Ship loading/unloading trends

by Meyer Sosland
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Traditional and emerging export markets are driving demand for ship loader installations, and strong demand for grain and a general need to update and maintain equipment is propelling orders for ship unloaders in importing nations. The traditional demands on equipment manufacturers — low operations costs (energy, maintenance and manpower) and compatibility with local environmental rules (reduced dust emissions and noise emissions) at ports — remain steady, but equipment suppliers from emerging nations are also starting to put downward pressure on the price levels.

World Grain recently surveyed the world’s major suppliers of ship loading and unloading equipment to gauge the health of the industry and determine areas of growth.


VIGAN Engineering S.A., Nivelles, Belgium, told World Grain the main geographic areas of its business continue to be the same: North Africa, Middle East and Far East, but during the last 12 months it has filled many projects in Europe, the former Soviet Union and nearby countries as well in several countries in South Asia. The company said that despite lower demand in the region, it had also filled some interesting projects in the Americas.

The company said that just as in other areas of manufacturing, companies in emerging countries (China, India, Turkey, etc.) are bringing equipment to the marketplace at quite competitive prices and suitable technological levels. Therefore, the competition on price is becoming even more complex for high-quality technology equipment. VIGAN said characteristics must be carefully adapted and/or revised to each market and/or customer level of expectations.

The major issues affecting ship loader and unloader manufacturers continue to be the same as before: high technical reliability and low-cost operation. VIGAN said more and more continuous controls of the equipment are requested for constant monitoring of the handling performances and good maintenance practices. This means the production of more sophisticated equipment and more complex machines that increasingly depend on sensors and similar devices.

"The challenge is more to evaluate with the customer their real capability of managing and maintaining similar machines with state-of-the art automates in relation to their human resources capability," the company said.

VIGAN emphasized that sometimes a gap exists between the recommendations made by some consultants and/or experts and the realities of daily operations.

The company noted that what is coherent as technical requirements in developed countries is not always a necessity in other countries where less qualified technicians are quite frequent and lower capabilities with delicate automates exists.

In all countries the environmental aspects are becoming increasingly important and a significant factor of technological differentiation between the competitors and/or the technologies.

For a couple of years, VIGAN has utilized the direct drive of turbo blowers and speed variators (frequency inverters) to minimize the energy consumption. The company said these high-speed, specially designed motors are part of its continuous research for the improvement and optimization of the suction performances of the pneumatic unloaders.

Some of the more recent projects that VIGAN has been involved in include:

• furnishing a 750-tph SIMPORTER (mechanical ship unloader – Twin belt system), a 1,000-tph SIMPORTER and a 600-tph NIV pneumatic ship unloader to a customer in Pakistan;

• installing a 600-tph NIV pneumatic ship unloader in a facility in Sudan; and

• manufacturing a 600-tph ship loader that is slated to be delivered in 2011 to a Bunge facility in Poland and a 400-tph barge unloader and 800-tph ship loader that are set to be delivered to a facility in France in 2011.


NEUERO Industrietechnik, Melle, Germany, told World Grain that it is seeing very active markets for new ship loader projects in traditional export nations like Brazil and Argentina, which are increasing efficiencies, but that its strongest demand is coming from new exporters like Russia and the Ukraine. The company noted that its ship unloader business has shown the most activity in the Middle East. However, it is also seeing orders in North Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe.

NEUERO noted that one interesting business consideration it has been facing is the cost of materials fluctuating from the time a project is quoted to the time it is completed. This volatility creates problems for long-term contracts. Also, the financial crisis has created uncertainty in the minds of investors.

Grain exporters are trying to maximize their facilities’ export capabilities. NEUERO noted a project it is working on in Russia in which the client wants to load ships on both sides of the jetty at the same time, and/or let a ship be loaded while a new ship is positioned and clearing all formalities. NEUERO said in this special case a 2,000-meter bridge was built to the loading towers in the sea to get the necessary draft for the ships.

NEUERO said there is still misinformation about pneumatic ship unloaders in the market. The company said this is mainly based on customers’ past experience with equipment that was not designed properly.

"Today the extreme low levels of noise and dust pollution are not completely taken into account," the company said. "The efficiency is not clear for clients that receive partial information from suppliers that are focused in mechanical solutions only."

NEUERO said it has been fortunate to see very good business for the last five or six years. The company believes this is a result of more of its equipment entering different regions and the end users seeing NEUERO’s end project results.

