KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US – Demand for ship loading and unloading equipment has not faltered during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the way suppliers and customers have conducted business does look different.

Virtual meetings helped in some situations, but when it came time for installations and commissioning, coming together in-person was still a necessity. Suppliers of ship loading and unloading equipment surveyed by World Grain said it was beneficial if they had teams located throughout the world.

“Food is a primary need, so the sector is not touched, and business trends are not declining,” a supplier said. “Being able to keep delivering our products in this environment, with as little disruption as possible, is the main challenge. Remote conferencing can solve the problem only partially. This situation will surely reduce the number of potential players and will make top companies and groups stronger.”

Companies will have to continue to re-think how projects are executed and fulfilled when it involves specialized engineering and support from international suppliers. COVID-19 has caused problems in shipping delays and the availability of manufacturing components, one supplier said.

“When we do get an approval to enter a country, there is normally a 14-day quarantine period resulting in many weeks of technicians sitting in quarantine instead of on the project, getting the work finished,” a supplier said. 

Aside from the impacts of COVID-19, environmental regulations and sustainability of the grain handling system continue to be major issues for the industry. The demand for new, state-of-the-art equipment is steady, one supplier said, but they’ve also had projects that involve refurbishment of existing equipment and facilities. 

“We are constantly working to improve operating efficiency, reduce power consumption and deliver components with longer service life and lower maintenance requirements,” one supplier said. “Environmental aspects and sustainability are top priorities that must be considered and improved on a daily basis.”

Port and terminal operators are demanding larger capacity unloaders with effective reach to unload large vessels and flexible unloading booms that reach down and under vessel hatches.

“New ship unloaders need to be energy efficient, enclosed with no spillages that contaminate the waters and environment,” a supplier said.

In terms of new technology, suppliers said for loaders and unloaders they are working to better integrate sensors and software to perform main operations in automatic mode.

Areas experiencing some of the strongest growth include North America, Europe, the Black Sea, Canada and Southeast Asia, where several new dry bulk terminals were constructed over the last five years. Facilities in Southeast Asia are multi-purpose and not directly attached to a dedicated processing plant. In other parts of the world, the largest demand for handling is coming from wheat, corn, soybean meal and soybeans.

“Port operators and some independent facilities have identified the need to improve efficiency, consider environmental penalties and find solution upgrades that accept larger-size vessels,” one supplier said.

At the same time, the pandemic has made it unpredictable to know where demand will be stronger, another said. 

“As a company, our philosophy is to be present worldwide and swift in tackling demand wherever it arises,” they said.

Operators are concerned about soaring shipping costs, goods shortages and inflation, another supplier said. The impact of COVID-19 has ignited rising inflation and a worldwide shipping crisis.

In response, the supplier said he recommends allowing adequate time and planning for upcoming projects and procurements.

New bulk terminal in Mexico

Puertos Especializados Transnacionales (PETRA), a subsidiary of Grupo Gramosa, recently completed a new agri-bulk terminal in Veracruz, Mexico. The facility has the capacity to unload 25,000 tonnes per day and 10 storage silos with a total capacity of 126,000 tonnes. In addition, a flat cellar has a capacity of 13,000 tonnes for bulk and semi-processed products. The terminal has direct connectivity with two railroads.

From the beginning, the import facility was able to offer quality grain handling and environmental protection capabilities.

Gramose chose Bruks Siwertell to provide screw-type conveying technology for the terminal because it outperformed other systems during a four-month selection process. Originally ordered in 2018 and delivered fully assembled in 2019, the terminal is now complete, and its ship unloader has been brought online.

Analysis showed that a single Bruks Siwertell ST 640-M ship unloader would be an economical solution in the long run. It delivered the same amount of total capacity, and the operating costs were lower compared to two pneumatic unloaders. The Bruks Siwertell unloader also offered cost savings from reduced berth occupancy as through-ship efficiency was greater. Quality of grain shipments also was considered.

The screw-type conveyor offers steady conveying velocities, with minimal particle collisions within the conveyor, keeping material degradation to a minimum.

“The Bruks Siwertell unloader was selected after comparing many features such as operating principles and mechanisms, investment costs, as well as operating costs,” said Per Wahlström, contract manager, Bruks Siwertell.

The rail-mounted Bruks Siwertell unloader is totally enclosed, ensuring a spillage and dust-free operation. It has a continuous rated capacity of 1,200 tph and a peak of 1,320 tph, discharging vessels up to 80,000 dwt. It can handle several different grains, including corn, soybean meal, dried distillers grains and canola seeds without any loss of efficiency.

The capacity of the unloader is currently exceeding the capacity of the receiving equipment, so the unloader is ready to offer more, should the terminal require it.

