While political and social instability has affected several nations in regions with some of the highest levels of growth and demand for grain infrastructure upgrades, investment in the equipment to support the infrastructure development of grain port and river terminals around the world remains strong. World Grain’s annual survey of several of the world’s major ship loader and unloader manufacturers indicates that demand for ship loading and unloading equipment around the world remained steady in 2013.

Manufacturers have seen a reduction in investment in Africa and the Middle East due to political instability in a few countries. However, solid sales and projects continue in the other continents. In Europe, demand for barge unloaders is strong, and customers in the Chinese and South Korean markets are looking for high unloading capacity equipment.

Egyptian port operators continue to invest in ship unloaders to import grain, and Russia continues to invest in ship loaders to export grains around the world.

One supplier noted that the strong fluctuating yearly yield and regional political instabilities have created a challenging but highly interesting global market for the grain industry. Top producing and export areas in one year are forced to import the same goods the next year due to severe weather influences. These inconsistencies are naturally felt throughout the whole product chain from suppliers to end user.

The general sentiment among suppliers is that the global market for loaders and unloaders has been comparable to 2012 in that no large increase or decrease of orders has occurred. Long-term investment in relationships with partners around the world has led to steady business. One supplier commented that the main factor in its success was “serious professionalism as a solution provider to our customers and technically sound approaches to their concerns.”

Another supplier noted that over the past decade or so equipment sales have typically rebounded following a down year. The supplier added that the future is unpredictable because of factors such as political instability as well as the economic problems caused by the banks that have yet to be completely solved.

Customer driven

When working with their customers, the suppliers get requests for information about a variety of issues. Fundamentally, most of the questions center on monetary concerns.

One of the first questions customers often ask is how their company’s CAPEX (capital expenditure) and OPEX (operational expenditures) will be affected. Safety, environmental impact, reliability of the after-sales service and of prompt communication between the supplier and the customer are other factors suppliers must consider.

All of the ship loader and unloader manufacturers have been investing in research and development to keep their equipment performing at levels that meet and exceed their customers’ demands. They are working to develop the highest quality components and reducing the operational costs of the equipment: energy usage, manpower and maintenance.

For instance, over the last 10 years, energy consumption in pneumatic continuous ship unloaders has been reduced by 30% in most circumstances by incorporating new technologies (such as motor speed variation) and the shelf life of many parts has been increased by using new metal alloys.

One supplier noted that all manufacturers are working on the right balance between reducing the costs of production of equipment to be price competitive and to guarantee a suitable quality according to the requirements of the market.

Another supplier has improved its pneumatic equipment with new turbo blowers direct drive, which delivers the necessary air volume and pressure with much less energy and also brings extra reliability by temperature and vibration monitoring of the bearings. The speed can be changed to adjust capacity for different operation phases. Deep in the hatch, the speed and pressure are increased to maintain the capacity, and during cleanup operation the speed slows down to save energy.

Other recent developments include the automation of nozzle sinking. Depending on the ship size, the unloading can take place without operator influence for many hours.

Angolan pneumatic ship unloader

Among Nivelles, Belgium-based VIGAN’s recently commissioned projects was one in the Port of Luanda in Angola for Multiterminais Lda. VIGAN supplied a 300-tph pneumatic ship unloader, which sits on rails and features a dual electrical feeding systems — either diesel generator or through an electrical cable reel.

The Portuguese company Tecnimil was the general contractor for the Multiterminais’ Angolan port terminal, which has a total storage capacity of 40,000 tonnes. The terminal has 10 5,300-cubic-meter flat-bottom steel silos that are 19.5 meters in diameter, four 480-cubic-meter silos of seven meters in diameter. The terminal has a quay side 300-tph conveyor and pre-cleaning equipment before storage. The facility also features two truck loading stations and in the future will have two 150-tph loading stations for railway wagons.

Earlier this year, VIGAN installed a 600-tph continuous pneumatic ship unloader model NIV 600 on a floating pontoon on the Nile River in Egypt. The NIV 600 will unload ocean vessels and thanks to a rotating conveying arm at its rear side, it will also load river barges, which will ensure the transport on the Nile River. A large-size hopper between the gantry legs is behaving as a buffer between the barges berthing along the pontoon.

East European projects

Earlier in 2013, Melle, Germany-based NEUERO Industrietechnik commissioned a Combiport, combination ship unloader and ship loader, in Gdansk, Poland.

The Combiport unloads at a rate of 150 tph and loads at a rate of 450 tph. It was completely assembled and transported at once with a floating crane.

Neuero also recently delivered two 600-tph ship loaders and two 600-tph ship unloaders for the expansion of Sodrugestvo’s complex in Kaliningrad, Russia.

River and port loading

Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler installed a Bargolink with a loading and unloading capacity of 200 tph for Vupik in Vukovar, Croatia. The Bargolink was developed for barges ranging up to 3,000 DWT. This project followed the January 2010 integration of Vupik as a member of the Agrokor Group.

Vupik’s activities include viticulture, fruit growing, cereal farming, vegetable growing, pig farming, cattle farming, grain storage in silos, agricultural cooperative and wine tourism. The company has over 7,000 hectares of top-grade arable land on the fertile banks of the Danube River. Vupik has the potential to yield strong results in grain, oil crop and vegetable production.

Following the integration with Agrokor, a major investment was undertaken to increase Vupik’s production and market competitiveness. Part of this investment by Vupik was a Bargolink to help the company increase its competitive position and to become a regional leader in agriculture.

Bühler received the order to produce and install the Bargolink as a part of the total overhaul and improvement of the storage and process facility. To enable multiuse of components, the Bargolink for Vupik has been specially constructed with a loading spout designed specifically for barge loading.

Vupik selected the Bargolink because of its high barge unloading capacity, low maintenance costs, economic use and reduced energy costs. The easy handling by remote control also increases efficiency, saves time and reduces manpower per unloaded barge.

With the absence of rails on the quay, Bühler has supplied the stationary version of the Bargolink including a towing system to displace barges. With this system, the advantages of increased efficiency and easy handling connected with a traveling unloading system, and the limited investment and space requirements of a stationary system were combined to feature the best of both systems.

In 2012, Bühler commissioned two Portalink unloaders in the Port of Santander on the northeast side of Spain.

These Portalinks have a nominal capacity of 800 tph for unloading soybean meal specified for vessels of 70,000 dead weight tonnes (DWT). Both of the Portalinks were installed on rails and are standing.

The whole update of the facility, which was awarded to Bühler, also included a flexible storage solution combining flat storage with silos to get an optimal balance for various stored products. Five truck loading pits have been installed along with a train intake pit. The various conveying elements were also designed and installed by Bühler. All is monitored and controlled by Bühler’s WinCos system.

Bühler installed one Portalink in the Port of Tokachi, Hokkaido, Japan in August 2010. The Portalink has a nominal capacity of 600 tph based on corn and can handle vessels such as the Golden Spring with a size of 70,000 DWT.

For an effective working climate in harsh conditions, Tokachi ordered a control cabin for the Portalink.