Mission: Impossible

It’s a race against time – and requires a logistical masterpiece. The project: building one of the world’s largest natural gas processing plants in Southern Siberia. In her role as Project Logistics Manager at Linde, Katja Baumgarten and her team make sure this mega project is a success. But it’s never short of surprises.

“So, what do you do?” This ice breaker question is an old classic at every party. But rarely enough it sparks a lively discussion. That’s because most jobs simply aren’t that exciting. Unless you’re talking to Katja Baumgarten. When she starts to explain her job, some people might be left speechless. Baumgarten can talk about giant projects in the most remote areas of this planet; extreme climatic conditions and tight schedules and the careful piecing together of a complicated puzzle that simply must be completed. In a way, her job is “mission impossible”.

Yevgen Timashov/ Offset.com

Across the seven seas
Amur. A region in Southern Siberia – 8000 kilometres east of Moscow and close to the Chinese border. This is where one of the world’s largest natural gas processing plant is being built from nothing. There are no streets, no harbours, no infrastructure. During winter time, temperatures can drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius. Linde is delivering the technology for this mega project, which means shipping enormous and extremely heavy components 20,000 kilometres from Europe across the seven seas. Once the ship hits the Amur, Asia’s Amazon, it has a further 1500 kilometres to go upstream. And to complete the final part of the journey, it must conquer the wild mountain river Zeya. Linde had to build customized barges and tugs – special boats that can master this shallow river even when carrying a heavy load. It’s a race against time because the river is only navigable at all between June and October. “You have to love this job,” says Katja Baumgarten.

A passion for organization
Katja Baumgarten is quite the career changer. When she set out on her professional career, there were no signs that she would one day be part of the logistics team at Linde Engineering. Baumgarten is a trained interpreter for English and French. “Only processing things that other people have created soon wasn’t enough me for me anymore,” she explains. “I wanted to take initiative.” She studied foreign trade and worked in that field for a while where she gradually got to appreciate logistics. Booking airfreight, coordinating schedules – Baumgarten quickly developed a passion for organization: “I really enjoyed myself.” After several jobs and a brief stint in Japan, she was searching for a new challenge when Linde was hiring a shipping employee for their Dresden facility. Baumgarten didn’t have to think too long. The rest is history as they say. Over the years, she has become a leading expert for complex projects.

The only transport route: one of the world’s wildest rivers
The “Amur project” certainly is her biggest challenge so far. It’s a global project with many different subcontractors. Coordination is everything. Freight from all over the world – whether Bremen or Korea – needs to be delivered to the Russian construction site. Smaller components are reloaded from ships to trucks and trains. But for larger parts, that is out of the question. Take, for instance, the separation column that is 90 metres long and weighs 1000 tons. Linde had seven cargo barges built specifically for this project. They are capable of covering the arduous Amur river with 1000 tons of load. After 1500 kilometres, the Zeya forks off the Amur: the point at which the ships come up against the biggest hurdle. At a water depth of only 1.10 metres, this tributary of the Amur is almost impossible to navigate during the summer. Linde is using so-called ‘pontoon systems’ to prevent the boats from running aground. These are floatation panels installed at the side of the boat. They keep the boat above water – and at the same time, they keep the captain busy. At some spots along this relatively narrow river, high-precision steering manoeuvres are necessary.

Expect the unexpected
Every logistics delay has the potential to slow down the gigantic project and cost a lot of money. It’s Baumgarten’s task to ensure this doesn’t happen. “You have to expect the unexpected,” says Baumgarten with a smile. For her, no day is like the other – which is exactly what makes her job so exciting. She skypes with colleagues at the Russian construction site, negotiates with subcontractors worldwide and makes sure all the goods are manufactured to the required quality and are at the construction site on time. It’s a stressful but fulfilling job. “The teamwork especially motivates me. Everyone is incredibly engaged and we all stick together – I’m very thankful for that.”

Baumgarten has already been to the Siberian site. The journey took one and a half days and included rides with passenger aircrafts, a propeller plane and a car through a gravel road to reach the building site. However, on arriving at the giant location, any travel stress was instantly forgotten. “I am not left speechless very often, but this was really impressive. You suddenly feel very small.” Small indeed, but Katja Baumgartner’s contribution to the realization of this mega project has been anything but – and it is something she’ll never forget.