New Horizons: World Grain's annual review of the Grain Storage and Handling Industry

by Emily Wilson
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The growing international marketplace and ever-increasing demands for improved efficiency on all levels is reshaping the grain storage and handling industry.

To understand just how much the industry is changing and how suppliers are dealing with the new demands, World Grain surveyed the companies featured on the following pages about recent projects, changes to product lines, and opinions of the status and the future of the storage and handling industry. All the companies that responded listed ongoing projects in at least three different continents, including a great deal of work in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

Key issues concerning the industry include providing a variety of equipment options, responding to increasing vessel loads and capacity needs, supplying automation control, maintaining customer loyalty and dealing with concentration within the industry.

In an earlier interview, Lars Jarskog, president of BMH Marine AB, Sweden, noted the trend of increasing bulk grain vessels loads in order to obtain lower freight rates for grain shipments (see World Grain, March 2000, page 34). This, in turn, requires that handling, conveying and silo equipment be able to cope with larger volumes being shipped on post-Panamax vessels, Mr. Jarskog said.

He said BMH Marine responded to the changes by increasing its supply and individual capacities of industry-required equipment, whether it be the Siwertell screw-type, totally enclosed, rail-mounted, ship-mounted or pedestal-mounted unloaders. "With all these unloaders in the product program, and with the ability to supply complete grain terminals, BMH Marine is looking forward to an interesting future in the grain handling industry," Mr. Jarskog said.

BMH Marine recently refurbished a ship loader in Sweden and installed a Siwertell unloader for a customer in La Junta, Guadalajara, Mexico, and another in Germany for J. Muller GmbH & Co. KG, Brake, Germany. A Siwertell ship unloader and other BMH conveying equipment was also installed at the Port of Gdansk, Poland, for S.C. Infrastructure, which is building an entire grain terminal facility in Gdansk for Europort, Inc.

BMH Marine is also about to fulfill an order for AJWA-RMTI, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — the largest rice miller and distributor in the Middle East — for six 200-tph PortMaster pneumatic ship un-loaders, mainly for barley, to service carriers up to 100,000 dwt.

Also working extensively internationally, Buhler AG of Switzerland most recently installed ship loading and unloading equipment in Nigeria, Brazil, Sudan, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Greece, China and Saudi Arabia. Hermann Hofer, manager of sales promotion, business unit port terminals, said Buhler doesn't expect any essential changes in the global market, but will continue to work on completing and extending its ship loader/unloader program to handle a variety of types and sizes of bulk materials to meet the growing demand for versatile and high-capacity equipment.

Encouraged by the opening of foreign markets, U.S.-based Chief Industries, Inc. is constantly looking for ways to improve its products and services and its global presence.

"The global market is of great interest to Chief Industries as our company continues to grow and expand to these areas which were once out of reach for American companies," said Mary George, international sales coordinator. "With the new government programs available here in the U.S., and many new sanctions being lifted in the foreign markets, we have a very positive outlook for the future of agriculture."

In the past five months, the U.S. has dropped trade barriers with countries in Africa and in the Caribbean basin, and on May 22 the U.S. House of Representatives voted to normalize trade relations with China.

Chief Industries is currently working extensively in Mexico, and has completed an order for TCE S.A. de C.V., in Veracruz, Mexico's largest port. The project included a variety of Chief and Caldwell equipment to the ship loading and storage facility.

Chief also equipped the Venus International facility at the Port of El Dekheila in Alexandria, Egypt, which has a grain storage capacity of 100,000 tonnes and another 12,000 tonnes storage for soybean meal. "The ship unloading rate of 1,000 tph and grain bagging rate of 8,000 tonnes per day makes Venus International one of the largest port facilities in the Middle East," Ms. George said. "This system is highly automated and most of its operations can be monitored and controlled remotely."

This year, Chief will continue working in Mexico, installing two new 13,000-tonne silos at the Port of Progresso and building a new 56,000-tonne storage facility in Mexico City to store grain imported from the U.S. and Canada for distribution in the Mexican market.

