This company is making a (Big) Bang

BKW Infra Services is hunting down the secrets of the Big Bang: over the next three years, it will assemble around 1,500 special cable accessories for CERN, the world’s largest centre for particle physics.

«Working at CERN in Geneva is a big adventure and a unique opportunity for us, " says Cédric Favrod, Area Manager Energy and Transport at KW Infra Services Écublens, Vaud. «This project is something really special and involves numerous technical, logistical and administrative challenges.»

Higgs boson discovered

CERN achieved worldwide renown in 2012 when its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – a 27-kilometre-long particle accelerator located 100 metres underground – das Higgs-Teilchen entdeckte. This was the missing piece of the puzzle with regard to the Standard Model of particle physics, which examines the elementary components of matter and radiation as well as their interactions with one another. The LHC particle accelerator achieves a billion proton collisions per second. Now, it is undergoing an overhaul – and its performance is being boosted.

This overhaul also involves relaying the cables, and the challenge lies in performing these extremely delicate tasks without provoking any outages. "We therefore opted to work with Arnold, a company with experience and expertise in this area," says Beatriz Gutiérrez Hernández, the project manager at CERN. The electricity network at CERN comprises over 500 kilometres of underground power cables. "We’re producing all the cable ends and junctions ourselves and fitting them to every cable with a voltage of 3 to 66 kilovolts," says Favrod.

Network professionals

With around 1,000 employees, BKW Infra Services includes the four subsidiaries Arnold  Arpe, Baumeler, Curea and Hinni. in addition to the parent company, Arnold. As one of Switzerland’s leading network construction companies, Arnold provides comprehensive services in the energy, telecoms, transport and water sectors, including outdoor applications exposed to wind and weather, underground construction and forward-looking research and development projects.

On call around the clock

The project imposes stringent requirements. Every employee must receive special training to work underground and in radiation protection areas, and every cable fitter must be in possession of an electrical certification for the duration of the works. Arnold’s specialists are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the event of a network fault, an express crew with two electricians will carry out repairs within six hours.

Arnold is also available to assist the research institute in case of malfunction. Beatriz Gutiérrez Hernández explains that "the work is extremely delicate and demanding" and involves access both to the particle accelerator and to the electrical distribution and transmission network at CERN. "If it isn’t executed properly, it could lead to defects in the equipment as well as major outages," says Gutiérrez.

The experts at Arnold are, however, doing their utmost to prevent that from happening. They are implementing a special fault localisation service and cable route search throughout CERN’s medium- and high-voltage network. After all, they know that even the tiniest slip-up during work on this extraordinary system could quickly involve astronomical sums of money. Nevertheless, Cédric Favrod says: "We’re very proud to be making our contribution to the smooth operation of a laboratory that is unparalleled anywhere in the world."

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