintenance engineers that have kept such an iconic feat of construction standing safe and strong for over 30 years?

The CN Tower maintenance team is faced with some staggering maintenance challenges, but they’ve come up with some intriguing solutions. Their focus on team and projects and heavy use of new technologies have enabled them to pull together some award winning solutions that we can all learn from.

CN Tower Facts & Figures

A little background on the tower will reveal just how jaw-dropping the construction, and maintenance of  a structure like this really is:

  • Total height: 553.33 meters
  • Total mass: 118,000 metric tonnes
  • Three major sub-structures including two visitor areas at 346 (1,135 ft) and 446.5 meters (1,465 ft)
  • Six elevators, stairwells (1,776 steps) and power and plumbing connections running up the hollow hexagonal base
  • The main support pillar, a hydraulically-raised slipform was built at the base
  • Concrete was poured continuously by a team of 1,532 people until February 22, 1974
  • The tower was topped off on April 2, 1975 after 26 months of construction
  • In total, the tower contains 40,500 cubic metres (52,972 cu yd) of concrete
  • Vertical accuracy of the tower was maintained by comparing the slip form’s location to massive plumb-bobs hanging from it, observed by small telescopes from the ground
  • Over the height of the tower, it varies from true vertical accuracy by only 29 millimetres

And finally, one massive rotating world-class restaurant. Delicious!

CN Tower’s Megalithic Achievements

Team Development. André Saker, the director of Facilities and Engineering for the Tower says giving ownership of tasks to his team has keeps his team motivated and tight while keeping them all apprised of of the complications the Tower may face. A good example of one of their teams taking ownership of their projects is the custom control system developed by in-house staff. The system monitors the performance of the Tower’s pumping systems and keeps a history of the pumps’ capacity level. It allows the team to see pump rates, how long they’ve been running and predict failures. Notifications and warnings are output 24 hours a day and directed to technicians on-site through their CMMS.

Waste Reduction. The Tower has an environmental committee dedicated waste reduction and energy conservation. The committee concentrate on delivering an excellent experience while maintaining sustainable best practices and compliance with environmental legislation. The CN Tower receives over 1.5M visitors per year while maintaining a diversion rate (calculated as the total recyclables collected over the total waste generated [trash + recyclables]) of over 60%. This is an impressive 10% higher than the standard that is considered to be world class. Their high diversion rates equate to  over 400 Metric Tonnes of waste being diverted from landfills each year. The staff at the CN Tower well are known for implementing a water and electricity strategy that account for reductions of over 52 Megawatt hours of energy monthly. The most famous of all of their reduction accomplishments was the relighting of the Tower with LED technology. 60% less energy than the fully lit tower in the 90’s.

Effective Preventive Maintenance. It wasn’t until 2005 that the CN Tower maintenance team began using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). The CMMS helps the crew in entering work requests, prioritizing tasks and scheduling preventive maintenance on critical systems like the massive electrical motors that drive the rotating restaurant on the first deck. The crew keeps procedures in their CMMS for every critical system in the Tower.

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