These are different from the current gates because they are much larger: the largest is 33 meters high, 58 meters long and 10 meters wide, explained Sergi Ametller, manager of Electromechanical Works for the Group United by the Canal (GUPC).
Each one contains sixteen blocks and currently five blocks are finished and ten are being constructed for the first gate. The pieces are in assembly stage at the Cimolais facilities near Venice, Italy.
Ametller said that the gate is expected to be completely manufactured by September of this year, and the first four gates will arrive in January 2013.
As soon as the first gates are manufactured, they will be placed on a barge for shipment to Panama.
The movement of the gates from the manufacturing workshop to the barge and from the barge to the parking area in Panama will be done by carts placed underneath the gates.
The expert explained that the heaviest gate will require carts with a total of nearly 700 wheels in order to move it. The first barge with the four gates is scheduled to arrive at Colón in early 2013, followed by12 more gates throughout the rest of that year.
The production follows the planning initially established and is being closely followed by several GUPC engineers living in Italy and by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), he added.
He noted that a complete gate is equivalent in size to the Comptroller General (Headquarters) building, located on Balboa Avenue.
The new structures, unlike the current ones that use a hinge mechanism, are sliding and can open and shut just like a home garage, Ametller added.
These new gates have certain time requirements for opening, closing and maintenance that would not have been possible to achieve with the current gates.
The gates are large metal structures similar to a ship, that slide perpendicular to the channel with the help of some carts and close each chamber as if they were sliding doors.
Motors will be installed in several buildings to activate the drums where the steel cable is wound that pulls on them, allowing the opening and closing in a time of four to five minutes.
With this mechanism maintenance time would be saved, since the water can be removed and work can be done in a dry space, without having to disassemble first, as is done today.
The provisions for operation and maintenance of these new units are the highest that currently exist in any canal and meet the strict operation criteria established by the ACP.
Ametller noted that 'this is the technology used around the world with this size of locks.' In addition, they can be shipped to a shipyard for repair if necessary, every 15, 20 or 30 years.
The gates are assembled in a metal piece, 'like a lego' to form a block. It is a slow process, since it is one of the largest gates being built in the world. Many people are putting together these parts in Italy, and the work is under great quality control.
'They are more comprehensive and much better than the current ones and consume more energy because of the size difference, but the electrical installation will be optimized for minimal consumption, described the GUPC spokesperson.
Tests of the gates in water will begin in 2014, until the task is complete and installation delivered to ACP, to begin its operation.
The first test will literally be a dry run, and later flooded with water.
'The possible contingencies that could happen in the water test are being taken into consideration," said Ametller. "It will be a sight to see the new locks.'
Another key element of the system are the 150 valves of different sizes that control the flow of water from Gatún Lake towards the different chambers and the sea to allow the raising and lowering of ships through the new set of locks.
Ametller said 'they are large structures,' and a total of 20,000 tons of metal structures are being manufactured for the valves.
The biggest valves measure five by seven meters and are placed in a series of wells within the concrete walls.
The valves are built in the shipyards of Hyundai in Korea, and this April the first six will be tested before being transported to Panama.
Double operating valves are planned for the locking system in case of failure.
The pace of work is also following the timetable planned by UPC.
The engineer Sergi Ametller underscored that receiving and unloading the first gate in Panama, scheduled for next year, will be an important milestone in the development of work that the Group United by the Canal is providing for the ACP.
'The gates are on schedule, the construction is going well, and we hope that Panama will come to see the gates arrive in January 2013,' he concluded.