“We are seizing the market opportunities!”11/07/2007 The global grain trade continues to develop in a highly dynamic way. The Bühler Grain Handling business unit is part of this positive development and is also continuing its growth. In this, the focus is on fast ship loading and unloading and safe grain storage in special bulk storage terminals. The handling and storage of grain is as old as the cultivation of grain itself. There are three reasons for this. First, grain cultivation is a seasonal business. During the harvesting season, more grain is avail-able than is currently needed. The grain is therefore put into storage in order to have it available throughout the year. Second, stocks are created to compensate for differences in harvest yields. As far back as in ancient Egypt, the Pharaohs built granaries to provide for the seven lean years that would follow the seven fat ones. Third, grain frequently does not grow where it is needed for food. Since the advent of efficient means of transport (cargo ships, freight trains, trucks) that allow grain to be shipped around the world, the transportation and storage of grain has become an important link in the value-adding chain.
It is therefore not surprising that Bühler has been producing new grain handling solutions for almost a century. At the outset, the focus was on the construction of storage elevators (silos). But just a few years later, Bühler went a step further and started to design and build also transportation and convey-ing systems. Bühler achieved the breakthrough by introducing the chain conveyor for handling grain in commercial applications. The chain conveyors at that time were a true innovation in the field of grain handling. For the first time ever, they allowed grain to be handled gently and reliably at high through-put capacities and with low dust generation. The experience gained with chain conveyors in grain han-dling applications was so encouraging that these units were very soon used also for unloading ships. The SKT marine leg created an enormous buzz in the specialist community. At long last, a mobile piece of equipment was available that would allow ships to be unloaded continuously and – above all – quickly in any port and on any pier. Even a number of off-shore applications could be found, in which grain was transshipped directly from one vessel to another.
Bundling of activities
Since 2003, all grain handling activities at Bühler have been bundled in the Grain Handling (GH) busi-ness unit. Under the management of Bühler veteran Hans-Peter Altherr, the sales (turnover) gener-ated by the GH business unit almost doubled by 2006 to over 70 million Swiss francs. Of this total, the construction of grain terminals accounts for about 60 percent and loading and unloading systems about 40 percent.
For Dieter Neuschütz, who succeeded Hans-Peter Altherr as head of the business unit in mid-July 2007, the reason for this success is clear: “Our focus on grain has enabled us to offer our customers appreciable added value on the basis of top-class process know-how. What is important is extensive consulting and well-thought-out general concepts tailored to specific environments. But Grain Handling offers far more than merely efficient materials handling technology. The object is rather to ensure inte-gral grain logistics in the field of high-capacity grain handling and concurrent operations up to the point of supply and delivery traffic flows. In addition, the minimizing of storage losses, the systematic sepa-ration of the different grain and seed grades, and cleaning and safety systems are also crucial.”
Good market position
The global demand for grain handling and storage installations amounts to several hundred million Swiss francs annually. The Bühler Grain Handling business unit is the global market leader when it comes to the design and construction of port installations, which consist of grain terminals plus ship loaders and unloaders. Bühler has achieved this top rank through years of hard efforts. Hans-Peter Altherr: “We know how to handle grain! That is arguably our most important success factor. In addition, the systems we supply offer top dependability and therefore maximum uptime.” Dieter Neuschütz: “Our systems achieve top performance through the combination of tried-and-true mechanical convey-ors and state-of-the-art control systems.” A study recently conducted by an independent party confirms that the mechanical ship unloaders from Bühler achieve top efficiency. This enables them to unload vessels within a very short time. Berthing times are reduced, reducing freight costs and preventing demurrage fees.
The market continues to grow
Dieter Neuschütz and his management team are confident that the future of their business unit is bright. In 2006, global demand for grain totaled 1700 million metric tons. Of this, about 300 million tons were exported from the traditional grain producing countries – the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and Australia – by ship to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Bühler experts believe that by the year 2030, global demand will increase to some 2000 million tons, and exports will rise to over 350 million tons.
The increase in demand is based on a number of different factors. On the one hand, the world popula-tion is growing and therefore also the demand for grain as a food. In addition, eating habits are chang-ing. The higher consumption of meat has caused the demand for feed grain to increase by a factor of almost ten. The ongoing dismantling of trade barriers (WTO) is further stimulating the international grain trade. Growth in the demand for grain as a raw material is also being increasingly driven by bio-fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel.
Time is money
Ship capacities used by the grain trade are competing with the capacities for transporting iron ore and coal. The demand for bulk transportation by far exceeds the available supply. This is pushing up the prices of freight costs. And as freight costs rise, so does the demand for faster and higher-efficiency loading and unloading of ships.
For the Bühler Grain Handling business unit, this market development presents a huge opportunity. Dieter Neuschütz: “With our products and concepts, we very accurately meet the need for fast and efficient installations offering high reliability. In the future, we will increasingly set our sights on innova-tions in order to further expand our core competencies. As a team, we will seize the opportunity that the market presents, now and in the future.”