The company has filled a number of projects all over the world in recent months, including:

• supplying Mansour’s Jeddah, Saudi Arabia facility with four M600 and four M300 unloader (pneumatic unloaders), which each have a capacity of 600 tph and 300 tph;

• providing SPCo with three M600 unloaders as part of the port modernization project in Libya’s Ports;

• supplying two 700-tph ship loaders with quay belt conveying systems to the Tuapse Commercial Sea Port in Russia.

• in Oman, installing an M600 unloader for Oman Flour Mills and an M300 (300-tph) pneumatic grain unloader for the Salalah Flour Mill; and

• supplying Kampffmeyer Flour Mills, Mannheim, Germany, with a Combiport 250/150-tph combined ship unloader/loader.


Cargotec, Helsinki, Finland said the most active areas from its prospective are the Middle East, parts of Asia and in some states of the Former Soviet Union.

"It seems that increasing environmental requirements in various ports are putting more and more pressure on operators to reduce dust emissions and noise emissions." Cargotec said. "With Siwertell ship unloaders, the dust emission is kept at an absolute minimum."

Cargotec said noise levels are also kept to a very low level, allowing installations in populated areas. An example of this is the Siwertell ship unloader which is installed in the heart of Westhafen, Germany, amongst office buildings, restaurants and cafés.

Cargotec told World Grain that the market within the dry bulk handling business has always been rather unpredictable and whether sales go up and down depends on numerous factors.

"We’ve seen an increase in inquiries this year compared to last, but how this year will end in sales overall is too early to tell," the company said. "We have a number of very interesting projects ongoing on three different continents, many of which look very promising."

Cargotec said today’s control systems in the ship unloaders are much more sophisticated than before. It is now possible to follow the unloading process in detail from the central control room, where the operator can see both actual unloading capacity and accumulated unloading volumes.

"Service manuals and maintenance planners are also available in the control system in a more sophisticated conduct than before," the company said.

Cargotec’s most recent grain handling order was for a ship loader for a grain and animal feedstuffs export/import terminal. The equipment will be supplied to BEGA UAB in the port of Klaipéda, Lithuania. Cargotec said this is the second Siwertell loader that BEGA has ordered. The first was supplied in 2002.

The new loader will be installed in 2011 and will be able to handle 1,200 tph of grain for ships with a boom length of 26.5 meters.

Cargotec said the contract calls for a ship loader, belt conveyors, slide gates and diverter gates, a variety of scales, rail wagon/truck loading systems, dust filters, electrical switchgear, power and control cables with installation material and a process control system including human/machine interface and supervisory control and data acquisition system. Cargotec is also responsible for all the associated detailed design work.

The system will have two intake lines rated at 500 tph for receiving grain from rail wagons and trucks and conveying it into two flat storage buildings with total storage capacity of 160,000 cubic meters. Another intake line with a capacity of 1,000 tph will convey grain and animal feedstuffs from ships into the two storage buildings. Ships will be unloaded using an existing grab crane.

For transferring material from the storage facility to rail wagons and trucks, there will be one line with a capacity of 500 tph, and for transfer into up to Panamax-size ships via a ship loader, there will be one line with a capacity of 1,200 tph. Cargotec said a second ship loader is foreseen to be installed in the future.

Cargotec said that following the delivery of equipment in April/May 2011, there will be a construction and installation phase of about four months with the plant scheduled to be ready for operation by September 2011.


Buhler AG, Uzwil, Switzerland, said that Asia (especially China), the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, southern Africa and Latin America are the most active areas for new investments in harbor terminals and storage equipment due to the expected growth in demand for transport capacities for grains and seeds.

Buhler told World Grain that project financing remains a major point of discussion. The unstable market conditions have resulted in conscious investing, with work related to contracts becoming more important and more time consuming.

Environmental topics remain at the forefront of customers considerations. Changes in legislation and regulation are helping to drive environmentally friendly equipment. Regulation of safe workplaces, limits for noise and pollution in harbors, provide equipment manufacturers with the constant challenge to be on top of the requirements.

Grain terminal operators want the highest possible level of efficiency throughout all of their operations. Buhler said its clients want to keep their machine running as long as they can, spending in retrofits usually pay off very quick. Details of the retrofit have to be analyzed and planned carefully as about every ship unloader is customized to each client’s requirements. For example retrofits in regards to energy consumption, dust pollution or conveyor execution.

The Swiss company noted that control of product quality with traceability options is an increasingly typical requirement at modern installations. Customers want to record more data, and adding it to a control system with reporting functions creates a true added value for the clients. Buhler said its WinCos.r2 automation solutions enable full control starting at the berthing point. Ship unloading becomes an integrated part of the terminal control.