Technology key to competitive dry and liquid bulk operations

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It’s no secret that the bulk market has weathered some extremely tough times over the past decade. Apart from a 2009-2010 ‘bounce’ just after the global slump, average growth has stalled or declined all the way through from 2007 to 2015 across multiple dry bulk commodities, including iron ore, coal, grain and minor bulks. Just as in other shipping segments, supply has outpaced demand and the result has been a painful slump in rates, with the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) hitting historic lows. Oil and other liquid bulks have also witnessed huge volatility.
With modest growth since 2015, and more discipline on the supply side through reduced newbuilds and more demolition, the dry bulk industry may be about to turn a corner, said Peter Sands, Chief Shipping Analyst for BIMCO at the Bulk seminars during TOC Europe 2017 in June. But he cautioned that the road to recovery will be long and fraught with hazards, not least the industry’s ability to maintain capacity discipline. “Make no mistake: shipping is global and the world is awash with tonnage,” warned Mr. Sands.
Sustainable freight rates may finally be in sight and 2019 could be a ‘turnaround year’ for dry bulk, predicted Mr. Sands. But 2019 profitability depends on demand growth at 2.4% in 2017 and 2% in 2018 onwards, coupled with net supply growth not exceeding 15 million DWT in 2017 (+1.9%) and being neutral in 2018 onwards.

“2019 will be turnaround year with zero supply growth” - BIMCO, TOC Europe 2017

Looking specifically to the iron ore market, Mr Sands noted that a key trend has been the conversion of very large crude carriers (VLCCs) to very large ore carriers (VLOCs) for the Brazil-China trade. Some 32 new 400,000 DWT ‘Valemax’ carriers are due for delivery in 2018 and 2019 for the same trade, but Mr. Sands did not see this being compensated for by corresponding demolition of converted VLOCs, leading to a potential new glut of capacity.
The Valemax class is named after Brailian mining giant Vale, which developed the vessel concept. Speaking again at this year’s Bulk seminars, Vale’s Ports and Railways Performance Improvement Specialist Giselle Dazi said that “technology, innovation and process” were key to managing the industry through the current low cycle. “Automation, autonomous vehicles, big data, analytics and the Internet of Things could bring us to a new level of competitiveness,” she told delegates.
Existing automation in bulk terminals includes remote and fully automatic operation of stackers, reclaimers, conveyor belts, car dumpers, wagon loaders and vessel loaders and unloaders, said Ms Dazi, with remote control centres controlling operations up to 1,500km away. Autonomous drone ships are under development, most recently by Yara International for containerized fertilizer shipments, while Rio Tinto is deploying autonomous haulage trucks in mining operations and developing driverless trains for iron ore shipment. Underwater drones are also set for use in vessel hull inspections.
But perhaps “the most important commodity of the future” is data, added Ms. Dazi, with IoT, blockchain and big data applications all set to transform current operations. However,s cyber security will be key to successful adoption of new data technologies, covering “data and intellectual property theft, cyber espionage, control of systems and major [cyber] attacks that prevent operations.”

Scenarios for bulk terminal automation. Source: Vale at TOC Europe 2017


For Peel Ports, automating steel coil handling at its deep water Liverpool metals terminal has yielded a 30-50% gain in storage capacity and velocity, reduced labour and “zero damage,” said Solutions Development Manager Andrew Grindley. He explained that the automated system optimizes the layout by directing automated cranes to place similar size coils in defined zones, with put-away, digs, retrieval, staging and housekeeping performed by the cranes without human operators.
The 100,000 ft2 automated coil warehouse is operated by a dedicated automotive steel handling workforce, said Mr Grindley, adding that there are “inherent health and safety benefits from automated handling.” As well as automated cranes, Peel Ports is utilising technology such as wifi and hand-held scanners to drive efficiency, safety and customer service. Real time traffic management, live delivery tracking, data-driven resource planning and collaboration with customers to drive supply chain efficiency based on factual data, including nation stock visibility for customers’ cargo, are all critical to the future of modern bulk handling, said Mr. Grindley.
Automation is coming to liquid bulk operations, too. Helen De Wachter, Global Leading Functional Expert Bulk Storage & Transportation at BASF, told Bulk attendees that the chemical giant is investing in digitalization, automation and autonomous vehicles for tank container logistics at its headquarters plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany. The huge site handles around 20 million metric tons per year and, since transport links account for a considerable share of the facility cost, BASF has focused on how to drive this segment down with a new integrated, automated storage and logistics concept.
Scheduled to open in June 2018, the new concept features world-first automated guided vehicles (AGVs) developed by TOC exhibitor VDL Group, new optimized-for-rail tank containers in place of rail tanks, and a new automated 2,000TEU capacity tank container terminal.
The AGV developed by VDL for BASF by is 16.5m long and has a payload of 78 metric tons. According to BASF, the current 22 hours required for a rail tank car to be delivered from its train station to any one of more than 150 loading stations at the site will be cut to just one hour with its new AGVs.
The new 45ft and 52ft tank containers to be used in the automated handling system were developed by BASF and Belgian tank container manufacturer Van Hool, based on technology already being used in combined transport operations. The BASF class tank containers (B-TC) can be transported using container rail wagons, offering greater flexibility than traditional rail tank cars. The B-TC has a maximum volume of 73,000 litres and a payload of 66 MT – similar to the capacity of a chemical rail tank car and double that of today’s typical tank containers. The B-TC can be transported on any kind of railway tracks and can be stacked up to six high. From July 2017, 90 B-TCs will be in use in Ludwigshafen, with another 550 to be delivered in 2018.
The final piece of the puzzle is a fully automated tank container terminal, currently under construction at the Ludwigshafen site. The new trimodal facility will have two automated stacking cranes (ASCs), each with a loading capacity of 75 MT, and will be able to handle goods in and out via AGVs, trucks and rail.
BASF’s new automated tank container terminal at its Ludwigshafen HQ is due to open mid-2018, heard delegates at the Bulk seminars during TOC Europe 2017. The site will be served by world-first AGVs that will move containerised chemicals around the giant production facility in place of the current rail tank car system

 

 

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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
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