The squat, whitewashed natural stone houses are very compactly built. It almost seems as if they have become part of the lush green embankment along the River Bann. It was a rather untypical autumn day in Northern Ireland – it had rained overnight, the roads were still wet, but the clouds had broken up and made way for mist, which the sun was trying to penetrate. It was an absolutely idyllic setting – as if it was taken out of a travel magazine – apart from the fact that three extremely large trailers with their dark blue tractor units were precisely and purposefully manoeuvring their cylinder-shaped freight, which was enshrouded in white foil, through the narrow streets.
The destination was Old Bushmills – one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the world with history going back more than 200 years. The freight involved several distillery tanks for making whiskey, which were to be used as part of the new construction work at the distillery in order to expand production. The tanks had already covered a huge distance up to this point. They came from the GEA factory in Kitzingen and formed the first part of a total of 25 tanks on order, which were being transported from Lower Franconia to Northern Ireland as part of a special shipment for heavy goods. When combined with the other special equipment for making whiskey, such as an energy storage unit, the electrics, connecting elements and pipes, the order involved transporting about 4,000 tonnes of freight in all.
However, this job was not just very special because of the overall volume involved: the distillery tanks are very sensitive, and even the slightest collisions when loading the items, for example, with a hook or a chain, would damage them irreparably – so it was not only necessary to handle the items extremely carefully, but also secure them appropriately during transportation.
However, planning the route was also a matter for professionals: various means of transport, ranging from trucks to inland waterway vessels and even a break bulk cargo ship, were used to handle the complete transport route; the last mile in Northern Ireland represented a special challenge because of the road conditions and the cramped building structures in the villages that the trucks had to travel through.
This was a task that Rhenus Project Logistics, the specialist for complex project shipments within the Rhenus Group, was happy to tackle. Annette Odtallah and Yvonne Nikolaus, the two project managers handling the shipment, are familiar with handling challenging freight. ‘We already had to be extremely careful when loading the items onto the special trailers at the factory – all the ladders were wrapped with special insulating material, for example, in order to prevent any damage to the tanks when attaching the retaining straps to the lifting points,’ Yvonne Nikolaus recalls.
The equipment began its journey by road from the GEA factory in Kitzingen and headed for the port in the same town. This is actually a very short distance, as it only involves travelling eight kilometres, but these initial kilometres of the journey already presented the first major challenges: various underpasses on the most direct route made it necessary to take a short detour through a residential area. No-parking signs had been set up in advance because of the narrow roads so that no parked cars would make it impossible for the trucks to pass through the area. And although the shipment was handled at night, many residents came out of their houses to watch the convoy of eight extra-large trailers, which slowly made their way along a residential road.
In the end, it was possible to complete this part of the journey in record time – it took just 35 minutes from the factory to the port in Kitzingen, where the heavy goods were transshipped. Cranes carefully loaded the freight on board an inland waterway vessel. It was absolutely essential here for two cranes to work together in complete synchronisation in order to precisely guide the individual tanks to the cargo area without causing any damage.
The tanks then made their way by inland waterway vessel from Kitzingen to Karlstadt, where the energy storage unit was taken on board, and the journey then continued on to the Rhenus Deep Sea Terminal Maasvlakte in Rotterdam. Rhenus Maritime Services, the charterer and shipper for short-sea traffic, then organised the shipment of the heavy goods from Rotterdam. They made their way to Londonderry in Northern Ireland by break bulk cargo vessel. Shipping such sensitive cargo as distillery tanks by sea presents an enormous risk: because of their cylindrical shape, there are not many lashing points on the tanks – i.e. points where you can attach the cargo on a ship or a truck during transport. It was therefore necessary to pay special attention to securing the load. The tanks made of polished steel were also provided with a special white protective foil to protect them during transport at sea. As a result, salt water and the weather were unable to do any damage to the sensitive cargo.
Once the equipment arrived in Londonderry, it was kept at special storage areas at the port and taken to the building site at Bushmills when requested; the individual parts were then directly installed. This procedure required very close coordination, not only with those responsible for the new construction work at the site, but also with the local authorities, because the police have to accompany project shipments like this one in Northern Ireland and they may only travel during the daytime – in contrast to heavy shipments in Germany, for example.
The journey from the port in Londonderry, where the goods were unloaded, to the building site at Bushmills involved 60 kilometres along well-built rural roads. However, because the buildings were close to the road and there are overhead electricity and phone lines, it was necessary to temporarily disconnect them in many villages. Excellent coordination between the project managers and the local contact partners was essential for the success of the project in order to keep the adverse effects involved there as brief as possible.
As the trailers and tanks were extra-large shipments, it was necessary to prepare the route accordingly in advance. ‘When checking the route, we directly established at which points it would be necessary to cut back trees because of the height of the tanks on board. Branches often would have simply obstructed matters because they were too low and could have damaged the freight. The same applied to the traffic lights in the villages, too. Some of them were turned to one side just when the shipment passed, making it possible for us to use the route with the trailers at all,’ Annette Odtallah recalls.
As if that did not already require enough coordination work, the situation was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Daily delays repeatedly occurred during the whole project, for example, because cases of sickness or quarantine happened somewhere along the supply chain or at the building site at Bushmills and it was necessary to interrupt operations. ‘However, we were able to cope with these additional complications very well because of the huge flexibility of all those involved. It was certainly helpful that we as project managers had completed a check of the complete route locally before the project started and had personally got to know all the contact partners,’ the project manager adds.
As a result, the customer’s feedback was very favourable after the shipment had been completed. ‘Not all logistics service companies can professionally handle special shipments. The transport concept, the detailed work on the feasibility analysis and the extensive preparations tipped the scales in favour of Rhenus Project Logistics. Their performance was extraordinarily good, despite the challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic,’ says Andreas Holleber, Branch Manager at GEA in Kitzingen, summarising the results.
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