Handling demand

by Meyer Sosland
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As global demand for grains and other commodities has grown, and emerging grain export powers have sought to increase efficiencies in agricultural infrastructure and grow capacity in export systems, demand for ship loaders and unloaders has remained steady with brief lulls caused by political and economic instability. World Grain’s annual survey of the world’s major ship loader and unloader manufacturers has led to some interesting insights into the ebbs and flows of the global grain supply and demand system.

Most major projects in recent years have been in developing countries where growing demand for grain/food remains steady and in the regions seeking a larger place in the world’s international grain supply system. While the lion’s share of new installations are in the emerging markets, the more established markets in Europe and the North America are still investing in new equipment and updates. The developed countries’ port infrastructure investments are about seeking efficiencies, updating inland canal/river port systems and investing in new equipment to meet stricter environmental and safety regulations.

One supplier noted that Latin America has many port development projects under way and has seen continuous growth. Asia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea are seeing consistent demand for new projects. According to one supplier, business in Africa was almost stopped in some countries due to political uncertainties, but stabilization is under way.

In Europe and the U.S., inland ports and barge transportation are being developed as an alternative to more energy intensive truck and rail. The dense waterway networks of Northern Europe, Black Sea port developments and also river transportation on the Danube River are keeping demand strong.

Russia, an emerging export giant, and the Middle East, which is one of the world’s most important importers, are experiencing very strong demand for ship loaders and unloaders.

According to one supplier surveyed, the region with the strongest demand at the moment is the Middle East. The various countries and Emirates are growing and the demand for imported grain is still rising. To handle the extra demand, more installations and storage points are being planned and constructed. Through the additional imports, the Middle East is increasing its share the global market place for grain.

In recent years, the ship loader/unloader suppliers have seen a variety of challenges impacting their business in the global grain market. The drastic price fluctuations of commodities have been affecting the decision makers that confirm investment priorities. These fluctuations have led some to be more cautious and slower to invest in new infrastructure.

In recent years, one supplier saw the most challenging issue to be the financial/bank crisis. The uncertainty caused by this macro event has made investment decisions more difficult for some clients.

Unease in the Middle East in the form of the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world, the Iran embargo and the tension between Iran and Israel have caused some projects to be held up or canceled.

Another supplier pointed to the impact of the dramatic shipping cost fluctuations on the buyers’ philosophy. Some want to improve unloading efficiency to combat the shipping costs. Others have responded with a “wait-and-see’” mentality.

A supplier noted that anytime they see a slowdown in the market, they use that time as an opportunity to invest in modernization in the company. “I believe it is a good opportunity to use the market fluctuation for investment and to be more efficient.”

One supplier noted that it believes the biggest challenge in recent years and the future will be climate change, which is having a major impact on harvest yields. With the rising demand for grain and limited supply due to bad weather conditions, tension in the global markets will increase. In bad years, countries could enforce an export ban as was the case with Russia in 2010. This insecurity affects the whole industrial chain.

Customer considerations

The surveyed suppliers agreed that their customers want ship loader and unloader equipment that is reliable, efficient, complies with safety requirements and meets environmental regulations. But, of course, the return on investment (ROI) must be reasonable. Additionally, the reliability of on time equipment deliveries and equipment quality are also key issues. One supplier noted that customers are beginning to understand that a low selling price at the time of order may bring other problems such as poor equipment quality and various additional items required at the time of equipment delivery.

When working with clients in developing countries, a supplier noted that it is sometimes difficult for them to raise investment funds. The supplier must help customers see investments as a long-term commitment, and that with regards to the shipping and demurrage costs increase, it is important to load/unload as fast as possible. This way the ROI will be faster. Furthermore, as population is growing, the need for grain imports and exports are increasing too, and it is of the utmost importance to anticipate these evolving needs.

In developed countries, manpower is expensive and ecological and power consumption are also serious concerns. Equipment that addresses concerns like air pollution from dust emissions, acoustic insulation systems, EC and ATEX norms compliance, no spillage of cargo and lowered power consumption have an advantage.

One supplier emphasized that the ever-increasing strictness of environmental rules is starting to have a major impact. The rules for noise, working hours and product spillage are getting tighter and enforcement has become more strictly enforced. In addition, several inland harbors/ports, especially in Europe, have been enclosed by cities and have become locations for new buildings and housing blocks. This trend has levied additional pressures on the operators and regulators.

Unloader, loader for Mediterranean port

On May 21, 2012, the Port of Sète in France, which exports cereals to Italy, Greece, Morocco and Algeria, inaugurated two new installations. Centre Grains, an AXEREAL group subsidiary, which operates the grain facility in the Port of Sète, recently extended one of its quay and has equipped its terminal with a pneumatic unloader for 5,000-tonne barges and a shiploader for 25,000-tonne vessels, both designed, manufactured and installed by Nivelles, Belgium-based VIGAN Engineering S.A. The order took 10 months to complete from order to installation.