Oman flour mill has unloading capabilities

Sohar Flour Mills recently completed a new flour mill at Sohar Port, Oman, that includes ship unloading capabilities. The mill has two lines, each with a capacity of 300 tpd, and total storage of 160,000 tonnes in flat-bottom steel silos.

The two Neuero Multiport unloaders supplied for the project have a combined capacity of 1,200 tph. Currently, the facility handles wheat, but in the future could also handle seeds. Unloaded material is conveyed from ship unloaders to the silos at the flour mill and oilseed crushing plant, but also receives materials from side silos for later loading onto ships.

One of the unloaders is prepared for the future attachment of a 600-tph ship loader, which will convert the Multiport to a Combiport.

The jetty belts, which have a combined capacity of 1,200 tph, are reversible and connected to the flour mill and oilseed crushing for both unloading and future loading operations.

Cargill completes Adelaide Port project

Cargill recently completed a ship loader project in Adelaide, Australia that is able to load ships up to Panamax size at a capacity of 1,000 tph from grain and oilseeds. Bedeschi designed, engineered, built and commissioned the ship loader to fully meet Australian standards from a structural and electrical point of view and Cargill’s best practices rules.

It is a complete preprocessing mobile unit rather than a conventional ship loader, featuring a double track drive over hopper, grains sampling, weighing and scalping. The machine moves on rubber tires, and it is fully independent thanks to a diesel generator that is able to power the equipment up to 20 hours without refueling, at peak performance.

To comply with Cargill’s safety requirements, instead of using traditional bucket elevators, Bedeschi designed a special version of its chain elevator that is normally applied to ship unloading.  

“With this application of a known technology in a completely different scenario, we have also provided a solution to the very narrow quay available, that would have allowed for loading just small barges,” Bedeschi said. “It also concentrates in a single machine what would have required several individual pieces of equipment with great decrease of operational efficiency.”

The drive over hopper is able to receive simultaneously from two separate tracks and is suspended on a dedicated steel rope system to move the ship loader quickly into position.

Coarser impurities or foreign objects are removed from the product stream by two Cimbria drum separators. Rejects are brought to a big bag conveniently located on the ground and easily removable for disposing. The traveling system is engineered to provide a comprehensive solution to the low strength of the existing quay and to maximize ship loading efficiency.   

Fourteen twin wheels boogies, all steering, allows for maneuverability and allows the ship loader to translate in any direction as well as pivoting the machine around its rotation center. When the machine is not operating, it will be moved to a dedicated parking area designed to tie down the machine during storms and provide for maintenance and cleaning.  

To overcome the restrictions on the quay and the lack of space (making a conventional erection on the quay itself impossible) the ship loader was delivered fully assembled and pre-tested. Although this system can be more expensive in comparison to site erection, this solution has been recently provided by Bedeschi for many different projects around the world for these main reasons: frequent unavailability of the quay; possibility to Pre-test all the main systems before the machine is delivered, to minimize commissioning period; and avoiding keeping the quay busy for many months for the erection phase.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic during project execution, there was a full project review process. This process resulted in a detailed reorganization of all project phases, from those that were yet to be completed, to the final step of ship loader commissioning in Australia.

“All this has become possible thanks to the synergistic collaboration between Bedeschi and Cargill teams, who worked together in the development of the risk analysis and the mitigation plan,” Bedeschi said. “This collaboration and sharing experience, gave the possibility to progress with the project in an effective and efficient way, despite Italy, China and Australia were in a full lockdown.”

An additional challenge was the procedure for obtaining visas, due to the regulation changes caused by COVID-19, and the travel logistics for the Bedeschi field engineers. Thanks to Bedeschi service team, the engineers managed to be present on the most crucial phases of the project, both in China and Australia. Their presence on the ground and their ability to handle promptly all the typical issues of these large projects, was a key factor for the success of the project itself, Bedeschi said.

Continuous unloader added in Indonesia

Krakatau Bandar Samudera recently completed a port terminal in Cilegon, Banten, Indonesia, that is integrated with a new bulk storage and distribution center. The center, which took 12 months to complete, includes flat storage and a truck distribution solution.

For the center, Bühler supplied a continuous mechanical grain ship unloader Portalink 1300-29RK with a capacity of 1,300 tph and the ability to load vessels up to 90,000 dwt.

The terminal handles wheat, maize, soybeans and soybean meal.

This is the first continuous ship unloader in Indonesia and offers a fully enclosed solution to eliminate spillage and excess dust emission during the unloading of vessels. The Portalink is capable of unloading at high capacity with a unique design to reach far into the vessel hatches, including areas beyond the vessel hatch access areas.

The Portalink was manufactured and partially assembled at Bühler factories and delivered to the customer ready to install. Full installation was completed in two weeks.

Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, commissioning and training was done by a local Bühler customer service team with remote support from Bühler experts in Europe and China.