Scott Neidigh, president of Neuero Corp., the U.S.-based office of Neuero Industrietechnik in Melle, Germany, also noted trends of increasing ship unloading/loading equipment capacities and the ability to handle a variety of products. "The future of the bulk material handling industry appears to be quite good," he said.

Port structures are also changing. "As privatization of port activities occur throughout various countries in the world, we are finding that the customers are looking for one supplier to provide a complete turnkey installation," Mr. Neidigh said. "This installation often involves not only the ship or bulk unloading, but also includes the mechanical conveyors, storage, scales, bagging equipment as well as load-out facilities."

Neuero recently completed an installation of a 500-tph Multiport unloader for Foremost Milling Co., in Manila, Philippines. The unloader is rail-mobile, equipped with a 25-meter boom and can lift a 5-tonne "Bob-cat" into the ship's hold for cleanup operations.

General Milling Co. in the Philippines also has contracted Neuero Corp. for a GSD 210/150 general-purpose portable pneumatic machine and another Multiport unloader to work in conjunction with the unloader that Neuero supplied to the company in 1989. Two GSD 210/160 portable pneumatic machines were recently shipped for operation in Romania, and the company continues to work on a number of projects around the world for the ship loading and unloading of cereal grains.

Brazil's Kepler Weber foresees expansion into the Latin and Central American markets, as well as African and Southeast Asian markets. Currently supplying storage equipment for ports and feed mills, Kepler Weber has installed numerous large steel silos, elevated silos, grain dryers and conveyors throughout Brazil and Colombia and even in Maputo, Mozambique.

"The awareness of the gains obtained through technically-correct, planned trading will determine the growth of the storage equipment industry worldwide," said Duílio W. de la Corte, Kepler Weber's commercial director.

By believing in the benefits of technology, perceiving the growth of transgenic grains as an opportunity for this industry and recognizing the recovery of the Asian market, Kepler Weber's future — and the industry's future — will be marked by growth, Mr. de la Corte said.

To meet increasing capacity needs, equipment and facility upgrades are common throughout the industry. Younglove Construction Co., based in the U.S., recently completed a series of improvements to the Dakota Valley Grain facility in Marion, South Dakota, U.S. According to project manager David Toel, Younglove supplied receiving belt conveyors, receiving legs, a dual distributor, transfer belt conveyors, rotary scalper, grain cleaner, a rail loadout bulk scale, grain sampler, reclaim belt conveyor, rail reclaim conveyor, wet and dry drag conveyors and legs and a grain dryer.

Now able to simultaneously transfer and receive grain at 20,000 or 40,000 bph and to loadout 110 unit-car trains in 12 hours, the refurbished Dakota Valley facility can handle increasing industry demands, Mr. Toel said. In addition, temperature detection was installed on all silos, and two of the three steel bins are set up as condominium storage, he noted.

The demand for ever-increasing storage capacity may also be causing a trend of strategic concentrations among smaller grain handling and storage facilities to increase overall capacity, according to Petkus Wutha GmbH of Germany. "Yes, there are changes in the global market," said Sigrid Issbruecker, marketing assistant for Petkus. "The small terminals combine together to increase the capacity and the technical know-how of the equipment."

Petkus Wutha recently installed a storage plant in Yemen, a turnkey corn seed cleaning plant in China for the China National Seed Group Corporation, a seed processing plant and profile-wall silos for Agrar GmbH, Germany, and mobile seed cleaning plants in Ethiopia and Turkey. Petkus has also been working on projects in Italy, Greece and South Africa.

Service is still the key to a company's long-term success, according to Randy Stauffer, vice-president of marketing for InterSystems, Inc., U.S. "Companies that can maintain customer loyalty and business during this lull in business activities should prosper again during periods of increased activity," Mr. Stauffer said.