The pneumatic barge unloader supplied by VIGAN has a round suction nozzle that sucks the product into the hold, allowing it to reach the maximum capacity in full heap of grain with a guaranteed minimum breakage. Depending on the products discharged, the rate reaches 400 tph for wheat, corn or barley.

The rail-mounted gantry is moving along the quay, and supports all unloading equipment: an electric transformer group, the cabin with turbo-blowers, the unloading tower, the cable reels for power and control, and manual rail clamps (for securing the device in a parking position).

The unloading tower is mounted on a slewing ring with a hydraulic motor.

The mechanical shiploader for vessels of 25,000 tonnes maximum that VIGAN supplied has a rail-mounted gantry and moves along the quay and supports a bucket elevator, which receives the goods from a conveyor belt equipped with a platform tripper and the ship loading system itself. The unloader can reach a capacity of 800 tph on grain with a density of 0.75. Its total height is 19.7 meters.

A slewing ring allows the orientation of the loading arm to a maximum angle. A beam supports a chain conveyor and the telescopic loading chute at the end. This beam can be hydraulically raised by two jacks to enable the positioning of the telescopic arm in the ship’s hold.

The projection system is equipped in its upper part with a slewing ring, as well as an electric geared motor allowing its orientation in the ship’s hold. The total angle of rotation is 340 degrees.

VIGAN noted that the loading chute of the system is equipped with an overflow for the emptying of the vertical telescopic when stopping. The 800 mm-wide belt runs at a speed of 5 to15 meters per second and can throw the product at a maximum distance of about 15 meters.

Middle East Intensive

The Cairo IIIA Company commissioned a ship unloader type Multiport M600 at the Damietta, Egypt port in January 2012. The 600-tph unloader, supplied by Melle, Germany-based NEUERO Industrietechnik, has been working full time ever since. The delivery time for the unloader was 10 months, with two months of assembly training and testing.

Cairo IIIA had already purchased two M600 unloaders in 2007 and 2009.

NEUERO also supplied the Venus International Company with a ship Multiport M600 and M500 (600 and 500 tph, respectively) at its facility in Dakheila, Egypt. NEUERO provided Venus International with two 500-tph ship unloaders in 1998 and two 600-tph ship unloaders in 2010.

Between 2009 and to 2011, NEUERO noted it has supplied eight ship unloaders (four 300 tph and four 600 tph) in the Port of Jeddah for Mansour Al Mosaid Co.

NEURO noted that since 2005 it has installed over 46 unloaders M300-M600 (26 unloaders type M600) in the Middle East.

The company also recently installed two Multiloader 800-tph ship loaders in Constanta, Romania for North Star Shipping, a partner of Toepfer.

NEUERO noted that the Multiport M600 (600-tph capacity) is its best-selling unloader. This unloader is available as rail mounted, stationary, or on rubber tires with its own gen-set. The equipment has a longer expected lifetime compared with standard pipes made of manganese steel.

Barge unloaders

In recent years, Nord Céréales in Dunkerque, France has experienced a large increase in the delivery of grain by barge. To handle this increase, Nord Céréales has reached out to Uzwil, Switzerland-based Bühler AG to install the Bargolink mechanical barge unloader.

Bühler said this Bargolink has a nominal capacity of 300 tph and can handle barges up to 3,000 DWT (dead weight tonnage) to handle the divergent barge sizes that Nord Céréales is receiving. The Bargolink travels on rails during the unloading process, which increased productivity significantly in combination with the feeding screws.

Bühler noted that installation of the Bargolink has more than doubled the unloading capacity of Nord Céréales from the original nominal capacity of 2,500 tonnes per day up to 7,000 tonnes per day.

“The use of mechanical unloading was previously only feasible with larger ships. Bargolink’s feeding screw brings the advantages of that approach — low energy use and less wear and tear — to barges,” Vincent van der Wijk, product manager, Bargolink, said.

Barge transport is increasingly seen as an ecological and cost-efficient alternative to railway and truck haulage. Bühler noted that the Bargolink was developed to aid the barge transport systems’ efficiency.

A barge carrying one tonne of cargo can travel five times as far on five liters of diesel as a truck with the same freight — 500 km compared to the truck’s 100 km of range overland. A ship carrying 3,000 tonnes of goods is equivalent to 50 railway cars or 100 trucks.

Three customers in China, Croatia and France have already purchase Bühler’s Bargolink. “There is huge market potential in many countries all over the world. China, for instance, has been expanding its shipping infrastructure,” van der Wijk said. “A Bargolink system was shipped to Yihai Ltd., this summer. In Russia, like on the Mississippi in the U.S., river barges deliver most of the grain exports to port.”

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