During a project last year in Veracruz, Mexico, the customer did not want to use dust control equipment in the public access areas that the conveyors had to pass through. To accommodate the customer, InterSystems installed enclosed belt conveyors to preserve sanitation.

In the upcoming year, InterSystems will also be working with facilities to meet faster loading and unloading times demanded by railroads and with international port loading and unloading facilities' upgrades, Mr. Stauffer said. The company is improving the designs of its product lines to increase performance and sanitation.

Stringent demands for food safety and quality are especially prevalent with a growing focus on food-borne illnesses. Vicam, a U.S.-based producer of grain testing products, noted the increasing concern surrounding mycotoxins in grain, which continue to be at the forefront of food safety throughout the world.

"Governmental regulations are increasing as scientists learn more about the prevalence of particular mold toxins and recommend minimum safe levels in grains," said Patricia Jackson, Vicam product specialist.

To provide innovative and timely responses to the industry's need for safety and quality, Vicam released three new grain safety and quality test kits last year. Its WheatRite test kit determines sprout damage in wheat through chemical analysis, as opposed to a physical approximation, to ensure more accurate and precise wheat quality testing. Its DONtest TAG and T-2 TAG rapid mycotoxin test kits use Vicam's immunoaffinity chromatography columns, with fluorometry, to accurately identify DON and T-2 toxins.

A consistent thread throughout the grain industry is networking within foreign markets and governments. GEM Consultants B.V. of The Netherlands in 1998 began building a new 20-tph feed mill in Ukraine for Pershe Travenia, an integrated poultry farm, according to Henk Heijenk, head of GEM Consultants' materials handling and logistics department. The project was financed by The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he said.

GEM Consultants has also worked with the Cyprus Grain Commission on the Limasol silo extension project. The project included a new silo complex, control system integration, dust-controlled truck intake pits, and increased intake capacity from rail cars and vessels, Mr. Heijenk said.

In the past decade, China alone has spurred increased activity in the industry. As a result of China's national logistics studies on the improvement of grain procurement and distribution, several suppliers have had increased business in that region.

GEM Consultants since 1993 has been involved with China's investment program calling for the construction of six grain terminals in the south-west corridor, which are nearing completion.

With the recent U.S. House of Representatives vote to normalize trade relations with China and the expected easy passage in the U.S. Senate, American bulk handling equipment suppliers such as Christianson Systems, Inc., could benefit from China's restructuring.

Christianson, already active in the global market, last year shipped several ship unloaders to Egypt, Venezuela, Israel and Turkey, and remains booked for next several months, said Jen Ehresmann, Christianson's marketing director.

"The bulk handling industry has been demanding lower investment costs, shorter lead times, more versatile, flexible equipment and easier, less expensive startup, operation and maintenance," Ms. Ehresmann said.

In response, Christianson Systems improved its Vac-U-Vator bulk material conveyor line to be more economical with 120-tph capacity, reduced lead-time, and delivery within 8 to 12 weeks from ordering. Because customers are requiring universal solutions for their ship unloading and bulk transfer needs, Ms. Ehresmann said, the Vac-U-Vator can now be used to move dustier products, such as meals.

Vigan Engineering S.A. of Belgium is one of the busiest in terms of international business. Earning 99% of its revenue from exports to more than 87 markets, Vigan is receiving regular orders from countries in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.

Early this year, Vigan installed a 1,000-tph ship loader at a bulk and liquid fertilizer terminal at the Port of Gdynia, Poland. Currently, Vigan is preparing to install a 200-tph ship loader for vessels up to 15,000 dwt tonnes to an earthquake-damaged port in Taiwan, and is planning more work in Central America, France, Africa and China.

"By these investments, the customers are prepared to succeed in a future with tougher competition in the harsh but always exciting world of ship handling activities," said Lucian Beauduin, president of Vigan. And in the midst of growing demand for more product and facility options, "the inventiveness of simple solutions [is] the best way for coherent and rapid adaptation to the changing world of cargo handling," Mr. Beauduin said.